Archive for the ‘performing’ Category

NB: I’ll be reading an extract from the story I’m talking about in this blog post at The Midsummer Murder Mystery, this Sunday July 3rd at Cabaret Voltaire’s Speakeasy in Edinburgh. It begins at 8pm and is free entry. More information on the Facebook event page.


I spent the last three weeks behaving like a writer, more so than I ever have before.

After the kick up the bum that I needed from my tutor, I knuckled down and worked, worked, worked in the most functional way I’ve ever witnessed myself work.

At first, I had a character and a setting nestled at the back of my mind. Then I spent about four or five days researching around the subjects I thought were important to my germ of an idea, reading books and taking notes until ideas began to form. Slowly, I developed a list of five to ten scene ideas, pushing the story onwards.

I started to write, aiming for around 1000 words a day.

When I finished the first draft of each scene, I went back to the original scene summary idea and asked myself a few questions:

– How does this scene push the story forward?

– What does the reader discover through this scene?

– What questions are raised for the reader in this scene?

– Has this draft fulfilled the original aims from the summary?

Goodness, isn’t that functional?

As I continued writing, more scene ideas for further on in the piece emerged and I hurriedly wrote them down, until I had the bones of a  plot and a first draft which eventually reached the colossal heights of 14000 words. Goodness knows what that is: it’s not a short story and it’s certainly not a novella, but never mind.

Because I didn’t plan its structure meticulously before I started writing (and I’ve never written a piece of this length before), there are a few loose ends which need tying up, and one or two of the characters need to be given a firmer functionality in the plot as a whole to merit their inclusion in the story at all. But these issues are to be expected and I think (hope) those issues are nothing which can’t be solved by adding some new scenes here and there.

All in all, I’ve learnt a lot from this, and I’m really pleased with what I’ve done. It’s the longest piece I’ve ever written, and even if it doesn’t work out I know that I could do it again in the future.

I’m meeting with my supervisor tomorrow to discuss the piece. I really, really hope that I feel as positive after the meeting as I do now. Fingers crossed.

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For those of you who couldn’t make it to the Ghost of William Shatner evening last week, Lets Get Lyrical have been kind enough to post the audio files online. You can now see for yourself whether the lyrics work without the music (and, as some of my friends have been asking me, judge whether George Formby was indeed a successful choice).

Here’s the link: http://letsgetlyrical.com/cata-news/audio-the-ghost-of-william-shatner/

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This is going to be exciting, and I’ll be making a fool of myself alongside some pretty spectacular Edinburgh writers:
Underword is back for a special event in February 2011, as part of the City of Literature Let’s Get Lyrical campaign. 

A diverse line-up of readers will answer the question: can the lyrics work without the music? Each has chosen one song that means something special to them and will perform that song as spoken word. Will it be heartfelt? Angry? Ironic? Passionate? In “a funny voice”? Find out on Wednesday 23rd February, 8pm, at The Caves, Niddry Street South, Edinburgh.

The Ghost of William Shatner is a charity event in aid of Nerine Shatner Friendly House, a home for women in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. Admittance is by donation (suggested £4).

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My lovely writer-friend Louise’s Dad made a video of me reading a story at our Student Reading Party at the end of last term:

It was a great night, and there are bound to be more readings in the next couple of months. I will be more proactive in posting about them in advance next time, so those of you lucky enough to live in or near Edinburgh can come along and hear some of our MSc class read their (excellent) stories.

In other news, you can usually hear at least one or two of my classmates (and frequently me, too!) reading short five-minute pieces of prose at the monthly Inky Fingers Open Mic at the Forest Cafe. It’s always a fantastic evening, with very talented poets, prosers, and musicians.

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I’ve been thinking about writing this post for so long that I thought I had actually written it already. We’re very lucky on our course because every couple of weeks a guest writer comes and reads some of their work and answers our (often inane) questions. We’ve had some absolutely fantastic writers this semester: Anne Donovan, Vicki Feaver, Les Murray, Alan Bissett, Brian McCabe, James Robertson, Tim Turnbull… I think we’re the luckiest writing students in the world.

As well as being fantastically entertaining and informative, seeing all of these fantastic professional writers has taught me something absolutely valuable, something which you can’t be told; you can only learn by observing: reading your work in public can, and possibly should, be a performance.

It’s all very well standing up in front of everyone and reading out loud, making sure to pause effectively between sentences and enunciate, reading slowly and clearly. Yes, all of that is important.

But if your narrator has a voice, use it. Speak in that voice. It might be difficult, it might be excruciating, but for that five or ten minutes, be that character.

I know, I know, you’re a writer. Not an actor. You like to be squirreled away behind a desk, wrapped in a blanket, drinking tea and not talking to people. The last thing you want is to stand up in front of a room of unimpressed faces and… well, basically strip your soul naked and invite them to laugh at you.

Here’s what I hope think: most people are nice and supportive. If they’re there watching you read, they’re probably on your side. They’re rooting for you and they’re hoping it goes well for you. They’ll clap and they’ll cheer, and if they’re nice they’ll come up to you at the end and tell you that you did well, because you did.

So get up there and read your work. Read it loudly and with confidence. Do it in an accent if you want. Move your hands around a bit. Use different tones of voice for dialogue. If your story is from the perspective of a bitter old lady, put that slight lemony pucker on your lips and hiss a little when you speak. If your story is from the perspective of a narcissistic pyromaniac,  there might be a manic grin creeping around the corners of your mouth while you read (ahem… I’ll post a video one day). If you do well, your friends might not leave you unattended near an open flame ever again. And then you’ll know you performed, you didn’t just read.


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Wee Red Gig

I’ll be reading a little story at the Wee Red Gig on Wednesday this week (Nov 24th). Come along if you’re near Edinburgh; it looks like it’s going to be a fantastic night.

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Inky Fingers

Last night I went to the inaugural Inky Fingers Open Mic at the Forest Cafe. It was a great event, with guest poets and authors interspersed with some fantastic and brave open mic performers.

A man in wonderful red trousers read a lovely story about a gender-confused salmon and an eel. He used a beautiful image at the end of the salmon tasting the salty tang of a red egg and realising he missed the sea. I really enjoyed that.

Guest Poet Laura Hainey read some of her work, and it was funny and rhythmic and wonderfully Scottish.

After that, everything gets a little bit fuzzy, because it was announced that there were a couple of free slots on the line up, and did anyone want to be put on the reserve list? As it happened, I had a few short stories in my bag because I’d just met up with a friend from my course to talk about our work. So I sat there for a bit longer, wide-eyed and heart pounding. Could I really do that? Could I stand up in front of all these clever-looking people and great writers and read something I only wrote last Friday?

By this point I was so terrified that I knew I’d be disappointed with myself I didn’t go through with it. So I stood up and, before I could change my mind, put my name on the reserve list. I stopped drinking beer, just in case, and sat there having a miniature nervous breakdown for the rest of the evening, until he did call my name, and I did have to get up in front of a room full of kind strangers and three very lovely and encouraging friends, who cheered very enthusiastically before I’d even started reading.

It was a lot of fun. It was terrifying. I feel euphoric! Highly recommended. Whoop.

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