Get Ahead – Get a Hat!

I read an interesting article by Anna Wilson recently on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure.  It’s worth reading in full (along with all the comments), but basically she talks about how difficult it can be to promote yourself as a writer. Most of us writery types just like sitting alone in peace and quiet and making up stories, so it can come as quite a shock to discoverthat we need to do book signings, or stand up in front of festival audiences and school assemblies and talk about our books.

I’m not sure I agree with Anna’s suggestion that women are less good than men at this side of the business. It’s more about experience and personality than gender. A lot of the funniest and most compelling performers I know are women, while many of the men are as shy as owls.

I’ve always been very shy myself. I hate parties, and any situation which involves me having to talk to people I don’t know. But quite early on, when I was still at school, I found out that I liked acting. It seems a strange thing for a shy person to want to do, but being on stage in front of two or three hundred people is a completely different experience from being a room with two or three. If you’re shy, I really recommend that you try it! If you’ve learned your lines thoroughly, you know what you’re going to say. And if you haven’t, or if something goes wrong, you can usually make something up on the spot. Most importantly, you are not you any more; you are playing the part of someone else, and that is who the audience is looking at.

When I started out as an illustrator and writer, I never did any public events at all. When I realised that I was eventually going to have to take the plunge, I thought back to all the acting I’d done at school and college. I knew I’d never have the nerve to stand up as myself in front of a crowd at the Hay Festival or somewhere, but if I were playing a character, it might be OK. So whenever I do a public event, I try to remember that I’m not being me; I’m playing a character called ‘Philip Reeve’ who is an Eminent Author and NOT SHY. And I wear a costume, so that I remember I’m acting. In every day life I usually dress like this…


I’m the one on the right. Photo: Sarah McIntyre

…but when I’m being ‘Philip Reeve’, I look more like this.


Photo: Sarah Reeve

At least, I used to, but one of the great things about having a costume is that you can change it to suit a new project. When I started writing books for younger readers with Sarah McIntyre, I decided the suits and ties were all wrong, and started dressing more like this. It may not look like a costume to you, but I’d never owned a pair of trainers or a denim jacket before, so it feels Very Daring, and when I look down at myself I think, ‘who’s that?’ Obviously it can’t be me. Maybe it’s someone all confident and intelligent who doesn’t mind going on stage…


Photo: Sarah McIntyre (and I think she drew the picture too: I’m just colouring it in!)

Sarah McIntyre does the costume thing far better than me, of course. She’s famous for her outfits, and wherever I go with her, she’s stopped by people saying, ‘Oh, I like your hat!'(or glasses. Or dress) – it’s a great conversation-starter. And once people have noticed her hat, it makes them notice her books as well. Naturally, we’ve had to come up with special outfits to wear when we’re talking about our book Oliver and the Seawigs. (I wish I could show you what we’re planning to wear for our next one, Cakes in Space – but it’s a SECRET.)


Some of our readers like to dress up as well… Photo: Jo Cotterill

So my other bit of advice for shy writers would be, ‘Team up! Be part of a double act!’ Neil Gaiman, who really is an eminent author, put it very well when he said ‘find someone who is seriously more outgoing and interesting than you are, and stand next to them, and you can actually carry on being shy and nobody notices. Because they’re really not looking at you!’

Alternatively, he could try wearing one of McIntyre’s hats…


Photo: Sarah McIntyre

Sadly, I’m so busy dressing up and gadding around the country that I don’t have much time to blog, and this will be my last post for Girls Heart Books. I’d like to thank them very much for having me, and, if you have been, thanks for reading. ( I’ve just seen the list of guest bloggers who will be joining next month, and it’s a good ‘un…)



7 thoughts on “Get Ahead – Get a Hat!

  1. I agree, Philip! Funnily enough, I found myself thinking this yesterday as I went to an event that turned out to be for the wrong age-group for my books… I was faced with a tent full of toddlers instead of the 7 year olds I had been expecting. Thinking quickly, I raced home (luckily I live near where the event was taking place) grabbed some cuddly toys as props, my soppy pet Labrador to pull the crowds and the only two picture books I have ever written… I returned with my “Anna Wilson the picture book writer” head on, and entertained the kids. (And prayed my teenage kids wouldn’t walk by and see me.) Phew. It is most definitely all about acting a part.

  2. A writer after my own heart! COSTUMES ALL THE WAY! Pulling on a wacky costume before you face an auditorium with 300 plus kids is just like pulling on a suit of armor. You feel protected and ready to take on the world! I wouldn’t do an event without being in costume. Where’s the fun in that?

    Though I do hope you pop back to let us see the next costume for Cakes in Space!

    • A writer after my own heart! COSTUMES ALL THE WAY! Pulling on a wacky costume before you face an auditorium with 300 plus kids is just like pulling on a suit of armor. You feel protected and ready to take on the world! I wouldn’t do an event without being in costume. Where’s the fun in that?

      Though I do hope you pop back to let us see the next costume for Cakes in Space!

    • Hi again,

      So sorry about the double posting and stuff. My computer just had the strangest 20 seconds of madness – it posted and I don’t even know who Kate O’J is – ——

  3. Excellent (and very dapper) post, Philip. I’m just decorating a massive Edwardian hat for my next bout of school visits. So far it has ribbons, silk flowers, raspberries and erm, a black-headed sparrow! It’ll never be a McIntyre but it should distract and entertain the kids. Can’t wait to read Cakes in Space.

  4. Neil Gaiman apparently used to try and be a hat person. His hat was a grey homburg, which didn’t suit him at all, and it kept blowing off or being left behind in restaurants (his local restaurants’ staff became very accustomed to him knocking on the door late at night and asking if they’d found his hat). One day, he never went back for it, and eventually bought his iconic sunglasses and leather jacket instead.
    (This is according to Sir Terry Pratchett’s afterword in the anniversary edition of Good Omens. Pterry himself does have a Proper Author Hat, though he hadn’t found the perfect hat when he first met Neil Gaiman. No idea whether he uses his Hat for shyness-defeating purposes.)

  5. I wear a jester hat with bells on when I go to pre-schools to read stories. It’s probably the only thing the children remember about me when their parents ask them what they did at school today!

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