Something I touched on in a very ancient blog post and am now thinking about a lot more, is that all writing is a performance, because like all artistic endeavours it assumes an audience, an audience whose expectations may be satisfied, disappointed, exceeded, subverted, but always taken into account. (Even if writing is therapeutic or introspective, i.e. the audience is the writer her/himself, that audience still needs satisfaction.)
But this isn’t about philosophy or therapy. It’s about the writer as a performer, as in on stage. I could include Youtube and audio tapes but I’m thinking of those times when as authors we’re asked to stand up in public and read our own words.
I admit I used to hate it, not because it involved ‘public speaking’ - I was always fine with giving talks and presentations in work situations –but reading my own work felt like presenting myself , my creations, my inner world – which sent me in to an unusually shrinking violet state of mind. Not surprisingly my first efforts at reading to an audience were not great. I was, I suspect, a bit wooden, and I know for a fact that even if I started slowly I always cantered to the end in the hope of sitting down again as quickly as possible.
|Getting a taste for stardom|
But last November, this suddenly changed. Perhaps it was the Stroud Short Stories venue (warm welcome, big crowd) or the fact that this was performance for its own sake i.e. not linked to any book-buying or selling event, that made the difference, or maybe it was just because the readers ahead of me gave such brilliant entertainment of different kinds, I stood up and, as I read, I realised I was actually enjoying my moment in the limelight. It was a shock but a good shock, a shock I might even like to have again.
Since then I’ve taken been taking in other short story events, although so far only in the audience. Story Friday which takes place every two months in
is similar in some ways to Stroud Short Stories. Work is submitted and the ‘prize’ is selection
for the next reading event, although in both cases it’s made clear that the
criteria for selection are not just quality of writing but how well your
contribution fits with the specified theme and the other selections, i.e. it’s
about the audience experience as much as the writing. I first went along in December last year and
the story that has left the biggest impression was a comedy in two voices with
a reader for each voice. Was it a story? Was it a play? Does it matter? It was
a great performance.
|Cleveland Pools - stories are waiting|
|Dance performance by the pool|
But how are we as writers going to grasp the performance nettle? Excerpts of novels do not make for great performance IMO because they will never tell the whole story, but if we do need to tackle book launch reading we can at least hone our presentation and delivery and I’m grateful that on my late lamented MA course Lucy English, novelist and performance poet, gave us some great tips on reading aloud. (No 1 rule: Speak as slowly as you possibly can!)
|Orna Ross at the new Hawkesbury Upton Litfest|
But at other recent events it has struck me that fiction for performance has its own demands in terms of form and content as well as in the strength of the presentation. In April at Hawkesbury Upton, Orna Ross, Shirley Wright and John Holland demonstrated the strengths for an audience (in the right hands) of poetry and flash fiction, and I remember how well Pauline Masurel’s short stories came across last year in Winterbourne Library.
Does the spoken word need to pack a different kind of punch to the written word? I was fascinated to see A Word in Your Ear offering a workshop – sadly I couldn’t make it - in writing short stories for performance. But around here there are a growing number of ‘live fiction’ events (Word of Mouth at
Bristol Thunderbolt, the Bristol group Heads and Tales,
Philip Douch in and around Cheltenham and a
new Sunday night initiative in Stroud) and since I seem to be ‘between novels’ I’m
planning to be in the audience of more of them. I actually prefer to hear rather than read short fiction and so it will be a pleasure to sit
back and let these people entertain me - and then to work out
how to make my next bid for stardom.