Bloody Scotland has just finished. It’s Scotland’s International Crime Writing festival set in Stirling; which lies in the heart of Scotland. I’m a founder and board member of the festival.
This is the fifth year and it was a record weekend with over 6,500 tickets sold. Some sixty plus authors were involved in forty events across 3 venues, and, as a charitable body, the board members get down and dirty to help the festival run smoothly.
A key tenet of Bloody Scotland, from day 1, has been to help promote and give assistance to new authors. A couple of years back I wondered if we could do a little more in this area. With some of the world’s most successful authors having graced our festival, Lee Child, Jo Nesbo, Ian Rankin and Val McDermid to name a few, I suggested ‘stealing’ three minutes from the start of these authors sessions and offering them up to debut authors.
We call this ‘Crime in the Spotlight’ and, this year, 12 debut authors read to a combined audience of 3500 readers. Each of our ‘Spotlighters’ becoming a mini warm up act for the main authors.
This is the second year of Crime in the Spotlight. Last year one of our ‘Spotlighters’ was Graeme Macrae Burnett who read from His Bloody Project – a book that has just been short listed for the Man Booker Prize.
As the person responsible for the initiative I insist that every ‘Spotlighter’ rehearses, on stage, beforehand. They also receive a thorough briefing before arriving at the festival and, of all the instructions I give them, the most important directive is to stick to the strict time limit of 3 minutes – not a second more. From the moment they walk onto stage they have 3 minutes to say hello, tell the audience a little about themselves and do a reading. Any longer and the audience will start to feel that the ‘Spotlight’ slot is getting in the way of the main event.
3 minutes doesn’t sound long – but in front of three or four hundred people it can seem a lot longer than you think.
This got my brain working. What else could you do with 3 minutes.
Not wanting to rise from the comfort of my sofa I Facebooked some of my author friends and posed the simple question – ‘What could you do in 3 minutes?’
The following is the resultant list of answers. The guilty have been named to protect my own reputation.
‘Make love to six women? Of course, the three minutes would have to be spread over a period of weeks.’ Douglas Skelton.
‘Make a pear and raspberry smoothie. I just did. Not very rock n’ roll, though.’ Mark Leggat.
‘You can count to sixty, three times or listen to two Ramones songs.’ Jay Stringer.
‘Skin a dead lamb to use its pelt to foster another lamb onto its mother.’ James Oswald.
‘Hard boil a quail’s egg or get halfway through the phone options when dialing the phone company.’ Graham Smith.
‘Stare at a screen trying to think of something amusing to say?’ Mason Cross.
As amusing as this is there is an important point to make about 3 minutes. Authors (and budding authors) will be aware of the need to be able to speak in public. The old days of a writer working away in a darkened room to despatch work to the waiting hordes, before retiring to write the next one, have gone. The stages and libraries of this world have to be embraced. It’s now expected that authors can, and will, entertain a live audience. At Bloody Scotland, and the countless other festivals around the planet, the authors are relied upon to be interesting, engaging and informative. We expect them to answer random questions at the drop of the hat. To face friendly and hostile readers with the same aplomb. To have a bank of anecdotes on hand. Maybe even a full routine. So for many of the ‘Spotlighters’, their slot may have been great exposure to a new audience but it was also essential training for what surely lies ahead.
Gordon lives in Scotland but splits his time between the UK, the U.S.A. and Spain. He’s married with two children. Gordon once quit his job in London to fly across the Atlantic to be with his future wife. He has also delivered pizzas in Toronto, sold non alcoholic beer in the Middle East, launched a creativity training business called Brain Juice and floated a high tech company on the London Stock Exchange.
He almost had a toy launched by a major toy company, has an MBA, loves music, is a DJ on local radio, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final.
Gordon has been writing since his teens and has four books published – his latest, Falling, is published by Down & Out Books and is out now – see www.downandoutbooks.com
Gordon also helped found Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.
You can learn more about Gordon and his books at his website.
L. Diane Wolfe says
That was a brilliant idea. It exposes the new author to a ton of people at one time.
gordon Brown says
The great thing is how positive and supportive the famous authors have been. They all remember their own early days.
Mason Canyon says
For someone not used to speaking in front of an audience, three minutes would probably seem more like three hours. Sounds like the perfect way to help them get use to it. The festival sounds like it would be so much fun.
Gordon BRown says
They were all nervous but, to be honest, you would never know it when they got up there. On my first reading I made a right hash of it, still do at times.
Margot Kinberg says
What an interesting look at what goes on behind the scenes of a great gathering like Bloody Scotland! Thanks, both. And I couldn’t agree more that learning to be comfortable in public speaking is critical for an author. That’s how you meet readers, other writers and so on, and that’s so important to an author’s career.
Gordon BRown says
Glad you enjoyed it, public speaking is now just expected to be part and parcel of the author’s armoury.
Alex J. Cavanaugh says
Three minutes would be enough to scare a new author not used to speaking in front of others. But a good way to break them in quickly.
Skin a dead lamb? The horror…
Gordon BRown says
James is a farmer. That’s why he knows about this stuff.