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Monday, 9 June 2008

Giving good panel

There's a moment in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie where Elizabeth Swann invokes the right to "parley" under the Pirate Code, and Captain Barbossa dismisses it as "more of a set of guidelines than actual rules."

Well, much the same could be said for the unwritten agreement that exists between writers invited to speak on a panel together. There are no written rules, more a set of commonly understood basic and principles:

1. Give everyone their fair chance to speak - don't hog the microphone or jump in at every opportunity, especially if some of the other panellists are a little shy
2. Promote but don't sell - don't hijack the session into a sales pitch at other people's expense

3. Humour not humiliation - don't belittle or criticise your fellow panellists to get a cheap laugh
4. Humility rather than smugness - don't batter everyone with your sales figures or the size of your advance (yes, I said advance) or with how clever or funny you are

Or maybe these principles aren't as well understood as they should be. At last weekend's Crimefest, I witnessed numerous instances of mike-hogging and selling, where well-behaved panellists lost out to some of their more vocal and pushy colleagues.

Even in my panel, (See Graveyard Shift), Michael Morley (a TV producer turned novelist who has just published his first novel, Spider) was guilty of reading out two paragraphs of his book at the end of the session. He was trying to illustrate how your imagination can lead to small things running away with themselves and suddenly acquiring a greater significance - a good point, granted. But surely not one that warranted the four other writers, all equally keen and deserving for the opportunity to promote their work, being forced to sit there while he turned the session into a private marketing event. The look on moderator Declan Hughes' face was priceless - the sort of strained smile that losing nominees give on Oscar night.

Maybe I'm just being too sensitive. Michael seemed like a nice guy - family man, successful and interesting TV career. In fact I later went and brought a copy of Spider, because I thought it sounded interesting. So this was probably just him being unthoughtful, rather than showing a deliberate lack of professional courtesy. The same probably couldn't be said for Tony Broadbent, a thriller writer who I shared a panel with a few years ago, who started every reply, interruption and "If I could just build on that ..." comment, with variations on, "Well as you will see in my novel X,..." or "Well when I was writing my novel X."

I think I was asked to sign about twenty books after that session. He had about five.

There is a God.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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June 09, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was at Crimefest and can confirm that people in the audience were rolling their eyes just as much as the panellists...

I was disappointed to miss your talk in Harrogate - what did you make of it?


July 22, 2008  

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