I spent last Sunday in the Pavilion Theatre on Worthing Pier as part of The UK Southern Book Show. It was organised by an independent, friendly writer called Natasha Murray who gathered independently published writers from all over the South and even further afield and produced this poster, which as you can see, is very eye-catching. The object of the exercise was to provide a stand where independently published writers could display their books and their posters and whatever other publicity material they had produced and sell to as many book-lovers as could be coxed into the theatre. They were also offered the chance to address their audience and say how good their books were.
It didn’t work. And the reason it didn’t work was obvious from the moment the first speaker took to the stage. The auditorium seats six hundred people according to one of the front of house team whom I asked. But there were never more than ten people sitting there and often fewer, so the speakers were talking to a virtually empty theatre and couldn’t make eye contact with anyone, which is essential for a good speech. And they were so far away from the people they hoped would be listening to them, that they might just as well not have been there. The noise was deafening because the walkways were full of people, all talking at once and talking to one another and although the speakers had a microphone, it was almost impossible when we were sitting at our tables, to hear them. I tried hard but heard very little because people were talking to me at my post at the table.
When I finally got up to make my own speech, I discovered how desperately isolated it was up there on that stage. The lighting was harsh, so without holding your hand up to shade your eyes, you couldn’t see the few people who were sitting in front of you. The noise of the microphone was even harsher. I gave up after a few minutes, smiled in case anybody was noticing, although I don’t think they were, said ‘over and out I think’ and went back to my stall.
The sad thing is, that this sort of event can be handled successfully, as I know because I attend a similar event, every year, in Selsey. It is held in a small hall where the tables are set all round the walls and people have plenty of room to walk from one to the other so the noise level doesn’t reach booming proportions as it did in the theatre, because there are no speakers there, only buyers and sellers. The Selsey venue, is nowhere near as handsome as the Pavilion Theatre but it works.
It was pleasant to meet up with authors I knew and people I’d taught many years ago or taught with, but none of us were selling many books, which is what it was all supposed to be about. But it was sad too. I began to wonder whether Oswald Moseley had put a curse on the place. He spoke in this very theatre in the ’30’s and led his storm-troopers out on to the promenade, in their black uniforms and jack boots and all bellowing ‘England for the English’ in their hideous way. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.