I hesitate to continue.
Not so long ago, I had a flair for this. But that was before the spa incident.
Looking around the auditorium, I see a crowd of faces, over two hundred I estimate. All strangers bar a few. Those that are known to me smile widely, as if urging me, like a mum encourages the first steps of her toddler.
I am a famous author. I have written over thirty manuscripts and nineteen of those have been published. Five more under contract, to be published in the next few years. I am at an emerging writers festival, sprinkling my experience and knowledge like salt over dinner.
Words fail me. I stare out at those in the crowd, expectant, thirsty. They’ve paid good money to hear me speak. They want inspiration, they want a fire set alight in their bellies. They want to know not to give up.
I open my mouth. I check my notes in front of me. I have nothing. I throw my notes to the side, and fly blind.
‘Where do you get your ideas for stories?’ I begin. ‘It’s the question I’m most often asked. It’s in a statement, overhead at the supermarket. Any experience, any time. Be open to what it can teach you.’
Six couples on a weekend holiday in Hamilton Island. It was for Bill’s 55th birthday. He shouted us all. We met at the airport, all thrills and flourish, over-packed suitcases.
Mick and I were already in trouble. But the first night sent us spiralling. The six of us in the huge spa, bubbles in our glasses and bubbles around us. Then the power went off, and we were left in the dark.
‘Whose foot is that?’ Bella asked, reaching her hand downwards.
‘Ow,’ yelled Meredith. ‘Which of you bastards pinched me?’
Toes and fingers moved under the calm of the water. None of us had much of an idea who was doing who. Laughter, groans, names whispered, ears kissed. Moustaches tickled.
In a flash, the power lit up the balcony, the spa, the couples. Eyes averted, a curtain of shame drew over each of us. Wordlessly, each of us hurried out, went back to our rooms.
‘I knew you had a thing for him,’ Mick accused, no sooner than the door slammed shut.
‘Well you were all over Rebecca. What do you say about that?’
‘You and I, Bella. You and I…it’s over. I can’t do this anymore. We’re done.’
I stared. He packed. Left that night. With Rebecca. It turned out the spa incident was not their first effort.
I gaze around the crowd. Each person’s mouth is slightly open, their eyes glued to me, behind the podium.
‘Personal experience is often the best fodder for your stories,’ I say to close the session before unapologetically walking off stage.