Monday, 13 July 2015

Cornbury: How it Went

I got home late last night after a great weekend at Cornbury. It's a lovely little festival, really laid-back and friendly with a good mix of acts. Of course, I didn't really take much in on the Saturday until after I'd done my reading - my nerves weren't too bad but it was certainly a relief to get to the end of my set and feel that I could relax with a well-earned pint and take more of an interest in what was going on.

Me, on the Other Stage
I think my reading went well - at least, I had an audience for the entire time, which was a pleasant surprise as I'm sure none of them were there because they'd heard of me. People came and went, which I got used to fairly quickly, although it was distracting at first. A few people stayed throughout, and that was hugely encouraging, although I was so wrapped up in trying to get through my stories without making any major mistakes that I completely forgot about doing the obligatory sales pitch. Whether that was the reason or not, I didn't sell any of the books I'd taken along. But that wasn't a huge disappointment.

I'm really glad this opportunity came along, and I gave it a go. It was a useful experience of public performance in a less forgiving environment than a writer's circle or even a workshop. It's boosted my confidence and I hope I'll get the chance to do something similar again before too long.

There were a few things I learned from the reading. Firstly, I think I should have stood up - for all the practice I'd done at home I had been on my feet, and although it doesn't seem like a big change it felt a bit strange to be sitting down. It meant I had to hold the book / printout differently, and it made it harder to look up and engage with the audience. I got it worked out soon enough, but it felt awkward.

Secondly, and possibly the most important thing I got wrong was that although I practised my readings I didn't give much thought in advance to how I was going to introduce myself or to what I was going to say in-between the stories. As a result I only gave a rushed and very brief introduction to each story, off the top of my head. This left me feeling like I was rushing from one story to the next without giving the audience any breathing space.

Thirdly, I should have taken into account the nature of the festival environment - people would stop by the tent to see what was going on, either on their way to see another act, or just as a way of filling time. Consequently I should have kept everything bite-sized and, probably, on the lighter side. But I was concerned about whether I'd be able to fill the time just with flash fiction, so I put in a couple of more weighty pieces too. The longest was just under 3,000 words, and I think this is way too long for people who might just have wandered in to see what was going on. The rules might be different for a literary festival, or if you are a big name with a bit of a following, but it's something I'll do differently if I get the chance again.

Overall I'm really pleased to have been a (very) small part of such a fantastic festival, and I hope the people who heard me read enjoyed themselves. Thank you again for your attention and support!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Cornbury Music Festival

It's been a while since I had an event to mention on here, but this one's worth the wait (in my humble opinion, at least). I'm very pleased to announce that I'll be reading onstage this Saturday at the Cornbury Music Festival:

Even at full size you'll probably have to press your nose right up against the screen in order to spot me, but I am there - I'm on the Other Stage and I'll be reading at approximately 3pm on Saturday. It's very exciting, daunting, and slightly surreal to see my name on a poster with the likes of Tom Jones, Joss Stone, John Cooper Clarke, and Pam Ayres!

The thought of reading in public always makes me apprehensive. Like many writers I think of my stories as existing in little bubbles that drift off into the world to be experienced by other people individually. It's a totally different prospect to the sort of collective experience you get at a public reading. In those situations so many more factors play a part. It's no longer just about the words on the page, with the author (hopefully) completely out of sight. The author is there, in plain sight, reading those words out loud, competing with other noises and disturbances as the band plays in the next tent and people wander in and out and phones go off and dogs bark for reasons known only to themselves.

Despite these perhaps less-than-ideal aspects for both author and audience, there is something very special about a story read out loud. For a listener, it can be particularly satisfying to hear a tale told by the person who wrote it. Not all writers are great readers, of course, but there's an authenticity to somebody reading their own words that very few actors can replicate. And for the author, it's a rare chance to experience an immediate and genuine reaction to what you have to say. Although that in itself is a pretty terrifying prospect.

So, I'm looking forward to it. I'm trying to counter the nerves by practising the stories I'm going to read, and thinking about what to say in-between the readings. Hopefully I'll be able to keep people entertained! I'll report back next week on how it all went.

My sincere thanks go to Sam at Books & Ink Bookshop in Banbury for putting me in touch with the festival organisers and helping to set this all in motion.