It’s good to step outside of one’s comfort zone occasionally, and I will be a very great distance away from mine next week.
I’m “performing” a short story at the Herne Bay Festival. That is not the scary bit. I have done a few readings before and enjoyed the experience. But in the past I was mainly talking to an audience of arty writerly types: they knew what to expect from me; I knew what to expect from them.
It will all be very different in Herne Bay. I’m working with what is euphemistically called a “found audience”; I’m doing my stuff on the pavement, for however many passers-by I can persuade to listen. They might enjoy it. They might stand and jeer. There might be no audience at all.
My piece is called Egg-box Eyeballs. I describe it thus: “A man plans to bake the special cake that will make his girlfriend love him. At the supermarket, shopping for ingredients, he finds a new pair of eye balls in an egg box. He uses them to see everyone’s secrets, but sees more than he wants to.”
I’m working with a group of brilliant local writers as part of the Reauthoring Project. If you’re in the neighbourhood, come and check me out. I need all the support I can get. I’m doing my thing on Saturday August 27 at 12pm, 2pm and 3.30pm.
The photo above shows me at a workshop to devise my performance, pondering what on earth I’ve got myself into. (That’s a tennis ball at my feet. I found it kicking around on the floor and it became the creative spark that unlocked my performance idea)
And here’s me checking out the “venue”: a wooden shelter on the seafront at Herne Bay.
An interesting new writerly experience for me last week. I was lucky enough to have one of my stories selected for a public reading by the lovely people at White Rabbit a while ago, and on Wednesday I went along to a pub in Ashford to see it performed.
I’ve read my own stories to an audience before, but I’ve never seen one of them read by someone else. Gareth Brierley did a brilliant job. It can’t have been easy for him; unlike most of the other stories featured in the evening, mine contained no humour at all and didn’t really tell a story.
It was more of an atmosphere piece, really. That’s not the kind of thing I usually write. In fact, if someone tells me a story of theirs is “more of an atmosphere piece, really”, I tend to interpret that as an admission of failure. But I won’t anymore!
Like I say, Gareth did a great job. And I had a good chat with him afterwards to get some tips on public reading. Video of the performance exists somewhere, I’m told, but I don’t have any yet.
Interestingly (for me, anyway) I wrote the first draft of the piece – “One of us is a ghost” – in the room where it was eventually performed, and then developed and edited it in the knowledge that, if it were accepted for performance, I wouldn’t be reading it out myself. That seemed to change my writing style in interesting (for me, at least) ways that merit some reflection. But not now.
(This post started life as a comment added to someone else’s blog. Thought I might add it here, too)
I bought myself an iPad last week – or rather, it finally arrived last week – so that I had another way of writing when out and about.
I’ve since been reflecting on the “cool” new ways of working that this impressive piece of technology is urging me to adopt: electronic diaries for every area of my life, synched across all my devices; details of every project at my fingertips, wherever I happen to be; ways of generating ideas, planning stories and creating, all achieved without paper and pen.
The iPad certainly gives me more efficient ways of achieving work tasks, but I don’t think those digitised ways of working are necessarily any more effective – not for me, at least. And its ability to automate certain activities does seem to strip out a lot of simple, everyday creative thought and reflection.
If I write a to do list on paper, I have to think about it: how should I use my time, what are my real priorities, how do I balance my goals with the expectations of others? The act of writing the list is a moment for reflection. But if the computer generates the list for me, I just perform the tasks it offers.
The iPad has been a surprisingly good writing tool, but yesterday I went out and bought a new paper diary, some sticky labels, glue and coloured pens. Sometimes analogue is better.
I just updated my membership of 26, the brilliant community of creative business writers. As part of the process, I had to nominate my favourite word. I don’t really have one of those. Or if I do, it would probably take days of ruminations to decide what it might be. So, in a hurry, I opted for Cummerbund.
This was a surprising choice. I very rarely attend black tie events, and when I do, I always decline the opportunity of renting a cummerbund. I actively dislike them. And yet, I like the word. It has a pleasant sound; strong vowels; resonant consonants. Say it slowly, and there’s even a bit of an eastern mystical mantra going on – the Ummmm followed by the Unnnn. Pleasingly – and another surprise – this connects with the roots of the word.
Cummerbund, I discover, is from the Hindi word kamarband. “Kamar” means waist or loin; band is from “bandhah” – a fetter or something that ties.
This interests me. I’d have thought that a cummerbund, back in the 1600s, when the word was first recorded, had little practical purpose – it was just a clothing accessory. But that would be wrong. It’s original use, based on the etymology, was to strap a flabby stomach in place – which is mostly its purpose today, of course.
Walking along the south bank of the Thames today, I came across a wonderful poetry installation. Called the Lion and the Unicorn, it’s part of the Festival of Britain anniversary celebrations. Hope the images from my Blackberry are legible.
It is always hard to get back into writing after a break, especially one as pleasant as a holiday in Thailand. But over the last few days I have gradually found my way back to the page. And just now I read this insightful comment from writer Clare Dudman, which captures the feeling well:
“I really should be writing. I keep thinking that. I should stop doing so much reading of other people’s books and do some writing of my own. The longer I leave it, the worse it gets. It’s like standing, shivering, on the shore of a bleak ocean. You know you’ll enjoy it when you get under the waves, but first you have to wade out?”
I like that. And on her recommendation, I have just ordered this:
|Komedia, but not this Sunday
|I did my reading at the wonderful Komedia Theatre in Brighton this week, for Story Studio. What an amazing experience!
The venue was much bigger than I expected, and had sold out – they were actually turning people away at the door. I know they weren’t lining up to see me, but even so.
I was third on stage out of nine “acts”, the last before the first interval. This was a good slot, the friendly organisers said, because it meant I could relax and enjoy the rest of the evening.
Strangely, I felt no nerves at all when my time came. Up on stage, I couldn’t see a thing – the spotlights were so bright. But there was a big audience out there somewhere. And they were waiting for me to entertain them.
I only realised afterwards – or maybe not until the evening itself – what a risk the organisers were taking when they decided to give me a slot. They must have liked my story, but they’d never heard me read to an audience. I could have been a disaster.
Luckily, I wasn’t. It went better than I could possibly have hoped. People were really kind afterwards – audience members and other performers. One, who’s act I really enjoyed, said “you’ve got ‘It’”; the organisers said I was “amazing”.
Anyway, I’m hooked on live performance now and will be looking for any chance to get on stage again. So watch this space.
Just a shame I didn’t get any photos.
I made another small piece of “LiveLit” yesterday, inspired by last weekend’s workshop. This is based on a story idea I had knocking around but, unlike my last effort, I was writing the words with the images in mind this time.
Only one of the images that I was thinking of actually made it into the finished piece, but it was interesting playing with them nonetheless. The original idea used a lot of covers from 1970s knitting patterns, I had great fun researching those.
I want to do more of these, taking inspiration from writer Sarah Salway, who regularly posts 50-word photo stories on her blog. I met her briefly at an exhibition she has contributed to at the Tubridge Wells museum – writing words suggested by an item from their archive, and turning them into something people can look at, touch and play around with, rather than just read or listen to. Very much in the LiveLit spirit! Well worth a visit. My kids loved it, too.
I’m thinking of 100-word film stories, rather than 50-word photos. The original draft of the “West of Aran” piece was 170 words or so; the final version about 90. Cutting it down was a useful discipline; if I wasn’t making the film I would have left it as it was. I prefer the short version.
Listening to it again, I can hear changes that I would make, parts that don’t work as well as they might. But in the spirit of LiveLit, here it is – make of it what you will!
“West of Aran” by the way, is the name of a buoy that captures meteorological information. It’s off away in the Irish sea, somewhere west of Aran.
Even in February, London can be very colourful, if you look up.
I went to an amazing workshop in Folkestone yesterday. The idea was to explore new ways of presenting literature to an audience. It was massively inspiring, and I put some of what I learned into practice today.
I put together the little “film” here in about 45 minutes. The audio was recorded into a dictaphone, in the bathroom, with a towel over my head. My voice sounds pretty rough and shaky, but that’s because I’d only been awake for a few minutes.
Normally I’d try to get this perfect before posting, or just throw it away. But in the “just do it” ethic of yesterday, I’m putting it here as it is.
I learnt a lot from doing this, and from yesterday. I’ll post more about that later.
|Carl H. Klaus
I’ve read a lot of personal essays, and read a lot about them, but I’m not sure I’ve ever written one.
I say ‘not sure’ because I’ve maybe written quite a few in notebooks, or written words that could be turned into an essay, but have never tried to actually produce one that might be published.
I’d like to try that, and have been thinking about giving it a go this year. One obstacle is voice: Who is writing the essay? Is it me, or some kind of essay-writing version of me? And is it a voice that speaks the truth, or a version of it?
Today I came across an interesting interview with Carl H. Klaus, an essay writer, theorist on the craft of the personal essay, and author of “The Made Up Self” (via here). He says something interesting on this question of voice:
“I do think there’s some double-edged quality in writing personal essays – because despite the fluid nature of the self, we do in the long run develop a conception of our selves that we aspire to be true to in our own writing. And yet I know that such a thing is impossible. To think that I could in fact create a style that was an echo of such a multi-sided thing as the self – that’s simply a cuckoo notion. So what can I say? We do, in fact, aspire to write like ourselves even though we know that in some sense this is an impossibility – much as it’s a difficult notion to imagine never being yourself and yet always being yourself. It’s a paradoxical thing.”
The full interview is worth reading, especially for what he says about Montaigne, which I think I disagree with.
Because I spend so much time on my own, at my desk, writing, with nobody else in the house apart from the dog, people often ask me whether I get lonely. I don’t, usually.
This isn’t because I’m an antisocial misanthrope. I enjoy company, mostly. The reason I don’t get lonely is that I am writing. This might sound contradictory, but I came across a Julia Cameron quote yesterday that explained it well:
“The minute I let myself write, everything else falls into balance. If I get a dose of writing in my day, then I can actually socialise with a clear conscience. I can actually be present for the life I am having rather than living in the never-never land of the nonwriting writer, that twilight place where you always ‘should’ be somewhere else – writing – so that you can never enjoy where you actually are.”
Reading that reminded me of something James Thurber said in an interview:
“I never quite know when I’m not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, ‘Damnit, Thurber, stop writing.’ She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, ‘Is he sick?’ ‘No,’ my wife says, ‘he’s writing something.’”
I bought someone a Kindle for Christmas, or contributed my share of the cost. A useful gadget, but I prefer to have all my books where I can see them, on the shelf.
I was looking at one of those shelves late last night, from the comfort of my chair, and pulled down a copy of Photocopies, by John Berger. This is a stunning book, which I bought some 15 years ago and have read many times. It blurs the lines between fiction and non-fiction, and, importantly, always inspires me to write.
Berger is English, but left this country to live in France four decades ago. Why? He gives a fascinating answer in the interview below. He never felt at home in England, he says. Whenever he talked to people or listened to them, he felt he embarrassed them. “I was indecently intense,” he says.
(relax, only the first 10 seconds are in French)
Yesterday was my first day back at work. Over the holidays, as usual, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to balance my working day, how to mix my different responsibilities. The aim, as always, is to find more time to write. Because if I had more time to write….ah, well.
How much money does it take to be happy? Ask anyone that question and they’ll usually answer with a figure that is just a little bit more than they earn now. The amount of money they need is always just out of reach.
The same applies to me and writing time. If I just had a little more… And then I read these wise words from Julia Cameron:
“The myth that we must have ‘time’ – more time – in order to create is a myth that keeps us from using the time we do have. If we are forever yearning for ‘more’, we are forever discounting what is offered.”
I felt a shiver when I read that. She continues:
“The ‘if-I-had-time’ lie is a convenient way to ignore the fact that novels require being written and that writing happens a sentence at a time. Sentences can happen in a moment.”
A Boxing Day walk through the frozen pear orchards.
I was just reading an interesting blog post from Alex Keegan and came across this great quote from Arthur Plotnik:
“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. You edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”
Blocked up like a bank holiday motorway? Devoid of any writing ideas? Here’s my Five Step Short Story Idea Generating Process (TM pending).
- Take a blank sheet of paper and make a random list of characters and their objectives. For example: A man who desperately needs £100,000 within a week; a woman who must get her head unstuck from some railings; a man who wants to be young again; a girl who wants to buy a second-hand caravan.
- Make a random list of scenarios: The world will certainly end next Thursday; walking is made illegal; all the bees die; dogs rule the world.
- Make a list of interesting words: Treachery, lust, envy, arrogance, porridge, goats, pasta, secrets.
- Quickly jot down sentences and ideas that take something from at least two of the lists. Such as:
- A man needs £100,000 to deceive a goat
- A woman trying to annoy a goat gets her head stuck in some railings
- Arrogance kills all of the bees
- Dogs rule through treachery
- Porridge is the secret of youth
- Over-consumption of pasta will lead the word to oblivion next Tuesday
Choose one and get writing. Easy.
Writing can sometimes be very difficult. How’s that for an understatement? But how hard, or easy, is it meant to be?
Here are three very different reports from the coal face of the writing industry:
1) In Slate magazine Garrison Keillor tells writers it’s easy, so stop moaning:
“The fact of the matter is that the people who struggle most with writing are drunks. They get hammered at night and in the morning their heads are full of pain and adverbs. Writing is hard for them, but so would golf be, or planting alfalfa, or assembling parts in a factory.”
2) While over at Columbia Journalism Review Robert Boynton interviews the painfully unproductive Gay Talese and reports how:
“Displaying equal parts pride and self-loathing, Talese reports he wrote barely fifty-four-and-a-half typed pages between 1995 and 1999.”
3) Meanwhile, in the Guardian, Orhan Pamuk reflects on the joys of putting words on paper:
“If you leave aside sensual pleasures, sexual pleasures, good food, good sleep, and so on, then the happiest thing is that I have written two and a half, three good pages. I am almost assured that they are, but I need confirmation. My girlfriend comes, we are happy, I read to her, she says, ‘This is wonderful’ – that’s it! That’s the greatest happiness.”
This is what we could see yesterday from the window of our Devon holiday cottage. Winter Wonderland.