I love doing readings or Q&As at writing groups and libraries. They're my absolutely best gigs.
Worst, in case you're wondering, are book signings in book shops...Lord, how bloody dreadful they are. No one buys a book or speaks to you. Hours go by, until the staff take pity and start making you cuppas.
Anyways, as I say, I love a good writer's group. I'm not sure how good for business they are in the long run, but yapping about writing with other writers is the most fun you can have outside a hotel room.
Yes, the same stuff comes up again and again. But I don't mind that because there's always something new to challenge and inspire. I rarely leave without my mind working over time.
The last one I did was no exception. I'd been invited in the Winter, when book three came out. But it snowed, then the kids got ill, then the volcanic blinking ash cloud kept me in Bangkok. So I finally got there this week.
They were a great bunch. Lively and incredibly creative. One of the members read out a short story that was feckin' brilliant.
What really surprised me on this occasion, though, was when the subject of literary agents raised its ugly head. This is a regular feature of course, and generally takes the form of an interogation into how I secured mine. And some pushy bugger will sometimes ask if I can recommend his WIP.
This time, though, things took a different turn.
After the initial question of whether I have an agent, I was then asked, point blank, why I bothered.
Why couldn't I just sub my work directly to a publisher? Why would I pay someone 15% to do a job I could do myself. Writers are, I was told, the best champions of their own work.
Before I had a chance to catch my breath another writer asked me why any artist would want to impair their creative freedoms by having an agent? They insisted on revisions didn't they? And what gave them the right? Who set them up as the gatekeepers of fiction?
The discussion went on until the end of the session and then continued in the pub.
And I've been thinking about it ever since. Trying to settle my own views. I mean, I don't jump with joy when I see my agent's cut from my advances and royalties so why pay it?
Being honest here, the main reason is of course, that my agent has been successful. He has sold all my books to date. I don't have anything unpublished under my bed and I'm contracted for another three. He did all that. I wouldn't have known where to start.
I guess, I could have looked up the various publishers, and sent my subs in, but I won't fool myself into thinking that this would have opened as many doors as a simple phone call from someone who has been in the biz for years. It's all about contacts.
Wrong? Maybe. But I'd rather deal with the reality of any situation and turn it to my advantage than try to fight it.
In this respect, I am, I'm afraid, not my best advocate. Perhaps I'm just too British. Either way, the thought of going out and flogging gives me the shivers.
As for foreign deals. Well, come on, I have A level French. How could I possibly?
Telly rights? C'mon. This is me, not Richard Curtis. I'm just some northern bird who needs her roots doing. I'd be laughed out of court.
So ultimately, I have an agent because he can sell...maybe other writers could do this. But not me.
But it's more than that, even.
When things go wrong, and they do, he is my bad cop. Horrid covers? Arguments over edits? Disagreements over money? He da man.
I like a warm, trusting relationship with my editor, and most certainly do not want to end up bickering over my next title. Let my agent do all that. Behind the scenes.
Again, I'm sure there are more forthright types than me who can battle it out. I'm a wimp. Guilty as charged.
Anything else? Defintely.
Writing can be a funny old business. The worry worm can hit at any time. Or even a full blown attack from The Fear. Then there are the rejections, the bum reviews, the poor sales. But with an agent, you're never alone. He's on my side. He cheers me on. We're a team.
I've often heard it said, that diamonds are a girl's best friend. But I'm sticking with an agent.
Should others? Well that's a personal choice. But it's one that should, I feel, be taken in full knowledge of what it is they actually do.