Thursday, 29 January 2009

The joys of networking reloaded

‘What is your connection to the event?’
‘I’m an up-and-coming author.’
‘Ooh, look! Canapes. Excuse me...’

Who do you think initiated that conversation last night at a book reading in a swanky agency’s conference room? Sadly, it was me. And I threw the poor peer of mine to the curb as soon as I realised he could do nothing for me. I didn’t care that he could inspire me and mentor me and perhaps be a good creative friend, someone to share experiences and advice with, someone to bounce ideas off. I was a shark, and he was a guppy. We were both there for a single-minded mission. I left him to it.

What have I become?

It seems years ago now that I stood in an awards ceremony’s reception and repeatedly embarrassed myself in front of the most important agents and publishers in the industry. Now I was a stone-cold tiger shark predatory machine ready to impress myself on people. Except I wasn’t. I just wasn’t being nice about it anymore. I was still awkward and embarrassed hovering in the centre of a room alone not knowing anyone. A friend and I had agreed to attend the event if we both spoke to 3 possible contacts each, independently of each other and people we, well she, knew. Thusfar we had both hovered and talked to each other and stuck to her merry band of friends. Awkward. Everyone around us was in a whirlwind of buzz and conversation, making deals and discussing up-and-comers and setting tastes and tones for the year. Neither of us would be on any of their lists on their lips as we were a bank of nerves circulating round the room like carbon dioxide tinged with red wine.

I became the tiger shark predator thing. And that exchange happened. And as I was crushing a mushroom vol-au-vent in my mouth, suddenly thought, ‘I am such a nerd. Come on, man up. Do what you came here for.’

I talked to Jack, incidentally an agent who looked like Jack from Eastenders. He was suave and Scottish and insisted on talking about The Wire, which much as I love, meant everytime I tried to clunk in another reference to my work, it was lost in his reverence of televisual melodrama. I talked to Helena who had become an agent to further her own writing career. Like me and my job, she’s attacking from within. We got caught in a loop of being able to help the other out as a writer but ultimately more concerned about ourselves, like selfish mirrors dancing with each other in a surrealist’s jelly forest.

Eventually, I latched on to Joe, a poetical uberwunderkind who was reading that evening, a sparkling talent full of thoughtfulness and interest. We talked for a good hour about writing and the ‘process’ and as we parted in the train station, felt like we had both connected on a spiritual level. I shook his hand. He gave me a friendly hug as if to say we were on a journey.... man so don't worry. I stood on the escalator listening to two drunk girls enthuse about The Mighty Boosh, and thought, I wonder who that writer I fobbed off was. Cos when I actually started talking to a peer about creativity and writing and not an agent with the sole purpose of selling myself, I felt like I actually had something worthwhile to say.

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