Guest Post: William Sutton on Performing Flea
Whereas reading in public, writing in public, festivals, panels, groups, and simply talking about books – these can be the fuel that keeps the fires burning through cold winter nights at the desk.
Douglas Adams loved the collaboration of radio drama so much that he never quite recovered from the shock of finding himself locked in hotel rooms to finish novels. (“I love deadlines. I love the sound they make as they whizz past.”) I grew up writing plays, loving the maelstrom of passions that go into theatre, and the arc of creation through development through disastrous rehearsal to glorious realisation, and immediate audience response. By contrast, everything about writing books is delayed. The book I’m promoting now I finished years ago; I’m busy writing the third in the series; my researches now are outwith the first book’s subterranean world and in amongst the dark heart of the venal Victorian soul.
But I’ve stumbled upon a way to rediscover my excitement about the first book. Performance.
I just sang a song at the Portsmouth Book Festival launch. At my own book launch in Waterstones Gower Street, I dueted a series of London songs and underground songs, performing a parade of characters from my novel. The previous night, I read and sang in Portsmouth Blackwells, while the lovely staff served Devils on Horseback, devilled eggs, and Victorian cocktails to the friendliest of crowds. Brilliant. A week before, I sat on a haybale in a tea tent in a Canterbury field, typing instant stories from audience prompts. Fantastic fun, and a million miles from the silence of the writers’ desk; and the voices keep murmuring when you return.
How did this come about?
I went to an amazing workshop with the ReAuthoring Project. They invite you to be silly, they invite you to be bad, they invite you to think of your book physically, pictorially, post-it-notally, musically; but most of all to find your enjoyment in it, and find ways to convey that enjoyment. Writers being retiring, we’re not always that sparkling in debate; which means book events can feel trapped in earnest conventional tropes of Q&A, panels and murmured readings into dysfunctional microphones.
Through ReAuthoring, I began to recognise how much music and joy and silliness is in my book, alongside the intricate insights, incisive politics and riproaring pace. Determined to infuse my performances with that music hall spirit, last summer, I
– read on the poop deck of Light Ship LV21 (Thanks, Päivi and Gary)
– did a one-man cabaret in Deco 5, a Whitstable restaurant (Thanks, Tizi)
– wrote coffee cup sleeve stories and communal songs at Lounge on the Farm
These were challenging, but hugely rewarding. And I met more people, readers, writers.
When ReAuthoring did a workshop in Portsmouth, none of us imagined that it would turn a loose association of writers into a real community. Fifteen writers, tentative, asked to perform improvised drama a small box, to seek out a story in the labyrinthine bowels of the Guildhall, to dissect our tales into a few choice words on sticky notes. Fifteen writers, emerging from suspicion into a remarkably confident group. From that workshop, we have performed at Victorious Vintage Festival, at Blackwell’s Bookshop, at the Square Tower, where we present Day of the Dead on October 30 in Portsmouth BookFest. Best of all was the enchanted night of storytelling at Alver Arts Festival: Gosport Ever After. We rewrote fairytales, mangled and dark, and the audience listened in delight to ten new stories, told with twisted relish.
When I was invited on to a panel at Bristol CrimeFest, I wasn’t overwhelmed, I enjoyed recounting inspirational moments that led to the book, and we put on a good show. (Thanks, Ruth.) Chatting on Express FM, I sang a silly song. Reading the AudioGo audiobook, I loved recreating the characters, deploying full voices and Victorian verve.
A fortnight ago, I was invited to Leesland ParkFest, a small local community gathering. Over the hum of a generator, I read to a dissipated crowd of smirking teenagers, deck chairs, and a few dogs; I wrote some stories for children on my typewriter; I’m not sure how useful it was to me or the audience. But I was reminded of Polly Morland’s book How to Be Brave: if you can risk ridicule among friends, you have nothing more to fear from public performance. Once you’re able to show your true self, audience feel that shining through your reading, and they may well become readers too.
This weekend I’m invited by the Big Green Bookshop to the first Wood Green Literary Festival, 2-3pm Saturday, Karamel Club, Wood Green N22, alongside @ExhibitABooks author John Matthews. Come along. And on 31 October I’ll be in the Firestation Bookswap in Portsmouth.
[Terry: He performs bawdy songs in the characters of his novels. I can’t compete. ]
- FIVE WAYS TO PISS OFF A WRITER: (AKA: TALKING TO WRITERS FOR DUMMIES) by Tawni Vee Waters (burlesquepressllc.com)
Wednesday’s Child– Alan Zendell
This is a very well written, exciting, and thought provoking book. Zendell chose well in writing in the first person, so giving the reader a feeling of personal connection. Zendell has mastered this device with aplomb, whilst holding together a complex scenario, and rounding out other vital characters. We are drawn into the suddenly confused thoughts of Dylan Brice, and nudged gently along by Zendell until we start seeing, and seeing is believing, that it just might be possible to live days out of order.
There is some comfort in the book in the idea that we can be saved from ourselves by higher forces. This cosy thought may well start to unravel, but, I will say no more through fear of planting spoilers.
The plot is very strong, and is probably tied together without any flaws! One would have to spend hours de-constructing the complex of sequences to be sure. Even if one did such an exercise would be pointless, because the soul of the book is in its ideas and not in the mathematical build of a whodunit. The philosophical conduit is well thought out, and cleverly executed. However, as with any book it isn’t just the execution of detail that makes for a satisfying read, it is the beauty of design. Once the reader has taken-on-board the premise, one that the character struggles with as much as we might, excitement builds to a satisfactory and adventurous climax.
At an early stage in the book I felt the complexity of detail was overdone, that there was an unnecessary amount of paint on the canvas. This feeling didn’t persist for long as I began to realise that a lack of detail would have greatly reduced our ability to connect with Dylan.
At the end I found myself wondering if in a particular past a potentially apocalyptic event, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, has once resulted in the end of civilisation. Well, it didn’t, did it? This is truly first class speculative fiction, a book I deeply regret I didn’t think to write.
- Richard Bunning Books and Reviews (getmerewrite.me)
- Why Did You Choose That Book? (ilovetoreadblog.com)
- Do Book Blogs Matter? (part 1) With Thoughts and a Signed Giveaway from Sylvain Reynard (bookishtemptations.com)
I am an aging unpublished writer, living with three cats, more yarn than I can knit up in a lifetime, and a dear husband who doubles as my best friend. I started this blog a few years ago when I was toying with the idea of becoming a freelance editor. I wanted 1WriteWay.com to be a serious resource of all things related to writing and editing. But then life happened, I got distracted, and went offline for awhile. Now I’m back but with a different purpose for this blog. I just want to write. I’m old enough to be looking forward to retirement (as opposed to what my next career move should be), and the more writing I can do now, the better shape I’ll be in to make writing my primary focus when I’m no longer at the office 40 hours a week. I enjoy my current job and my coworkers and that actually has made it more difficult to be disciplined with my writing. I do derive intrinsic satisfaction from what I do at the daily grind, but the urge to write hasn’t left. In fact, the more I think about retirement, the more I want to write.
I started writing about when I was 9 years old. At least, I remember once reading aloud a story to my 4th grade class. I took creative writing classes whenever I could, joined the college literary guilds, and participated in readings. But I was never very confident (if at all) about my writing talent, and it was easy for me to “give up” periodically, in spite of the support I got from mentors and fellow writers. And once I got a “real” job (in an office with a biweekly paycheck and benefits), it was hard to argue with anyone that I should or could expect to do better by writing. I’ve made a lot of detours in the past 30 years, trying to become a “professional” whatever (social worker, data analyst), trying to believe in careers and working in offices and 401k’s. But now that I’m about 10 years shy of official retirement (fewer years if I’m lucky), I’ve finally started to wake up to the fact that those things–career, working in an office, going to meetings, conferences–means little to me. I’d rather be writing (ideally, in my jammies with a pot of hot tea for fuel).
I also have the slightly queasy sense of time running out. I’m way past the halfway mark, even if genetics are in my favor and I live to my mom’s age of 90 (and counting). Anything can happen, and I have more time to make up for than I have time left. So I’m dusting off the blog and hope that people stop by, have a read, and enjoy themselves. I welcome any comments on any of my posts. The “Like” buttons are a nice new feature at WordPress, but if you do like my posts, I hope you can take a moment to tell me why. I will reciprocate.
These lines–Things are in the saddle, And ride mankind–should be familiar to any college student who had to read early American literature. These are lines that, when I first read them, I didn’t quite understand them. It was the late 1980s and while my husband and I were starting to tread carefully into personal computer ownership, we
were still technologically young enough to be giddy over our remote controlled TV and new CD player.
As the years passed and we accumulated more gadgets and at a faster rate than we could have anticipated, those lines of Emerson‘s spring to my mind more and more frequently.
In a society where consumerism is nearly a religion and oftentimes used to show “patriotism,” it’s difficult not to fall into a depression of sorts when the It of “is this it?” is not enough. You buy gadgets that reportedly will enhance your life, and six months later they are obsolete. So you purchase anew to feel purpose in life and the cycle continues. It’s not only a sad way to live, it’s unsustainable. Unless you’re incredibly wealthy, at some point you run of money to buy the things that you think will give your life meaning. Hence, the lottery. A quick fix. A desire to be wealthy without having to work for it (unless you consider standing in line work). When I’m in one of my Peggy Lee moods and start humming Is That All There Is?, I:
- go for a walk without my iPod so I’m not distracted from the song and flight of birds, the squirrels chasing each other up and down trees, the hum of insects;
- pick up a hardcover book and feel it’s weight in my hands and the dryness of paper as I flip through the pages;
- hug my husband;
- pet my cats;
- call a friend;
Granted, some of these things cost money: shoes for walking, books for reading, food for husband and cats, phone for calls, pen and paper for writing. But none of them requires a gadget, a technological device that has been partly designed to make me feel lost without it (even the phone mentioned is one that we’ve had for about 20 years). We are existential beings struggling to make sense of a world that often makes little sense. We are sold things with the promise that we can derive meaning for our lives through these things. But do we? How many of us, every so often, decide to go “off the grid” in a quest to find true meaning, susta
inable meaning, meaning that will outlast every technological advance we embrace?
Recently, our DSL had an interruption in services for at least a day. I admit, when I realized that I could not connect to the Internet, that I could not check my blog or my favorite blogs, I panicked. I didn’t know why I couldn’t connect and the thought of
being disconnected for unknown hours was chilling. It was early morning, before I had to leave for work and I was in a panic that I could not “log on” and get my blog fix before setting off for my day job. But, my husband was still there. In fact, he was oblivious to my panic because he was on the porch reading a book, his morning routine before setting out for work. My cats were still there and actually annoyed that I was in more of a tizzy over the loss of my Internet access than I ever am when it’s their feeding time. My books hadn’t disappeared, and I still had drawers of pens, pencils and paper to write on. I didn’t check my phone because I actually hate phones.
It was a wake-up call for me. Should I be so dependent on technology that I stop breathing when I open Firefox and get the message: “Error. Server unavailable”? Should I allow these things to ride me? Or should I embrace the sudden silence, the sense of time slowing, the drawn-out minutes when I can pick up an unread issue of the New York Review of Books or Harper’s or The New Yorker and feel reconnected to that time, 30-some years ago, when I read these periodicals as soon as they arrived in the mail?
I don’t want to go totally off-the-grid. I wouldn’t have a blog if I did, but I don’t like feeling controlled by technology, made to feel that every second I don’t own an iPhone is a second lost to me. [Disclaimer: I do own and love my iPad2, but note it is an iPad2, not the newest iPad and, like all my other gadgets, I’ll likely still be using it long past its obsolescence.] So, fellow bloggers, and any one else who stumbles across this post, are you in the saddle, or are things?
[Trust me, you’re nowhere near aging… Terry]