Saturday, 2 May 2015

Live Reading

I've done at least a dozen story readings in my life, at book and magazine launches and special events. Since I worked in radio (as a writer rather than an announcer) I've always felt I had an affinity for the the spoken word and I always read my stories aloud to myself as I write then because rhythm and cadence and the sound of words has been important to me.I'm not a huge poetry lover, but in university, I would occasionally go home and read TS Elliot aloud because I always found his use of words to be hypnotic.

While working in radio I did voice radio commercials - and in the process of that, I leaned elocution and became a better reader.

So, you'd think that I would be comfortable reading my work aloud. But I never really have been.
I was always extremely self conscious. Afraid to bore people, I guess it came down to a lack of confidence in my own stories. And there was often stress involved - time limits that never seemed quite long enough, poor acoustics, following on the heels of a truly marvellous writer.

I did read my horror story "Fourth Person Singular" at a Hallowe'en event in Victoria - where they gave me half an hour to read a story that was 25 minutes long. Best reading ever because I took my time. You think I'd have learned my lesson.

I read my humourous story "Showdown at Kitchtown" in front of an audience of more than 200 when I taught at the Victoria School of Writing. (they had come to celebrate graduation not to hear me). That time the crowd was big enough and laughed so hard at my funny lines that it forced me to pause between lines.

Again, you'd think I'd put two and two together.

But what tended to happen after that was that I would select a funny story - usually a 12 minute story that I would try to read it from start to finish in a 10 minutes - short-changing myself in my anxiousness. Before the audience had a chance to get any joke, I was halfway through the next line - which prevented them from any hope of appreciating it. The method also works brilliantly at undermining suspense. And of course, I'd notice that no one was laughing, which made me more tense. So I'd read even faster and more purposefully. After two or three readings like that, I became convinced I was a lousy reader/public speaker - which made it harder to get up there on the first place.

Before I read my story "Bad Copies" at Chi-Series in 2014 I had rehearsed it for hours - practically memorized it. But instead of the hilarious, impassioned reading I had hoped to give, I came off stage sweaty and shaking and miserable.

I attended the launch for the Exile Book of New Canadian Noir simply to support the publishers and editors and the writers who were scheduled to read. And I couldn't have been more surprised when editor Dave Nickle told me one of the writers was sick (Ada's story is brilliant and I would have loved to hear her read from it) and he wondered if I would mind reading from my story.

I couldn't have been more unprepared. I still had a lingering fever from an illness the day before. My reading glasses had broken on the transit ride to the pub. But I said yes and when I got up onto the stage - my goal was simply to read a few pages, and get the heck off the stage. Squinting through some borrowed reading glasses, I struggled to the end of the first paragraph, and as I gathered my breath and struggled to keep my place, the strangest thing happened. People started to laugh. Another line. Another laugh. As I plugged along, I found myself getting totally into character - remembering the intent and the tone I had worked toward as I was writing it. I had intended to read more, but as I turned the third page, I hit a line that got an extra large laugh and I said to myself, "Hey, that's sort of a natural place to stop." And so with the crowd still laughing hard, I stopped.


I did another reading (at the Chi-Series again) from the same story a few weeks later and even though it felt self-conscious and I wasn't sure it would work - it did!  I just followed the same set of rules. I took my time. I enjoyed myself and consequently the audience enjoyed it with me.

I look forward to doing it with a creepy or horrific story one of these days, to see if I can sweep people up in an emotion that's harder to sustain than jollity.

In the meantime, Exile has once again invited me to read from "Nunavut Thunderfuck" 7pm Thursday, June 11th at the Word Up Reading Series at the Unity Market Cafe in Barrie. Coming off a couple successes, I'm looking forward to taking my full 15-20 minutes and reading the entire story for the first time. And if I don't manage to make it all the way through - hopefully you'll like what you've heard enough to buy the book and finish it in your own sweet time.





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