Spoken word, seasoned with citrus

Recently I’ve been pretty busy on the writing front. On the 7th September I was one of the guests on the Literature Show, alongside my fellow Point of Balance writers Pam, Morag and Haworth. If you missed it (let’s face it, you probably did), you can listen again at mixcloud. We were there to promote the chapbook and you can hear me and my fellow writers reading excerpts from the pieces in the book. I also took the chance to sneak in a signal boost for Minister of Chance, as the movie is in pre-production.

[Naturally, if you haven’t already listened to it, do so immediately (IT’S FREE, THERE’S NO EXCUSE) and then please bung some dosh Dan’s way. It’s still entirely crowd-funded.]

Last weekend I had two launch events for the chapbook and my first spoken word event, Lemon Zest.

The first launch event was at Better Read Books in Ellon. It was a lovely evening; we were guests at a regular poetry evening (even though there isn’t any poetry in the book). We heard some fanastic poems — including a telling of the story of Noah in Doric — and I picked up a copy of Cathrynne M. Valente’s Deathless in hardback. I was surprised to see this volume in a local store. Clearly, Better Read Books is an amazing bookshop. They have a fabulous selection of second-hand and illustrated texts, and Euan is the only person so far to engage with me enthusiastically on the topic of 18th century automata. Euan and Bill definitely deserve support (and they have signed copies of the chapbook for sale). We sold a few copies, but most interest was in the cover, and so Frood ended up getting all the attention.

Saturday’s launch went well, too. That was held at the regular LTW meeting venue, so the regulars turned up, although it was nice to see some unfamiliar faces. Then, on the Sunday, was Lemon Zest. We had our first run through the programme during the afternoon, with the show proper that evening.

I’ve had plenty of experience of public speaking throughout my career, so I don’t get nervous, as a rule. I was lucky enough to have a mother who was hot on grammar and diction, and being understood isn’t a worry, but I’ve never considered myself to be a natural performer. (My run as the evil magician in my primary school’s version of Aladdin And His Lamp doesn’t count, despite the standing ovation.) I don’t write with a view to the piece being performed, even though reading out loud is an essential part of my writing process.

The story I read at Lemon Zest is a homage to Russell T. Davies called Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set And Go And Do Something Less Boring Instead? Those who grew up with British Television in the 70s and 80s may remember the show the title references. I’m very fond of this flash piece, which grew from a prompt in one of the group’s 10 minute writing exercises — I like the layers of meaning and internal reflections — and although I’ve not yet succeeded in selling it, it’s had some encouraging rejections. My outfit for the occasion was a nod to Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor, I had 11’s sonic screwdriver poking out of my pocket, my piece was cunningly disguised in an antique storybook the colour of the TARDIS, and I introduced the piece as ‘Sam does Jackanory’ to put people in the mood.

Yet, watching the other group members, I realised I was outclassed in reading for an audience. Richie Brown’s tale of bringing King George III to the 21st century was very well performed, which is hardly surprising given that he’s one of the driving forces behind Demented Eloquence North. The undisputed highlight of the show, however, was Pam’s sketch Mike and Susan, in which Bill Robertson and Helen Elizabeth Ramsay played a couple discussing how they might go about spicing up their love life.

For me it was both an enjoyable and educational evening. Audiences, I realised, go to these events to be amused and entertained, and they’ll enjoy things that make them laugh more than things that make them think (although you’re onto a winner if you can do both). A lot of it was undoubtedly lack of practise and experience, but as an introvert who takes as much pleasure in the construction of a sentence as in the overall story, I think performing to an audience is not the best way to show off my work. Unless, perhaps, I get someone else to read it.

I put a lot of effort into the chapbook and I’m very pleased with the result. Mark Pithie put a lot of work into Lemon Zest, and I hope he’s also very pleased with the result. There are some talented people in LTW, particularly when it comes to writing for performance, and Mark did an excellent job organising an evening for them to demonstrate it.

Point of Balance will be available at LTW events until we sort out wider distribution. In the meantime, if you want a copy (if only so you can feast your eyes on the gorgeous cover, to which the photos don’t do justice), drop me a line at sam [at] ravenbait [dot] com and I’ll see what I can do. Cover price is 4 of your Earth pounds, all of which goes towards keeping Lemon Tree Writers up and running, including putting on events like Lemon Zest for all to enjoy.

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