The nerves start the week before. This was a bad idea. What am I thinking of, putting myself up in front of people? Agreeing to talk to people when my social anxiety's been so bad for years that my neighbors are beginning to wonder if I'm a vampire, if I ever come out of the house. Maybe if I stay huddled up in bed, the curtains drawn, no one will remember that I'm supposed to be signing books tomorrow. Maybe we can all forget the whole thing and go back to how we were.
On the morning of the signing, the phone keeps ringing. Every other phone call is my mother, reminding me about my "special day" today; cranking my anxiety higher with every word she speaks. Reminding me what a great success I was the last time I gave a public speech.
"Mum, I was five. I'd just come third in a swimming contest. It's not quite the same." "But you showed your ability then, dear."
In my memory of that auspicious event, I cried the entire way through and the only reason it wasn't obvious is that if you give a speech in a swimming pool, no one's surprised if you're wet. Mum remembers differently. She always does.
In the end I take the phone off the hook, and wonder why it hadn't occurred to me earlier to pay someone to be my stand in. That's typical: I get a good idea when it's too late to do anything about it. An hour later, I am standing on a hastily created platform in front of what looks like hundreds of people to my eyes. I wait, as my introduction is read out. "Ladies and Gentleman, the world famous Ann Kratchit, author of A Simple Guide to Removing Anxiety - Forever..."
Penelope Friday is a writer who has dabbled in all sorts of genres, from academic articles to erotic fiction. She has written articles on several occasions for Disability Now magazine, and her first novel, a romance, was published by Freya's Bower in May 2008. Penelope lives in England with her husband, small son and even smaller cat.