Last night I went to a party. A big publishing party, hosted by Penguin Random House. At some point, I asked my editor how many people they were expecting. ‘Five hundred,’ she said.
Here’s the thing. Parties frighten me. I’m uncomfortable facing big noisy groups of people I don’t know. I like it even less when those people are high-up, clever, powerful, talented LEGENDS (Shirley Hughes was there! Julia Donaldson was there! Jacqueline Wilson wasn’t, but she was on the guest list) and I know I need to be interesting! witty! memorable! not too drunk!
It doesn’t help that I have a terrible memory for faces. I had to ask my Random publicist her name AGAIN, and I think I did the same thing at the last two parties. I only see her once a year, and I tend to remember things like dresses or hair, which change each time, so I’m constantly embarrassed about names. I’ve trained myself to be more upfront about it, asking straight out early on, ‘Name? I’m so sorry, I’m dreadful with names…’ But I still wish I were better at it. Sorry, Jasmine. I’ll probably do the same thing at the next party! 😦
I got there early. It was held at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, and I had a very pleasant walk there across the park, even if I did get a bit lost. But when I arrived, they were still setting up, and so I grabbed my name badge and went and sat under a tree. I knew some of my author friends were due to arrive, so I thought I’d wait until I saw someone I knew and then go in with them.
As I sat under my tree, people watching, I realised that I was procrastinating. This was a great opportunity to go and meet new people; network; make new connections. Who knew what might have come out of them? But I couldn’t. The inner core of me shrank from it. I texted two friends, ‘Here early. You here yet?’ but they weren’t. So I sat and watched a bit longer. And when I reckoned there were about 150 people there already, I made myself get up and go in. And the nice (very cute!) doorman, who had seen me arrive and seen me sit under a tree for twenty-five minutes, smiled at me, and I guessed he knew exactly what I was doing and why, and I felt a bit better.
And the party was lots of fun. I met up with author pals Susie Day, Catherine Johnson, Robin Stevens, Steve Cole, Anthony McGowan, Candy Gourlay – I’m sure I’ve missed someone out! (I did! The lovely Abie Longstaff! And Sarah Benwell! anyone else?!) – and I also talked to five agents, which was very good of me because I AM looking for an agent at the moment, so it’s important to Meet People. They were all lovely too – and one of them even gave me her business card and asked me to get in touch. I might just do that!
And I saw some lovely Random people too: editors Ruth and Mainga, and Harriet (sorry Harriet, I barely said hello and goodbye!), Jasmine and Melissa. And I met Beth and Kirsty from Scottish Booktrust who were fab. And the canapes were delicious (especially the chicken tandoori thingy) and there was wine (though not red, which was a shame, because there was a worry it might damage the art installation we were using).
So I did have a very nice time. But I also knew when I’d had enough. The indoor area was very noisy, and outdoors it wasn’t all that much better. I did have several conversations where I literally had to shout, and it took a lot of effort to hear what people were saying back to me.
It’s really important for people like me to get out to occasions like this. I do find that the more I put in, the more I get out, and it really is SO nice to meet and chat with people who work in the same business, since writing is such a solitary part of it. So if you meet me at a party in the future, I will be really, really happy to talk to you, and I will be enjoying myself very much.
Just don’t worry if you see me sitting under a tree beforehand, trying to work up the courage to join you.