No-one Died

I worked for several years in the research department of a large trades union. It was my first job after my daughters started school and I shared it with Maureen who also had children, unlike most of our colleagues within the department. Maureen was one of those incredibly serene, unflappable people who was wonderful to work with. Just as well, really, since we were the jugglers of Research, trying to cram full time work into part-time hours to prove our worth, whilst fielding the inevitable calls from school. The one that particularly sticks in my mind was an office lady ringing me up to say, ‘Could you please collect your daughter? She’s fallen off a log.’

Maureen and I built our joint career together, starting as research assistants and fighting our way to become trades union officials. Along the way we had to put up with a lot of rubbish, such as other officials sticking their heads round the door of the department, seeing me or Maureen and saying, ‘Oh, no one in!’. I always had a feeling that as mums and part-timers we were never taken quite as seriously as the hungry, straight-from-university, twenty-somethings who began to fill up the department, hoovering up experience before moving on to the next job. At times, I got pretty fed-up about our treatment, but Maureen always managed to remain calm. ‘No-one died,’ she’d say, with a tranquil smile.

Maureen’s words came back to me after my stint on the Choc Lit panel at the Romantic Novelists Conference 2010 on Saturday. The talk that I had practised in my study went straight out of my head when I looked up and saw... faces! Where did all those people come from? I thought that caring about my subject would make it easier, as opposed to talking about some old employment nonsense, but in fact it made it twice as hard! I’m afraid I stammered and stuttered through my piece before staggering off wondering how it had all gone so wrong. And Maureen’s words came back to me. So what if I’d made a bit of chimp of myself? I got through it. No-one died.

Painting is 'The Tomb of St Basil - Westminster' by Tom Tomos


Cait O'Connor said…
I'm sure your talk went much better than you imagined Chris. Anyway you are a writer not a talker.

The 'falling off a log' line will stay with me :-)
Debs said…
I was at your talk and thought it was wonderful.

You really helped me when you described what you wanted from your hero, and when you said how Matthew had everything Harry needed, but nothing she wanted, (I think this is right, but am at work so don't have my notes in front of me) I thought it was inspired.x
Jane Lovering said…
You never sounded like you were stammering and stuttering to me! You sounded calm and informative (and had plenty to say!) Plus you were wearing a spectacular dress. I'm sure you imagined that it was worse than it was, and I loved your insights into Matthew.
Chris Stovell said…
Cait, that's certainly how I feel. And the falling off a log line stayed with me a long time!!

Deb, bless you - you were one of the calm, smiling faces keeping me up during that talk! (That's right - can give you notes if you want them).

Jane, thanks, but you were a very hard act to follow, funny and so natural - I felt like a muppet!
Pondside said…
We have a similar saying in our family, and it helps to chant it, from time to time.
Remember - you on panel were the experts and I'm sure that to everyone there you sounded calm and knowledgeable.
Flowerpot said…
I'm sure it went really well Chris - we're always our own worst critics arent we?!
Preseli Mags said…
I once did a radio interview which I thought had gone really badly (then was told it hadn't) - I can only assume it always sounds terrible to oneself, but others see our performances in a much more positive light. (Or in other words, ditto to what Flowerpot said!)
Frances said…
Chris, I am sure that the folks who attended your session were very glad to have been there.

Do not grade yourself harshly.

Do you remember what I told you about going to that reading by the newly published Kate Atkinson?

When is your next public appearance? I so wish that I could be there.

Chris Stovell said…
Pondside, I should have chanted it before I started too!

Fp, I guess so - I'm probably expecting too much of myself, but, hey, it's over!

Mags, eek, radio sounds scary!

Frances, thank you. I had forgotten it, but once you reminded me your words came back to me. Thanks for the reminder and the kind words.
Fennie said…
The unexpected result that you usually do better than you think you have done when you are giving a talk, can also work when even you feel the talk went well and you find others think it went superbly. You would expect a sort of regression to the middle but this doesn't happen. I'd love to hear you talk about your characters and to hear whether my understanding of them agreed with yours.

(Incidentally your mention of trade unions and public speaking brings to mind the story of the elderly trade union official about whom it was unkindly (but not altogether unfairly) said that when he got up he didn't know what he was going to say; when he was speaking he did not know what he was saying; and when he sat down he had no idea of what he had just said. There really are people like this!)
mountainear said…
Show me a room full of people or thrust a microphone in my face and I simply gibber. Apparently though, as you have found, it doesn't sound to bad to the audience.

Worse things happen at sea?
Posie Rosie said…
Well done you, what a nerve wracking experience to be faced, with an audience and to forget your speech....but it probably went a lot better than you thought and nobody probably noticed your nerves at all, but a good motto. How often we get caught up worrying about things that in the whole scheme of things are really nothing to fret about.
Debs said…
I'd love the notes, if possible. Thanks.x
Chris Stovell said…
Fennie, good points, both of them! Sadly I wasn't reflecting from the perspective of feeling good about it, but worth remembering!

Mountainear, worse things, indeed, do happen at sea! Imagine having to give a talk at sea!!

Posie, yes, so true - it didn't really matter, did it? But at the time it seems so important!

Debs, all done. Cx

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