If, twenty years ago, you'd have told me that one day I'd not only be asked to deliver an after-dinner speech, but would accept the invitation and enjoy the experience. I wouldn't have believed you. For many years, I was a very reluctant public speaker, and although I did a lot of advocacy and gave quite a few legal lectures, public speaking was something I went to some lengths to avoid. I have always felt more comfortable away from the public eye, writing rather than talking. But times change, and life as an author has made me - gradually - increasingly confident about my public speaking. I'm still not a natural, but I cherish some of the kind speaker testimonials that I've put on my website, because this is a skill I've learned slowly and with some trepidation over a long period.
Quite out of the blue, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London approached me earlier this year. They were holding their annual conference in the North West, based at Gladstone's Library, and asked me to give the main speech. After a bit of hesitation, I said yes and started thinking about how to tackle the task. I decided to include in the speech a jokey pastiche of a Sherlock Holmes story, set at the Library and featuring William Ewart Gladstone himself. I ran it by a Sherlockian expert once I'd written it, but when I learned, a few days before the event, that the guests of honour were Sir William and Lady Gladstone, members of the great man's family who are still based at Hawarden Castle, I was a bit daunted!
I did feel a bit nervous, but the evening proved very enjoyable and I met some delightful people, including the Gladstones. And it's abundantly clear that Sherlock is as popular as ever. This Society alone (and there are others) has 1400 members, and the success of the recent films and Benedict Cumberbatch show has boosted numbers. Sherlockians are apparently very active on Twitter and I learned a great deal in pleasant company.
I've always been a Sherlock fan, but this experience has strengthened my enthusiasm especially since by coincidence, I've recently been commissioned to write an essay about Conan Doyle for a literary book to be published in the near future. I may well write another Sherlockian pastiche before long, time permitting, using an idea that came to me when I visitied a museum in Prague lsat year. And on the subject of speaking, the after dinner speech has led to another speaking invitation, this time to one of the Oxford University Societies. Again, something I never would have imagined, twenty or so years ago.