Late last evening an invitation plinked into my In Box. Well, kind of. The Cultural Institute at the Bulgarian Embassy in London is hosting a forum on Bulgaria and its image in Europe and the gist of the invitation was that they would have loved to ask me to speak but were unable to offer me a speaker’s fee. Nor even expenses.
I explained in my reply that lack of funds, theirs or mine, has never prevented me from accepting speaking engagements – though you’d think an embassy’s Cultural Institute would be able to pony up a girl’s bus fare from somewhere – but I had a prior and non-negotiable committment. Oh yes, and there would also have been the minor drawback that I have absolutely no expertise on the subject.
I believe Mr F just said, ‘When did that ever stop you?’ but he’s getting rather clever at not moving his lips.
The flimsy basis of the invitation, just so you know how these things work, is that I once wrote a novel about the culture clash between post-Soviet Bulgaria and cutting edge 21st century America. It was published in Bulgaria and even warmly received. My fear that Bulgarians would be offended by it turned out to be groundless. If anything came out of Lubka looking really bad it was the music business. Still, what I know about Bulgaria and its sense of nationhood could be written on the back of a season ticket to Levski Sofia. Writer, know thy limits.
Authors these days are expected to perform. It isn’t enough to write the book. You must also submit to the dog and pony show. Crazy really because some writers, who are brilliant on the page, can barely string three words together on a platform. That isn’t my problem and neither does a microphone hold any fears for me. People who come to hear authors are generally well-disposed before you even open your mouth. You’re a real person, the face behind the name and you’re gamely sitting up there in the hot seat. The audience are glad it’s not them. And it beats staying in and watching the telly.
But an ignoramus speaking at a Cultural Institute? Uh-oh. I picture stern faces. I imagine the impatient rustling of learned papers. And no taxi ticking over outside the front door, ready for the fast getaway. The stuff of nightmares.