British ex-diplomat MICHAEL BLAKE has been blinded and is confined to his flat in Cairo. Every few days a visitor comes to read to him. It’s a year since he took early retirement and booked a long–awaited birding trip on the Nile.
Half way through the voyage he meets LEE YONG and finds himself falling for her. But she’s falling for REDA, their tour guide. He isn’t all he seems either and when the Egyptian revolution kicks off, BLAKE finds himself embroiled in a tangled web of love and intrigue. When REDA is captured and thrown into jail, BLAKE will be forced to decide – to help LEE YONG and join the revolution or stand aside and risk losing everything.
Set against the background of the events of January 2011, BIRDS OF THE NILE is a powerful story of loss and self discovery as three disparate characters, each with their own agenda, seek to come to terms with change. Part political thriller, part love story, BIRDS OF THE NILE reminds us of the complex nature of global cultural interaction and how, as individuals, we try to deal with it.
THE AUTHOR AS CHARACTER
I often take part in Literary Festivals and give talks to writing groups. One of the seminars I present is entitled ‘The Modern Author – A Skill Set for the 21st Century’. In it I argue that it’s no longer enough merely to write a good novel but that it’s also essential to promote yourself. Faced with a choice of candidates for publication, today’s publisher is more likely to choose the one who is prepared to put themselves in front of the reading public, has a website, facebook page and an active twitter account with thousands of followers.
Recent events have caused me to take the argument one step further. I now believe that it’s not only necessary for The Modern Author to vigorously promote themselves but that in doing so they must also display character.
So what has caused this advancement in thought? Up until now, whenever I’ve been lucky enough to confront the reading public, I’ve been focussed primarily on my own performance. More recently I’ve been at a couple of events which have given me the opportunity to observe the performance of others and the response they created.
In March of this year I was lucky enough to be asked to appear at Kings Lynn Fiction Festival. At times I found myself amongst a panel of nine or so other authors and when attention was directed toward someone else I was able to study the audience and the reaction they displayed to particular individuals. What I noticed was that those who read well, spoke well and voiced positive opinions produced a far more active response than those who mumbled and effectively said nothing or were unintelligible. Well that’s no surprise, I hear you say. Exactly – which is why it’s odd that the people concerned hadn’t cottoned on to the fact and taken steps to do something about it.
Take reading for example. I say this because it strikes me as the simplest of these subjects to get right as it can easily be prepared for in advance. And yet how authors practice their reading skills at home before appearing in public? Very few, I suspect. And speaking of preparation, how many open mics have you been to where someone gets up on stage and spends the first few crucial minutes searching through sheaves of grubby hand-written notepaper looking for what to read? Or, in an attempt to convince us of their up-to-date technology credentials produces a mobile phone to read from only to find it’s low on battery? And while Sad Syd rambles on I’m sure it’s in here somewhere the audience has already lost interest and moved on. Or perhaps I’m wrong and it’s thought ‘clever’ amongst creative types to appear disorganised and be the absent-minded professor of literature.
Conversely, I’ve also seen the confident reader, book-marked item in hand, ready to hold forth, only to lose their public yet again by prefacing the extract from their latest novel with a convoluted introduction which turns out to be longer than the piece they finally read. Why can’t they get it right?
At another festival I attended, the stage was occupied by an interviewer flanked by two contrasting authors. One was tidy, well-presented and confidently spoken, while the other was untidy and dressed in sweat-shirt and jeans (with the emphasis on sweat, I hasten to add). And while the first made eye contact with the audience and listened appreciatively when his companion was speaking, the second totally ignored everyone else and spent most of his time staring up at the ceiling or down at the floor whilst biting his nails. He looked extremely uncomfortable with the whole idea of being there at all and seemed as if he couldn’t wait to get away. So much so that it was a topic of conversation amongst my fellow attendees afterwards. No prizes then for correctly guessing who had the longest queue for signings at the bookstall. And this totally irrespective of the merits or otherwise of their books. The potential saving grace for author number two was the fact that he was so clearly distressed (we thought he might slit his own throat at any moment) that this might be reflected in his work and give an edge to his fiction. Which merely serves to emphasize my point – rather that than have no character at all, I suppose.
We live in a world of celebrity and who you are has become just as important as what you do. As authors we should learn from this and make sure that our work isn’t ignored by our failure to behave acceptably in front of our audience. During my school holidays and long vacations I used to work as a waiter. Amongst many other things I learnt that good food can be spoilt for the customer by presenting it poorly. So yes, The Modern Author doesn’t just have to write a good book and be active in promoting it – they also have to do it with a certain degree of style.
Footnote : The ebook version of N.E.David’s debut novel, BIRDS OF THE NILE, is currently on offer for £0.99p. Here are the links.
N.E.David is the pen name of York author Nick David. Nick tried his hand at writing at the age of 21 but like so many things in life, it did not work out first time round. Following the death of his father in 2005, he took it up again and has been successful in having a series of short novellas published both in print and online.
Nick maintains he has no personal or political message to convey but that his objective is merely to entertain the reader and he hopes this is reflected in his writing. Besides being a regular contributor to Literary Festivals and open mics in the North East Region, Nick is also a founder member of York Authors and co-presenter of Book Talk on BBC Radio York.
His debut novel, Birds of the Nile, is published by Roundfire.