Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Reading Live

Few writers have acting or voice training. Some like me have profoundly uninteresting voices to listen to. I always used to shy away from making videos of me just stood there to camera droning on.

But reading live is I believe absolutely vital for any author. Not only as the most immediate way to connect with your audience, but also through reading over your work you nearly always come to see new things in it, or learn to see some of the unconscious processes that informed the work that you were unaware of until now.

I took my cue from poetry slams where the poets performed their words. That is through gesture and movement they brought their words to life, literally embodying their words, or acting them out. Now poets usually have one advantage over prose story writers, that is their rhythms and rhymes means they are far more likely to have committed their words to heart, freeing them to move and gesture uninhibited. Writers are usually rooted with the book in one hand.

So I have one arm/hand free to gesture. Yet even with one arm you can draw quite a visual picture. The hand is an organ of intimacy, either reaching out, or clasping, stroking, punching or whatever. When I rehearse any story for reading live, I am choreographing what my arm is doing, matching it to specific words and phrases. Such movements also help me pace the reading of the words, like a conductor only I'm conducting myself.

There are still some restrictions, mainly arriving around the fixity of the mic. So for example, you can't sink down into a crouch if the text suggests it, which was a pity for one of my pieces "Wings" which I read last night at the Brixton Book Jam. But you can still do a lot and in the case of that story, about a junky angel, I furled and unfurled my wings as arms, the book-free arm doing just that bit more than the book-cradling arm, because jiggling the book up and down makes it a tad tough to read the words! You also have to ensure your motions don't take your mouth too far away from the mic, so that when I enacted looking up at an ultrasound screen for my other story "Echoes", only a slight turn of the head is enough to suggest it, simply because you are no longer at that point looking straight out into the audience.

I don't have a video of last night's performance, but you can listen to it here. My stories are in set 2, 33 minutes in.

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