One thing I was taught in journalism school all those years ago was to make sure I didn't leave home without a pen and notebook, because you just didn't know when you might just stumble on the biggest news story of your life.
So when I went to Australia House last Tuesday night, courtesy of an invitation from Canongate, to attend the launch of Kate Grenville's latest novel, Sarah Thornhill, I was mortified to discover I'd remembered the pen, but I'd forgotten the paper!
Thank goodness, then, for my trusty little BlackBerry. Initially I planned to take notes, for my own reference, on the phone's MemoPad application. But then, in a fit of inspiration, I thought I'd try tweeting my way through the evening. And this is what followed (sadly, I wasn't organised enough to think of a hashtag so that others could follow the event, and do excuse the odd spelling mistake and grammatical error):
[I think I did: I haven't heard so many Australian accents in the one place since... well... last time I was in Australia. Oh, and Australia House is just gorgeous, all marble staircases and pillars, Corinthian columns, gleaming mahogony walls and doors, sky blue ceilings and gold leaf detailing everywhere.]
[He made quite a lovely speech, actually, and put Kate's work into a kind of academic context.]
[This is something that came out of Dr Henderson's introduction. He said this quote was something that Kate had told him earlier. I think it resonated with a lot of people at the launch, but also by those who saw this tweet and retweeted it.]
[Now, if only she had had a BlackBerry, a phone signal and access to Twitter...but of course it wouldn't look as good waving around a Smartphone at readings instead of a paper bag, would it?]
[She said she felt compelled to write down what she could hear in her head that day on the volcano. She described it as "oogie boogie" or some such, by which I think she meant it sounds a bit surreal and stupid to claim you can hear a character's voice come out of nowhere, but when inspiration strikes you have to go with it!]
[This elicited quite a few laughs from the audience. It seems most of the characters in the book are based on real people, as are many of the incidents that occur. Although she is quick to point out that the book is a novel, not history.]
[There are a few sex scenes in the book...]
[Now this caught my attention, because I do about 50 drafts of anything I write, even measley little blog posts like this one, and I still don't ever feel I get it right and then I find stupid errors weeks later! I don't think Kate was exaggerating either — this was a real figure. Just goes to prove that the writing that looks the most effortless takes a lot of effort! Budding authors take note.]
[Something else for budding writers to take note of. How many times do we read scenes and dialogue that feels false? Or meet characters that don't ring true?]
After her reading and speech, there were questions from the floor — Diana Athill, sitting in the front row next to Jamie Byng, was the first to put up her hand — and then it was time to grab a glass of wine, mingle with others and queue up to get your book signed.
I ended up having a lovely chat with her about all kinds of things, including the cost of books in Australia, whether men read her novels and the importance of social media and blogging to promote books.
She is one of the most down-to-earth and approachable writers I've ever met — and so genuinely interested in the people who read her work. I could have chatted to her all night! [Apologies to the people in the queue behind me; they must have been cursing me for being such a time-hog.]
Thanks to Anna Frame at Canongate for the invitation. It was lovely to meet you and the perfect way to conclude my Australian Literature Month.
And yes, dear readers, I'll get that review of Sarah Thornhill written very soon. Now where's my notebook... unless you want me to review it via Twitter? :-)