Friday, 19 January 2018

I'm a writer, not a speaker

Yesterday I was interviewed (at my home, since the interviewer turned out to live in the neighbouring 'London village') for what felt like forever, though it was less than an hour, by a reporter from the Radio 4 'Saturday Live' magazine programme. They'd had a feature a couple of weeks ago about treasured garments, and I'd submitted something on my grandmother's black velvet evening top, which my mother brought from Vienna in 1939. They couldn't fit it in that programme, but since my grandmother died in the Holocaust, they had decided to record an interview and use it on Holocaust Memorial Day.

The interviewer (JP, if you're a listener) was very nice, but after he left I realized I was shaking all over, and needed a calming coffee and a long time on Facebook to recover. I suppose it was partly because the topics I was talking about were painful (my family's Holocaust background, my brother's suicide) but also because, although my friends would all attest to my talkativeness, talking actually exhausts me, especially talking to strangers or to a crowd.

This is highly inconvenient in an age when publishers no longer do your book publicity for you but expect you to do most of it yourself (remind me what publishers are for again?), and especially require you to be a speaker as well as a writer. If anything, this is worse in the Christian publishing scene, where books by 'celebrity' speakers sell better than any
others, and where you will essentially get nowhere as a writer unless you are part of the never-ending round of festivals, conferences, retreats and Christian knees-ups.

Yet many if not most writers are natural introverts (it's quite difficult to pursue such a solitary profession if you're an extrovert like me) and, unless they started by being speakers and ended up writing, are out of their comfort zone when addressing a horde of eager fans or potential fans. Even if you're an extrovert, it doesn't necessarily mean you are able to stand up with minimal notes or none at all, and keep an audience entranced for 40 minutes plus questions. I love preaching, though I prefer preaching to people I already know, but I can't cope without the entire sermon written out beforehand. Research is fascinating, but I could never have been an academic - too much lecturing.

What can you do if you want to promote your work but just don't have the contacts to get speaking engagements, or just plain don't enjoy speaking? I suppose there is always the good old reading and signing at a bookshop, or these days, social media campaigning (at which I confess myself also a novice).  But it's not easy, when you're basically quite a shy person who spends their life drainingly pretending to be a confident one. Any ideas from your own experience would be welcome. Or even commiseration, if you're a reluctant speaker like me.

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently playing at being a high Anglican. She also blogs (rather occasionally!) at


  1. I found this very interesting, Veronica. I'm increasingly drawn to speaking, actually, and really love it; but it both challenges and informs my writing. The fact that you are open to immediate feedback/heckling is one thing, but seeing the expressions on people's faces as you deliver the material is important, too.
    Had to smile at the need for lots of time on FB to recover. I feel it has given me permission!!

  2. Very interesting post Veronica. I confess I am the opposite. I actually prefer speaking to writing. When writing my books, in my head I was writing them as if I were speaking them to someone who was sat in front of me.

    I love having the opportunities to speak to groups of people but unfortunately given that I work full time it is not always easy to fit in, although I enjoy preaching at my church.

  3. Speaking came first for me - preaching and teaching in my church, my blog came later. I've always enjoyed writing, even when it was just for me when I wrote in my journal.