Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Audience v Sales

October is full of library readings for me - it actually started in Bury a few weeks ago, and picks up again proper in Brighouse next week and then three more as part of Lancashire's Family Festival. The 'Bedrock' sequence in the book goes down every well with Library groups - playing on a huge interest in family research, life writing and social history.

And of course I love the interest in the poems and their speakers, wrapping them in a larger narrative that turns the sequence into a more tangible saga that always provokes questions about loyalty, existing family members, family politics and myths; the line between imagination and truth. A conversation most people are ready to join in with.

The other thing that characterises these readings is the low book sales. Some of the readings are attached to workshops on family research and people are coming for that primarily, others are attended by people who clearly aren't in a rush to buy a poetry book.

I've been interested in the shift in my perspective about this. Pre-book I loved meeting people and hearing their stories. I spent many years working with people on their life stories and memoirs and earnt a deep pleasure in being that resource and encouragement. Post-book I'm lugging a bag of them with me to these readings hoping that I might shift a few. And so am disappointed when I don't. And yet nothing's changed, not really. People still engage with my work. They're still provoked to talk about their own stories. They still listen to each other's memories.

So my disappointment is turning on my own attitude: while book sales are important, of course; surely the most important thing is the audience - and the privilege of hearing how my work spins off into people's imaginations and thoughts is huge - the candid talk I become part of is humbling. This might not be something my publisher can insert into a column, but surely it is my main reason for writing?

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