It’s said that one of the most common phobias is public speaking. For many people, having to give a talk is enough to bring on all sorts of anxiety, and there are those who simply won’t do it. It’s not surprising that a lot of people don’t like public speaking, actually. Things really could go wrong, and you never know when the technology won’t work, or you forget your notes, or…. But most of us do, at some point or another, have to bite the bullet, stand up on a dais (or at least, in front of a crowd), and speak. It can be dangerous, though. A quick look at crime fiction should show you what I mean. Oh, and before I go further, I won’t include any of the many examples from legal novels where lawyers speak publicly; there are too many of them. But they’re out there.
Authors sometimes give talks, either alone or as a part of a panel. A lot of authors have to gear themselves up to do that, as it can be draining. And some simply don’t like it. In Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, for example, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver asks Hercule Poirot to look into a strange matter. She’s been commissioned to put together a Murder Hunt as a part of an upcoming fête at the home of Sir George Stubbs. Mrs. Oliver gets the feeling, though, that there’s more going on, and she asks Poirot to investigate. She is proved tragically right on the day of the event, when fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker is killed. Poirot and Inspector Bland work to find out who killed the girl and why. At one point, Poirot makes a call to Mrs. Oliver. Here’s part of the conversation:
‘‘It’s a splendid thing you’ve rung me up,’ she said. ‘I was just going out to give a talk on How I Write My Books. Now I can get my secretary to ring up and say I am unavoidably delayed.’
‘But, Madame, you must not let me prevent – ’
‘It’s not a case of preventing,’ said Mrs. Oliver joyfully. ‘I’d have made the most awful fool of myself.’’
I think a lot of authors can relate…
Politicians, of course, make plenty of speeches, and those can be no less dangerous. For instance, Ngaio Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder features Sir Derek O’Callaghan, MP. He’s made his share of political and personal enemies, but he is influential. One day, he is making a speech in Parliament to introduce a controversial bill to prevent anarchy. Some support it; many others believe it’s a draconian bill that will suppress freedom of expression. During the speech, Sir Derek collapses from a case of appendicitis, and is rushed to a private nursing home/hospital run by his old friend, Sir John Phillips. He is given emergency surgery, which he survives; but later, in the recovery room, he dies of what turns out to be hyoscine poisoning. Inspector Roderick Alleyn investigates, and finds out that there are several possible suspects. He’s going to have to uncover some people’s well-kept secrets to find out who the murderer is and how the crime was committed.
David Hingley’s Birthright takes place four years after Charles II’s ascensiona to power in England. As it opens, Mercia Blakewood prepares to attend the execution of her father, who has been convicted of treason as a Parliamentarian traitor. He is allowed one speech before he dies, and she wants to hear what he has to say, as well as show what moral support she can. In the speech, Mercia’s father gives her a cryptic clue to a mystery that the new king wants solved. And Mercia has every reason to take this lifeline. Her land has been taken by her treacherous uncle, and her son will be taken away from her, too. So, she uses the clue to try to get to the truth of the mystery, and save her own life and that of her son.
Gail Bown’s Deadly Appearances introduces her protagonist, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn. She attends an important speech given by her friend and political ally Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk. He’s a rising leader in the party, and this speech will have ramifications. He’s just begun his speech when he collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. Heartbroken at the loss of her friend, Joanne decides to cope with her grief by writing Andy’s biography. As she does, she learns more about him and slowly puts the pieces of the mystery together. And that gets her into a great deal of danger as she finds out more than it’s safe for her know.
And then there’s Alan Orloff’s Deadly Campaign. Channing Hayes is part owner of The Last Laff, a northern Virginia comedy club. He’s also been known to do a little amateur detective work (check out Orloff’s Killer Routine for that story). One day, Hayes and his business partner Artie Worsham attend a campaign speech given by Edward Wong. He is the nephew of Artie’s good friend Thomas Lee, who owns the restaurant next door to the comedy club. Wong has a good chance of being elected a Congressional Representative for the area, and his family wants to support him as much as possible. During Wong’s speech, a group of thugs bursts in wielding baseball bats. They do plenty of damage to the restaurant, although no-one is killed. Lee doesn’t want the police involved, in part because he doesn’t want to make trouble for the campaign, and in part because the people who sent the thugs are potentially very dangerous. So, he asks Hayes to do a little investigating. Hayes soon finds out that there’s a great deal at stake here, and a lot of corruption behind the scenes.
See what I mean? Most of us have to give talks at some point or another, whether we want to or don’t. Some people don’t mind that at all. If you think about it, though, with everything that can happen during a speech, it’s no wonder people don’t want to give them…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.
16 thoughts on “Have I Said Too Much?*”
Haha, all of these examples are not helping my public speaking phobia! I suppose if I ever have to do it again (hopefully not!) I can remind myself that if I get through it without being murdered, I can count it as a success… 😉
Haha! You know, FictionFan, you are very far from the only one who doesn’t like public speaking. But I wouldn’t worry; I’m sure you won’t get bumped off… 😉
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In Louise Penny’s book, The Madness of Crowds, statistician, Abigail Robinson, gives a talk at a university near Three Pines. Her topic is abhorrent to me. She advocates “mercy killing” of those who burden society such as the aged and deformed unborn. She survives an uproar at the talk. A couple of shots are fired. She does not survive a New Year’s Eve party. If there is a character I have read in recent crime fiction who “talked too much” it is Abigail Robinson.
Oh, yes, Bill, I remember your fine review of The Madness of Crowds. And that’s certainly a good example of someone whose public speaking ends up in tragedy. Her topic is abhorrent to me, too.
I come into the ‘Won’t do it’ category. Absolutely terrified of public speaking and, to be honest, I think it makes a lot of people uncomfortable at the very least.
I do love that quote from Dead Man’s Folly, Zoe Wannamaker played Ariadne so well and I can just hear her voice there.
I’ll be reading Deadly Appearances for March’s Read Around Canada (so I’d better get a move on) for Saskatchewan. In fact, I think it was your mention of it a few weeks ago that put me on to it? Maybe…
You’re not alone, Cath. A lot of people really do not like public speaking, and avoid it at all costs. I think you’re right that people do get uncomfortable at even the idea of it.
As for Zoë Wanamaker, I thought she was brilliant at playing Ariadne Oliver; she’s quite talented. And, yes, that’s a great Christie quote!
I hope you’ll enjoy Deadly Appearances. Gail Bowen is such a talented author, and really conveys life in Saskatchewan. Two other authors who also do are Anthony Bidulka and Nelson Brunanski. Bidulka has a fine series fefaturing Saskatoon-based PI Russell Quant, and Brunanski’s series features amateur sleuth John ‘Bart’ Bartowski. I can recommend all three series as and when.
Thanks for the excellent recs for Saskatchewan, Margot, I will note those down. I don’t suppose you know of any crime related series for Manitoba, do you? Very difficult province I’m finding. After that it’s Ontario I think, and there’s a pretty good choice there.
I’m so glad you’re reading more Canadian crime fiction Cath. Perhaps this list will help you? It’s put out by the crime writers of Canada. And as for Ontario, let me know if you need suggestions; there’s a great deal there.
For all things Canadian crime fiction, may I also suggest you visit Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan? Bill Selnes, who keeps that blog, is extremely knowledgeable about Canadian crime fiction.
‘This list’ did indeed help, Margot! You’re a star. Lots of Manitoba based crime fiction or authors there for me to choose from. Thank you so much!
Happy to help, Cath! I hope you enjoy your virtual time in Canada!
Ah yes, public speaking – such a terrible thing to have to do! I remember Mrs. Oliver’s dislike of it, which I have no doubt reflects that of her creator, as I believe Agatha was quite a retiring type in real life!
I think she was, too, KBR! Public speaking must have been so hard for her! Funny so many people dislike it so much, and yet most of us, at one time or another, have to give a talk or address an audience or something…
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Fantastic post. I’m super introverted and I don’t think I can ever speak in public. And your post has given me more reasons not to! I love how you stick to the overarching crime fiction theme of your blog while exploring so many different topics. For some reason, this post reminded me of Death at a Funeral where the protagonist tosses aside his prepared speech and delivers an impromptu one which turns out to be pretty decent.
Thanks for the kind words, OP. I’m glad you like what you find here. And believe me, you are not the only one who doesn’t like speaking in public. There are people who will do anything to avoid having to do so. Thanks, too, for the comment about Death at a Funeral. I wonder how often people do go ‘off script’ when they’re speaking in public. That takes even more poise than reading a speech does, I think.
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I am among those that refuses to speak to a group. I bet you are very good at speaking in public, Margot, and I envy you.
Dead Man’s Folly is among my favorite books by Christie, for several reasons. One is the appearance by Ariadne Oliver. Another is the setting, plus it was a particularly difficult puzzle to solve.
I don’t know how good I am at public speaking, Tracy. I will say I’ve had to do it a lot over the years, what with teaching, conferences, author events, and so on. Ya get used to it! You’re not alone, though, in refusing to speak to a group. A lot of people won’t do that.
I agree with you about Dead Man’s Folly. It’s an intriguing and challenging mystery, and I love Ariadne Oliver’s character. She has such insight into what it’s like to write. I’ve read that she was Christie’s way of poking fun at herself, and I think that takes courage.