YALC 2014 (A Coward’s Guide to Chairing) Part 3: The Next Bit

Even my basic knowledge of chairing led me to a point I couldn’t ignore: we couldn’t do the panel event without all the panel – but there was no sign of Rainbow Rowell!

The foot of the Rainbow

Help arrived in the form of Emma Bradshaw who told us that Rainbow was on her way, but she’d twisted not one, but both her ankles and would need them looked at. I took the time to check through my notes one last time, make sure my laptop and dongle were both up and running and to panic a bit more.

And then Rainbow was there, sitting at the other end of the Green Room, an ice-pack on one ankle. I went over and introduced myself and asked her if she’d like a quick butcher’s at the questions. Most of us have twisted our ankles at some point and I’m sure  you’ll agree that it hurts. A lot. But Rainbow was chipper, cheerful and chatty – if a little chagrined. All the ch’s. She took a look at the questions and brightly declared that everything was OK.

And then we were off.

To the Boards!

I vaguely remember seeing geek extraordinaire, Jim Dean, and pointing at the blogging juggernaut that is Jesse Owen. But there were so many faces and we were being shepherded so fast that it was impossible to say anything. As we got closer, I offered Rescue Remedy to the panel. Only Lucy Saxon turned it down, possibly drawing on some comic-strip-courage from her Captain America costume. Tim, bless him, didn’t even know what the stuff was but went for it anyway. He’s since contacted me to ask what it was as it seemed to work. My and CJ Skuse’s theory seems to be gathering ground…

We arrived at the stage and I have a vague memory of asking everyone if they were happy to go. After a quick fiddle with the microphones, we got the thumbs-up and I found myself standing up in front of a Large Crowd of People.


No matter how many times I’ve stood on stage, no matter how well-rehearsed I feel and no matter how well-supported you feel by the people around you, there’s always that first, horrible moment where you take in your first breath to speak. Is it going to sound OK? Will you forget your words? This tends to accompany itself by an overwhelming desire to just turn and run. But, if you haven’t done this sort of thing before, here’s the trick:

Just do it.

I’ve never jumped out of an aeroplane, but I imagine it’s a similar kind of thing: you either do it or you don’t. The thing is, once you’ve opened your gob and that first sound comes out and turns itself into that first word that becomes that first sentence, it gets easier. It’s just that first bit that’s the Big Hurdle. So, do it loud and do it clear. The feeling of tension doesn’t quite go; standing up in front of a crowd isn’t natural and it does challenge your fight or flight instincts but, if you commit to it, it becomes much more bearable than you might think.

The bits I can remember

So, we were up and running. My blurred memories of the initial bit are of an audience who wanted to enjoy themselves, so I let them know that that was I wanted, too. I might be wrong, but it felt like we trusted each other, pretty sharpish. From the outset, I’d wanted to make it more of a conversation between the whole assembly, rather than a panel event that people watched – and it seemed to work! People gamely put their hands up and came on down, gameshow-style, to ask the authors questions. I was dimly aware of Bev Humphrey in the crowd, giving me a thumbs-up, which really helped.

The panel and the audience were brilliant, bouncing of each other and rolling with questions and answers. The few bits I remember clearly were Lucy getting a round of applause for her costume, me blaring into the mic that Rainbow wanted to write for Marvel and, later, putting out a call for Carrie Fisher, because Tim had a crush on her. The rest of it is a bit vague, but I remember lots of laughing and desperately listening to make sure that each of the panel had a good crack of the whip when it came to talk-time.

My Secret Weapon

I also had a secret weapon up my sleeve.

If you came to the launch-party for Geekhood: Close Encounters, you’ll know that, just as I started my speech, my then-eight-year-old son walked through the crowds and came and sat at my feet, just to help me out. Well, he did it again. If you remember the lad who came up and asked the panel which movie they’d like to be in – that was him. I didn’t ask him to do it; he just wanted to let his scaredy-cat father know that he was there and everything was OK. So, my top tip for future chairs is: hire a member of your family to sit in the audience and ask a question. It just takes the edge off. But make sure they look interested by the answer, which may have been where my son fell down…

And then somebody was whispering in my ear that we had to wrap it up, as we were out of time. By this point, I was feeling comfortable and had given in to my natural leaning towards Showing Off, so it seemed like a real shame. I gave the last, meaningful and poignant question over to Twitter:

“What’s your favourite cheese?”

And then we were done, being escorted back to the Book Zone, to take our places for signings.

Part 4 to follow when I get round to it.


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