Last night, Debi Alper, author of Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana, was the star guest at the Dulwich library reading group. I was lucky enough to be able to attend. It was the first time for a very long time that I’d been out alone going to "an event" that wasn’t to do with work, but I am very glad I went.
Arriving promptly at 7.30 pm, I was met by Anna, the organiser of the group, and the people who’d arrived so far. We chatted about books, libraries and so on until Debi herself arrived. What a fabulous, warm, alive and vibrant woman she is! On her blog and website she has a very scary, serious photo of herself which looks very little like this gorgeous woman with wild, mad, red curly hair; beautiful red Indian tunic; glinting bangles; and a smile of such radiance you wouldn’t believe. The picture on the right is a bit closer to the real thing, but does not do her justice.
We quickly settled down in a "reading circle", and Debi told us how she came to write her novels via her writing group, and read us the first chapter of Nirvana Bites. (Talking of bites, yesterday was Debi’s birthday (25th I guess ) , and Anna had baked her a delicious cake. ) Debi wrote her novel as "assignments" for her writing group, Dickens style, rather than having a whole book in mind when she started. Her characters take lives of their own, she follows them not knowing where they will lead. She writes in longhand, whenever she can — on the bus, on school trips, in the garden, etc. When she’d finished her first book, a friend of a good friend turned out to work for a publishing company, and ensured that the draft was actually read rather than going on the slush pile. Before she knew it, Debi’s book was en route to publication – no agent, no "product placement", just obvious talent.
Of course it hasn’t all been easy; one thing that we discussed was how hard authors have to work to market their books. The publisher puts a lot of effort in when the book is launched but after that it is pretty much left up to the author. Blogging is one way to create a "presence" (I won’t use the term "brand".) A lively discussion of blogging ensued at this point, and the evening drew to a close with a collection of eager purchasers clutching signed copies of Debi’s novels.
It was such a wonderful evening — partly the atmosphere of the readers’ circle (Anna is a great chairperson), with the many, varied questions and opinions being voiced, and partly the focus of Debi, who charmed us all. Thank you, Debi, for giving us all your time: for your naturalness and openness. I am sure I speak for everyone present when I write how much of a pleasure it was to meet you and hear what you had to say.