Last Saturday, archaeologist and historian (and author and TV presenter) Dr Alex Langlands, came to my home town and spoke about his new book Cræft. It’s his own view about what craft means, and how the word has come to represent what it does today. And he also asks the question, does it still mean what it originally meant when the word was first used in Old English?
He began his talk by making some medieval cable ties because, as we all know, loose computer cables were just as much a health and safety issue in medieval times as they are today! Actually, Alex’s point was that a natural product (the common garden bramble vine) can be turned into something as strong, if not stronger, than today’s plastic ties. (It’s amazing what can be crafted from something most of use would cut back and then take down to the recycling centre.)
Why am I telling you this? Because, as a talk, Alex began with a practical exercise. He didn’t stand there, reading an extract from his book. He pulled out a bramble stalk he’d cut back earlier (and from which he’d removed all of the thorns) and demonstrated how to split the stalk with a simple tool, and then remove the pith inside (which went all over the floor). This left the ultra-strong bark, ideal to use as a cable tie, or as string. In fact, many gardeners commented about how much better it would be to use this natural ‘string’ for tying back things in the garden.
It probably wasn’t his intention, but he also demonstrated the dangers of undertaking a practical exercise with a sharp instrument. He cut his thumb in the process and spent the entire evening trying not to drop blood on the carpet.
There was audience participation too – with a few tug-of-war attempts to test out the strength of this bramble string.
From there, he then moved onto his Powerpoint presentation using a variety of images that explained the idea behind his book.
(Notice what he’s using as a ‘pointer’ – another bramble stalk. They really are practical!)
Finally, he rounded off with a Q&A session.
As an author talk, this three-act structure worked well. The practical exercise grabbed our attention, relaxed us into the talk ready for the main event: his presentation. And then it went interactive again at the end with the Q&A session.
Doing an author talk can be a daunting and nerve-wracking exercise. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve written a book, several short stories, or a collection of articles, being a published writer can make you an interesting person: someone others would like to listen to about their experiences.
If ever you get asked to do an author talk, think about how you might make it more interesting for your audience. Consider this three-act approach to add some variety. And don’t forget, if you have written a book, an author talk is a great place to sell books!
(And yes, reader. I did buy a copy.)