The occasion? The Tamworth Literary Festival, part of the ongoing celebrations of her life in this, the 1100th anniversary of her death, in Tamworth.
With months to go, I didn't panic. Besides, I had my history of Mercia to finish. I would meet the deadline for the book, and then work on my talk.
The brief: to talk about what we know of her life, and then explain how I gave her a voice in my novel.
Well, I finished the book, sent it off with a week to spare, and then between proofreading and indexing, I got to work on my talk. It helped that my new book contains a chapter on Æthelflæd and her husband, so it was all fresh in my mind.
I wrote it out. Everything I wanted to include in my twenty-minute talk. It came to more like 35 minutes. Yikes!
Now came the difficult task of deciding what I could jettison, and what I couldn't bear to let go. Numerous revisions ensued, until I had something much more manageable. The next task was to learn it. Or at least, learn enough so that I wouldn't be reading every word.
I decided that cue cards were not for me. Instead, I used a large font (16 point) and used a mixture of full sentences and short notes. I practised reading it aloud, refined it, practised again, and kept this process going. But maybe I peaked too early, because with less than a week to go, I found myself thinking of things that needed to go in. By this stage, timing was so tight that for every new thought which went in, something had to be chopped out.
But, I'd got to the point where all I had to do was glance down occasionally at the notes, and I knew the layout well enough that I could look straight at the relevant part of the page. I was 'good to go'.
The journey was horrendous and it was a good choice to travel the day before the event. It was also a boon to have my husband with me, because it made life easier carrying overnight bags and boxes of books from the car park to the venue.
On the day, I suffered from terrible nerves, waiting for everything to start happening. But once the organisers arrived at the venue, I relaxed a little and it helped that I was then busy. Sara, who was chairing the event, suggested that we set up the book-signing tables near the door, and she'd brought a pretty tablecloth to drape over the tables. She also pointed out something which had not occurred to me, as a 'newbie' - that a sign showing your book prices is an absolute must. Good tip! It hadn't occurred to me that people might already be 'browsing' while we were busy setting up at the other end of the room, and therefore couldn't ask me the prices.
I'd remembered just in time to take a float, so I was able give change.
Posters, which I blu-tacked to the wall behind us, worked well. But others had posters in acrylic stands, which looked great on the table and it's something I'd do in future. I had a collection of promotional postcards, and business cards, plus fliers for the new book and these proved popular.
And then came the talk. Three of us were involved, but I was up first. I was still nervous, and my mouth was dry, despite the gallons of water I'd drunk. But once I got going, I was absolutely fine, although all my resolutions to break for a sip of water went out the window. I was on a roll, and I was going to keep going!
Once it was all over, I was much more relaxed. It had been very well-received and lots of people bought books and chatted at length about my writing and the history. My husband grabbed some sandwiches from the buffet for me, but pointed out that I had better wait before eating them - that way there was no chance of my signing the books with greasy hands. Another good tip!
I sold around 75% of the books I'd taken with me. I was pleased with that, because I'd no idea initially how many to take. And it seems to me that it's better I had a few left over, than that I ran out.
Now that it's all over, would I do it again? Yes, definitely. Would I be as nervous the next time? Well, I'd like to think not, but I know from my days as a professional singer that I do suffer dreadfully with stage-fright. At least now, though, I know a little bit more about what to expect.
Oh, and one last tip: take a pen. It's the one thing that I forgot!