This summer’s “mini book tour” in the UK filled me with confidence and connection.
Public speaking has been something I’ve had to continually push myself to do. I was one of those “shy” kids in school, sitting as close to the back as I could, hoping I’d get overlooked when it came to reading aloud. But my teachers didn’t let me get away with it. In fact, during 6th grade I was picked out of hundreds of kids to read aloud at the school’s Remembrance Day assembly. I was scared silly but didn’t let myself back out. I rose to the occasion and shared my essay in front of hundreds of other children and got a standing ovation. You’d think that would might have hooked me, but it’s been a long, slow learning curve, coming out of my shell. I’ve talked about how choral singing has helped with that, and probably also having had parents in the theatre.
I was simultaneously flattered and taken aback when my old friend on the Isle of Wight said, after my presentation there this June, “I’ve never seen you look and sound so natural, ever!” Wow, I thought, does that mean I seem awkward in real life? But it feels good knowing that I am conveying the messages in Walking to Japan with flair, and just enough gravitas, and humour! How rewarding to see smiles—and even tears—from members of the audience. How gratifying to feel I have made a connection to folks through this book.
I gave three book readings and two speeches this summer. My first event was in a proper theatre with spotlight and sound system and big screen. At first, the size of the space was daunting, but I then found that being in the spotlight was somehow reassuring. I know folks could see me and I didn’t fret about not seeing them. I settled into the warm light and the familiar rhythm of the book.
Two days later I entered what seemed like a fairy cottage and met a small group lovely women gathered for my reading. Now, being in such close proximity to my audience made me aware of my every little “um” and “er” and nuance in my delivery. I felt more exposed here than I had on the large stage. But soon, their smiles and attentiveness settled my nerves and I relaxed. It was like story time at the library! The following week’s event was also on a more intimate level, and fun, with several families joining in for peace-crane making at the end.
My events were not the only fun I had in the UK. I went fossil hunting on the beaches of Dorset, and hunting for the best cream across England. (I am very picky about my scones and clotted cream and strawberry jam!) I attended organ recitals and puppet shows, and visited with friends and family who made me feel incredibly welcome. I am so thankful to all my hosts!
Perhaps the most fun I had during my time in the UK, though, was walking. The country is literally crisscrossed by pedestrian footpaths, and it’s a common pastime for folks to walk through the countryside, stopping in villages to rest and dine. I love it! But my favourite place to walk is London.
The city has worked its spell on me ever since I first visited there a few decades ago and especially since living there for six months in 2013. In London, I feel at my best. The city offers me the opportunity every day to walk out the door and see/ hear/feel/learn something new. How exciting to me, all the layers of history and architecture and culture, all there for me to peel away. I can be an adventurer without worrying too much about the impact I make. I don’t have to drive, I am not disturbing some indigenous settlement, or trampling pristine wilderness. I can quietly seek the places that even many locals don’t know about, finding hidden gardens, hilltop vistas, stretches along the Thames where I can hunt for urban relics. I make my way along canal towpaths, old rail beds, narrow neighbourhood lanes, and through old cemeteries where wild creatures live and wild berries grow. Something in me wakes up when I’m in London. And every night I go to bed happily exhausted.
At home in Victoria now, it’s quieter. It’s peaceful. Incredibly beautiful. I have work to do, and there’s no shortage of activities to take part in. But, somehow, I can’t quite connect to that part of myself that I do when I’m away.
So—I’ll be back, London. I’ll be back.