Earlier this week my friend Nina, who studies English Language at Glasgow University, introduced me to the concept of different types of punctuation: rhetorical and grammatical. It was rather an aha! moment for me.
About a year ago I did a performance and presentation course with Alex Gillon. I learned a lot that day, but at times I got confused. Alex would suggest removing or adding commas, not where they should be to separate clauses or lists, but where whoever was reading paused, or breathed. All of my commas were grammatical and changing them to fit the way I spoke felt odd. Saying that, I did start to punctuate text aimed for reading differently. Yup. I made rhetorical punctuation my friend.
This Sunday, I’m reading the story I practiced with Alex at Illicit Ink Underground. It’s called Mouth, but needs a better title. Face, maybe. It is the first piece I’ve punctuated specifically to help me perform it. Fingers crossed, it’ll help me get the story across.
(Of course, I’ll also be standing well anchored, breath deeply, talk slowly – but clearly – and exaggerate certain words. And make eye contact with the audience at the beginning and end. Just as Alex told me.)
I’m reading Baby Ben is Crying at Illicit Ink (at The Bongo Club) on May 5th. This time, Babs, Illicit Ink’s benevolent dictator, opened up the floor for performances with a little extra. Costumes are welcome, of course, as are story telling without notes (gasp!) and collaborations.
My friend Rhian Thompson makes electronic music. She likes sine waves and interesting sounds. We first talked about doing something together last year, over beer after the New Writing Scotland launch. When I read the call for Illicit Ink’s Sleeptalking I thought of that chat and got in touch with Rhian. Could we do something together? Yes, we could!
Rhian’s developing background music and Foley and I’ll provide the voice over and story.
So, what was the story? Ah. Well, you know. I hadn’t written it at that point.
So I wrote a story, let it rest, reviewed it, re-wrote it and wrote a second story just in case. Rhian, meanwhile, started collecting sounds. A call on Facebook for the sound of children crying made me very excited: crowd sourcing sounds is collaboration above and beyond my expectation.
Now the story’s written, edited, recorded and submitted. We’re locked in to baby Ben and his pain. Rhian’s collected sounds and we’ve met to talk about lighting and costume. We’re good to go, pretty much.
On May 5th, I’ll be reading at Illicit Ink. The theme is sleep and although I haven’t yet written the story (there’s plenty of time) I have started thinking about the presentation.
In November last year I attended a workshop on performance and presentation, presented by the amazing Alex Gillon and arranged by the Scottish Book Trust. There were eight writers working in a variety of disciplines, from playwrights through novelists and short story writers to poets. All of us need to stand up and present our work with confidence. As Alex pointed out, every time we read our own work, we’re selling it and we want the audience to go away impressed enough to buy a book.
The workshop was very well timed for me: two weeks later I had two readings same week and it gave me the tools I needed to present with confidence.
It annoys me that I need the help – I used to be a tour guide, I used to do training. I have years of experience of standing up in front of an audience and talking to them. But I haven’t done much of that in the last ten years, and now I work on my own, from home. I’ve forgotten the mechanics of projecting, speaking slowly and anchoring myself to stop my knees from knocking. I used to enjoy the performance aspect of public speaking but I’ve even forgotten the feeling of “yay, everyone’s looking at me!” that was the childish foundation of that enjoyment.
So, I needed the training and I looked forward to it. I had heard a lot about Alex. She trains the Story Shop writers, among others. Alex has a beautiful, schooled voice and doesn’t pull her punches. She tells you what you’re doing wrong until you get it and start doing it right. She breaks you down and gives you the tools to build yourself up. Daunting, yes, she it can be, but I rather liked her technique. In a group, you have a lot of opportunity to learn from other people’s example. The first person to read for Alex gave me a long list of things to think about. I was second. Unsurprisingly, my performance raised new issues for us to think about. The main things I took away were:
Remember to breathe.
Look at your audience. Especially, memorise the first and last lines so the audience can see your face when you read them.
Practice makes perfect. Read out loud whenever you have an opportunity. When you can confidently read someone else’s writing on the first go, you’ll have more space to work on how to your perform your own writing.
Commit to the performance. Go for it. Don’t be afraid. Believe in the words and your ability to deliver them.
I’ll keep Alex’s advice in mind as I first write and then practice my story for May 5th.
The Seven Wonders of Scotland, an anthology from Birlinn examining Scotland today through tales of fictional wonders, is out early November. The book was launched at Changin Scotland last weekend, and has a second launch at Blackwells Bookshop on November 27th, 2012, 18:30 (not 18:00 as first advertised). Gerry Hassan will introduce the book and there will be readings, from me, Kirsti Wishart and other of the writers.
I’ll also be reading at the next Illicit Ink event, 20,000 Words Under the Sea, at The Bongo Club, on December 2nd, 2012, 20:00. The inspiration for my piece, The Corals Wave Back, comes from my natural history hero, David Attenborough, and The Living Ocean. I don’t think I’ll be alone in taking inspiration from that quarter. You’ll also hear Helen Jackson read Ms Chalmers and the Silent Service, Lynsey May and other local writers.
Last year, I went rather wild at the book festival. This year, I’m taking it easy. I’ve only booked events at the weekend or in the evening and I’m only doing one workshop. But what a workshop.
1-2-1 Writing Clinic
According to the program, the 1-2-1 Writing Clinic on Sunday 19th is for new writers who wants advice from professionals who have been through it all. To help the adviser, we’ll be asked to submit materials in advance. I’ve got 15 minutes with a publisher at 10:15 in the morning. I’ve got 15 minutes with Francis Bickmore, Editorial Director for Canongate Books. I’ve prepared my one-page CV and am choosing between a number of candidates for 500-word writing samples. 15 minutes isn’t long so to get the best out of my time, I’m thinking hard about the questions I want to ask and, of course, writing them down.
People to see
If the weather is good, Charlotte Square is quite a nice place to just hang out. You don’t have to have tickets for things to have a cup of tea, browse the book shop and do a bit of author spotting. (But don’t crowd the author’s yurt. It’s bad form.) The festival programme has all kinds of fun and I’m attending a couple of debates as well as author talks. Here are the events I’m particularly looking forward to:
Then there’s Unbound, the free event in the Spiegeltent. They offer all kinds of booky fun in a relaxed atmosphere and for no cost other than what you spend on drink. I’m hoping to go to:
Wednesday 15: Magic Words – Illicit Ink at unbound! Fun times with magicians.
Friday 17: Literary death-match. I’ve never been to one. It’s time to change that.
Friday 24: Swimming and Flying, a talk by Mark Haddon.
Monday 27: It will be all write on the night… To close the festival brave souls will finish an audience-lead story on the night. No time for edits here. R. A. Martens and George Anderson are part of the fun.
I had targets and goals. A plan. It’s been four months since my last update so it’s time to have a hard look at where I am against it.
Send out one new story per month: it kind of depends on how you count it, but I think I’m still behind by one story. Editing. I need to finish editing the three stories that are sitting in my pile, waiting to be finished and submitted.
Send each story out at least five times before retiring: in progress. I have five stories doing the rounds at the moment.
Start plotting novel: I won’t claim that it’s entirely complete, but I’m far along enough that I can get started.
Start writing novel: started. I’ve got some 15,000 words which means I’m behind.
Apply to Story Shop: total fail. My story did not get selected. Better luck next year.
Do three spoken performances: three down, one to go.
That was as far as I got the last time I took stock. Since then I’ve added goals…
Make £75 from writing: done. Once the cheques arrive.
Get four stories published: three down, one to go. (The Wolf at the Door was on Flashes in the Dark in May, Foundling will be in New Writing Scotland 30 in august, and Salanntúr will be in The Seven Wonders of Scotland in October.) I’ve got five months to sell one more story. Wish me luck!
Did I mention I’d signed up for reading at another Illicit Ink event? Only once? It’s due a second mention, then.
This event’s called Invisible Ink and is on this weekend (Sunday, July 1st). You should go. Everyone should. Because it will be awesome.
I wrote two stories for this event but can only read one. The one we’ve chosen is set in Whitby and is towards the sweet end of things as stories go. The other story, which needs a little more work, I have a market in mind for but we’ll see how it goes. I’m trying to keep it sharp and flash but need to cut some words in order to add others that make us care about the main character.
Never mind that, this is where to go on Sunday
Go to the Invisible Ink Facebook page and tell the world you’re going. Then get your friends to come too. That’s what social media’s all about so go be social. (Yeah, baby, yeah?)
If my reading isn’t enough to tempt you – and I’d understand if it isn’t – know that Scotland Tonight’s David Marsland is comparing and Alan Bisset is performing. All this, chocolate cigars and no entrance fee!
The Bongo Club, July 1st, 2012, doors open 19:30.
Moray House, 37 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh
If you’ve come to this post from Flashes in the Dark, welcome! Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoyed the story. (For those of you who came from somewhere else: I have a story – The Wolf at the Door – on Flashes in the Dark, an online horror flash fiction site, today.)
There are a few more stories on this website, shorts that I wrote last year:
Walking to work
In the country, what smells like carrion usually is carrion. In the city, it could be less dead.
Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Later this year, you can also read me in New Writing Scotland 30 where I have a story, Foundling, about a woman who finds a lost little girl on her way to work on morning.
If you’re in Edinburgh, UK, or nearby, you can occasionally see me read at Illicit Ink and at other events. You can find out more about where I’ll be on the Events page. (Check out Edinburgh City of Literature if you’re interested in readings and other literary events. There are always things on.)
Send out one new story per month: behind by two stories. I’m not going to catch up this month but I want to be behind by only one story by next month.
Send each story out at least five times before retiring: in progress (am circulating Neon Tetra Suicides, Space Carrot, L.V.I.S. and the flash version of Liz & Bob). It’s been suggested that sending them out five times isn’t enough so some of them might go out a few more times.
Start plotting novel: I’ve started and am making progress. I’ll publish some of my scrawls later for the fun of it.
Start writing novel: planned for June.
Apply to Story Shop: looking dicey since I haven’t managed to get published yet I’m keeping an eye open for the call for stories. Last year it was released in May.
Do three spoken performances: I’m upgrading this to four and am two down.
Back in October, I did my first public reading at an Illicit Ink event called Monsters Ink. It was good fun and having practiced public reading in Penicuik I’m back for more. At the next event, on March 4th, I’ll be reading a story I wrote for the event. It’s a short story – with 7 minutes running time it can’t be more than about 1,200 words – about a boy and his rocket. Sort of. The theme of the evening is outer space and the event is called When Words Collide.
It’s a good night with a good mix of story tellers, some of which turn up in character. But not me. Oh no, not me.
When and where: The Bongo Club, Holyrood Road, 20:00 – 22:00. (Map below.)
What: short-story readings from a dozen or so local writer, reading their own stories about outer space.
That’s all I have planned for this quarter. If I sign up to any other spoken word events I’ll post them on the Events page.