It was my privilege and delight to talk to the ‘Four Seasons’ group at Dialstone Lane Methodist Church last week. ‘Four Seasons’ is their ladies group (originally ‘young mums’ but a few years further on now…) and I have been told the name refers to the different stages in a woman’s life.
“You’re definitely Summer!” one person told me. “Most of us are Autumn…”
Well, Summer had the privilege of talking about her time in Zambia, about In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree, and about the process of writing and publication. I was probably briefest on that topic, but it was lovely to go back through the things that made Zambia so special and unique.
I don’t, as a rule, mind giving talks. I quite enjoy the preparation and I always love meeting people. This particular day was more chaotic than usual, as my twelve-year-old son was about to embark on his first trip to France: a school residential, leaving after midnight (?!) I was in the usual maternal flap I have when my babies are leaving me: pretending that it’s great, that it doesn’t matter and that I’m delighted that he is taking a step further away from the nest… when really I just want to hold him close and protect him from it all.
Or, in the case of France, go with him. (Think croissants and pain au chocolat…)
So, after a manic day at work, collecting daughter from school, going last-minute shopping with son for clothes for trip, feeding the family, taking daughter and friend to Brownies and trusting that my husband would be home from work before I had to leave… Needless to say, the calm period of preparation for the talk evaporated into a frantic fifteen minutes snatched before I left.
Feeling horribly underprepared, I arrived to find a sea of faces, ranged in two severe rows arced around a large table with its solitary chair. I hadn’t really expected to be delivering a talk while sitting down! The table seemed huge and the chair so small: I began to feel ridiculously insignificant. I did what all good speakers do at this point: I rushed to the ladies!
Equilibrium restored, I faced my audience with a smile. Thankfully they smiled back. In the last few minutes before kick-off a number of people arrived, such that there weren’t any spare chairs left. Someone had kindly swapped the dining table for a small coffee table and I launched into my story.
It was only at the end, over tea and biscuits (this is why I like talking to church ladies’ groups!) that my friend came up and asked, “Were you nervous?”
“Oh, yes,” I replied. This was the first time I’d spoken in public about my book and I had been a little at sea to know what I should say. On the one hand, 45 minutes felt like a lifetime; on the other, I had so much I could have shared.
“I thought so,” she said. “I don’t think anyone else would have noticed but I did. And don’t worry: the talk was excellent.”
Phew! In amongst all the chaos that surrounded the evening I managed to pull together a few words that made sense. All that adrenaline pumping round the body to write and execute a talk, as well as organise the family to a restrictive timetable, finally found its release. All I had to do when I returned home was to figure out how to stay awake long enough to say goodbye to my boy.