Today is the last day of the Aye Write Festival in Glasgow. Its been running for years at the Mitchell Library, and I've been lucky enough over the last four or five years to be asked to moderate a number of authors (as well as appearing myself!) for the festival. I do quite a bit of this work for festivals, which was an extension of some of the work I used to do as a bookseller, chairing and interviewing authors for instore events.
Its a funny gig, really. Moderating a panel or interviewing an author means that you have to at once be welcoming and entertaining, but also make sure that you are not the centre of attention. Its something of a balancing act, but when it goes right it can be hugely rewarding. I do my research before I go in to any event, reading at the very least the latest work by an author, but also doing a little research to see what they tend to talk about and whether there's anything interesting worth exploring. But what's most rewarding is when I can go off script - when the conversation lurches in an unexpected direction.
One of the reasons I love Aye Write, too, is that they're one of the festivals who let me spread my wings outside of crime fiction. As much as I love my crime and thrillers, its great to be able to to talk about other topics. For example, I got the opportunity to resurrect my past as a philosopher by chairing the excellent Julian Baggini on a few occasions (in fact, the first time was on precisely the topic of my MLitt dissertation, which I think was more a coincidence than anything, but hugely welcome). I've also done a number of SF panels (my second love) as well as diving into more unexpected subjects, such as a panel on PTSD in the military, and a fascinating event this year on "Weird Maths", which was a great topic for someone who was utterly terrible at maths at school (and still is, on a general arithmetic level, but as this panel proved, maths is about far more than just adding and subtracting numbers).
Chairing/moderation at festivals is a subtle art, and I think sometimes people forget that. Its easy to get things wrong. I still get shudders at one panel where I was a little nervous,. and ended up laughing a little too loud at the author's jokes. Someone online slammed me for this later (although they also slammed me years later for coughing at an event I'd been chairing where I'd literally come from hospital after an asthma attack, so maybe its just they don't like me personally!). And when you get an author who doesn't want to talk (it happens) things can feel tense. But when it goes right -- and it does most of the time, as long as you let the authors be themselves, and give them room to talk about their books and work, and the things they love -- then it can be a hugely joyous experience. I also love it when an author surprises you. There was one author I chaired for the first time a few years ago, and was terrified that they were going to be a little like the characters in their books (who are, let's say, a little violent and unpredictable) but they turned out to be one of the loveliest people I've met.
I've had a blast again at this years Aye Write, and I'm hoping I'll be at other festivals as the year moves forward, meeting new authors, introducing new and familiar voices to readers, and just generally helping to spread the love of books. I'll keep you all updated here as and when things happen, and I hope to see you out there at some of these events, too!