Independent publisher Spineless Wonders is part of this year's Melbourne Writer's Festival and doing something extraordinary with microfiction. Dedicated to diversity, Bronwyn Mehan is at the helm of Spineless Wonders. She is in tune to the many possibilities of 'reading' and getting literature visible in this new era of publishing and it shows in this latest offering. In print, audio and on the big screen in Federation Square, Flashing the Square is packed with micro-stories and prose poems. Lucky me, my short piece 'One Blue Eye' is included and is the third time I've been published by Spineless Wonders. I keep sending my stuff to them because I love what they do and when I'm successful in being accepted (which is not always) I'm in the company of some wonderful Australian writers such as Ryan O'Neill, Shady Cosgrove, Angela Myer, Vivienne Plumb, Jude Bridge, Dael Allison, AS Patric, John Carey and many others.
To celebrate the publication of Flashing the Square, Spineless Wonders are offering a discount on their print publication here, plus for the month of August you can listen to selected audio recordings (free of charge) here. Included in the selection is the wonderful Adelaide actor (and soon-to-be mother of triplets!) Emma Beech reading 'One Blue Eye'. Many of the stories are under 2 minutes. It's like eating a whole block of Cadbury's Top Deck in one sitting, without the chocolate bloat and hangover. Very tasty. I highly recommend.
Tuesday, 26 August 2014
Sunday, 3 August 2014
Last Thursday I braved the whipping, wet weather of a wintry night in Adelaide by heading to the Quick and Dirty Readings, produced monthly by the South Australian Writers Centre at The Howling Owl Café on Frome Street. Six nervous writers read their stories in front of an appreciative crowd with the event being beautifully MC’d by Priya Malik. I was the final reader of the evening.
It’s interesting to be at readings as a writer/reader rather than curator/producer/mc. Those who know me will know that for three years I was at the helm of Spineless Wonders Presents… Storytelling for Grownups, where actors read contemporary short fiction at The Wheatsheaf Hotel. No offence to writers (I am one after all), but at the end of each SWP event I listened as audiences told me that the quality of readings by actors were far above what they had come to expect at spoken word events.
So what is it about actors that makes them such engaging storytellers? Of course there is the stage experience they have under their belts (between you and me, though, many of them were considerably more nervous over storytelling that they were about acting in a play). But there’s more to it than experience. The best actors assume a professionalism in all performance and that means preparation and rehearsal, of the voice and of the work. It occurred to me that novice readers might benefit from the work habits of professional actors, so I’ve put together a list. These practical tips are designed to boost your self-confidence, assisting you to deliver your dynamic best when standing in the spotlight:
1. Print your story in large font (minimum 12pt).
2. Print your story on one side of the paper only.
3. Number them and leave your pages loose, don’t staple them together.
4. Practice reading aloud before the event (also known as Rehearsal). Try reading the story on a loud whisper. Then read it at normal voice and notice the difference.
5. Mark the page. If there are words you stumble over, mark them; if you need to pause for effect, mark it; if you need to emphasis a word or phrase, underline it. These marks act like stage directions. Be your own director and prepare your performance, you’ll feel much more confident in reading.
6. Breathe. For many actors, breath is everything. Basic deep breathing is easy: Belly expands like a balloon on the in breath, deflates on the out breath. It will change your life, your reading and your nerves.
7. Voice warm up. Loosen your lips (pretend you’re a horse), speak with your tongue out, exaggerate chewing like a cow (seriously), tongue twisters, hum at different pitches … these exercises help limber up your face, mouth and tongue. Being limber means less stumbling. What professional athlete runs a race without a warm up?
8. Get comfortable on stage before you begin. This is your show so own the stage while you’re on it. Change the height of the mic, stand where there’s enough light on the page to read from and spread your weight evenly on both feet.
9. Take your time. Nerves will speed your reading up so you need to be conscious of slowing down. If you give weight and time to your words, so will your audience.
10. Look up. Audiences like to know that they exist too. When you look at them , it confirms to them that they do. Memorise the first line and deliver it looking at your audience. If you’re way too nervous to look up when you’re in full flight (“what if I lose my spot?!”), pre-prepare by marking places on the page where you will look up (see Mark the page).
And here’s the +1:
Trust the work. This one is slightly more enigmatic. Let the story do the telling, is another way of putting it. Don’t try too hard to ‘act’; just read the story. As Yang Lian says, “We don’t read from the page, we read from the poem.” Meditate on that.
I’m using a microphone. Do I still need to do a voice warm up?
I’d recommend it. Even if you’re at the mic, a voice warm up is still going to help you calm down and get your tongue around pesky alliteration and other potential stumbling blocks in your story.
I know my story so well, I wrote it after all. Do I still need to practice reading it aloud as part of my prep?
Yes. Reading silently is different to reading aloud. Trust me on this. Even Patrick White read his work aloud (in his own room at least) to hear how it sounded. Who knows, you may even find yourself tweaking things as you make new discoveries about your story.
I did everything you suggested and my first reading still sucked…
Firstly, congratulations! What you did was a really tough thing and not many people have the balls to expose themselves the way you just did (if you get my meaning). And secondly, would it have been better if you hadn’t prepared? But okay, I hear you. There is no getting around the fact that often a first read is going to be a bone-shaking, gut churning, nerve-wracking experience and yes, it may not be brilliant. But you’ve done it, and discovery comes in the doing. Pin a medal on your chest and say yes when the next opportunity comes along. You might want a trusted friend in the audience, someone who understands the delicate, difficult thing it is that you’re doing and will give you honest, critical feedback without bruising your ego.
Wednesday, 7 May 2014
|Holly Myers to read Jennifer Mills|
But while it's been brilliant, the amount of time I now spend producing these events has become a little demanding. I do it for the love of it, which was always my intention; never wanted to apply for grants or chase money to keep them going, it was more about creating a community, and providing exposure for contemporary Australian writers and Adelaide actors. And THEY ARE SO GOOD! Also, call it informed intuition, call it spooky, call it what you want but it feels like there is something around the corner that's going to require more of my time so I'm opening up more space and time for that. Maybe it's simply about focus. The novel I'm researching (I've identified significant characters now) is asking me to turn its way more and more. And I'm not one to say no to such a sexy beast.
In the meantime, if you live in Adelaide, please come along and enjoy the fun of SWP's swan song. There's eight actors going to grace the stage, reading a story each and presenting something special to end the night. You won't want to miss it. And the Satsuma Sisters are going to play for you, twice. Some 3 part harmony accompanied by a uke (a uke, not a ute). You could do a lot worse than to spend your Tuesday night next week with this grand community. Guaranteed to chase away any upcoming winter blues. Promise.
Here's the important info:
What: Actors reading contemporary Australian fiction in a hip Aussie pub
Where: The Wheatsheaf Hotel, George St, Thebarton
When: Tuesday 13th May, 7pm for a 7.30pm start (9pm finish)
How Much: Donation (all proceeds go directly to the artists)
Why: Who doesn't like a grand finale?
Thursday, 17 April 2014
|cut n weave|
The way I am currently working on this novel is not like WriMo - I'm taking my time and don't propose to have a draft written in a month or even a year. Quite the opposite. I've been writing and researching for 6 months, on and off, working with a mentor who has been teaching me a lot about writing technique, building on what I already know as a playwright. I'm learning a lot about about writing narrative as opposed to simply telling story through dialogue. There's a kind of lingering over imagery that I'm immersing myself in and I've extended my notion of visual journals. Part of my research for writing has always included a visual journal but this time I'm actually giving it a focus I never have before. I've always enjoyed drawing, painting, making cards, all that crafty stuff, not in a professional kind of way at all - purely because I enjoy it. It's all fairly abstract, I don't draw or sketch well, simply enjoy putting colour and pattern together. And I'm not adverse to borrowing from other images. Here's an image that is a magazine cut-up that has the kind of feel of a character in the novel. I used a simple cut-up and weave that we are taught as 9 yr olds in primary school. Strange thing is that I was focussed on the other side of the image, which was a desert scene with a railway siding but when I turned the paper over and saw this, it resonated with me in a much stronger way. And so I've stuck it in my visual journal. The novel is so premature that I can't give anything away. I've no idea what the hell is going on. I'm told this is fairly normal at this stage.
Wednesday, 5 March 2014
|Yang Lian reading at the SA Writers Centre|
I also got to hang out with some excellent Australian and International writers/poets when I chaired a forum as part of Adelaide Writers Week. We covered Presentation and Performance - how to captivate a room with your reading. The line up was impressive: Ali Cobby Eckermann, Omar Musa, Jeet Thayill and Yang Lian. I saw Omar perform last year so I was familiar with his work but the other three, not so much. In my research I began to see what an incredible body of work they have and also the vastly different lives they have led. I was looking forward to meeting them. The problem with biographies is that they are such cold things, they act to hide rather than reveal the flesh and blood people they are telling about; the living, breathing, graceful, warm, thoughtful people - Omar, Ali, Jeet and Lian are all of these things, all reading their work beautifully, moving the audience to tears. Such grace in their readings. Laughter too, and generosity of spirit from the panel and audience.
So here are some thoughts from these fine, fine writers. They may help you next time you're shit scared of getting up to read your work:
'Don't be afraid of the emotion', said Ali.
'Work harder, practice and watch how others do it,' said Omar.
Jeet said 'One glass of wine will relax you, three glasses and you've lost your timing.'
And Yang Lian:'We don't read from the page, we read from the poem.'
How lucky for me & the audience that we got to spend a delightful hour with these four writers. *Feeling inspired*
Sunday, 2 February 2014
|Cut-ups: Eat Your Mind|
It's been almost two months since I've written a new blog post and I'm wondering why. Perhaps because it feels like this blog is now only a record of what I'm doing, which feels a tad self indulgent and slightly boring (for me and for you). I spent part of the Xmas season thinking on what I would like to change and a small voice said - more creativity, less documentation. Uh-huh. Let's go with that, small voice, I said. The voice got bigger.
I've been reading a lot. Inspired by writers like Angela Carter, Geraldine Brooks, Hannah Kent, Kathy Acker, Maxine Hong Kingston to try different styles.
I love this quote from Kathy Acker:
"Get Rid of Meaning:
Your mind is a nightmare that has been eating you:
Now Eat Your Mind"
I've been led to cutting up text, re-arranging it and using it as inspiration for more writing. I write quickly, with very little editing and I end up with things like this:
When I stroke Harry’s chin, strawberry jam pours into the kitchen.
‘Salt lives in the pile of clothes in the parlour,' he says. 'The walls are painted lilac and there is heavy wooden furniture piled up in the corner. I see a forest. The moon is large. The plane smells.’
‘About the picnic,’ says my sister.
And again I want to say ‘blame me for everything,’ but a fluorescent tube of grease and leather comes between us. Ants pour out. I run away. I come back.
‘What will we do?’ asks my sister.
Harry enters with an armful of tomatoes, sugar and salt.
‘Basil’ I say, ‘grows in grandmother’s pots. We need basil for the sauce.’
My brother pulls heads off ants. ‘I don’t want them looking after you,’ he says to my sister.
I clear the piles of many thoughts. This is what we must do if we are to start again. We are always starting again.
My sister’s hands have the basket in a flood. We move fast across the salt. My sister’s hair is like a river. Across her forehead the salt piles up in perfect pyramids.
‘More salt,’ says Harry. ‘The pilot will be here in an hour.’
We pile salt into the plane. My sister sleeps.
Harry has the gas burner on low and tips the tomatoes, salt, sugar and basil in.
The plane shudders into life. The pot boils over like a steaming engine.
‘I don’t want you buzzing like a beehive.’ he says to my sister, trying to use his stern voice but our sister has just woken and squeals at him as she throws salt into the air.
After sweeping the salt outside, Harry raids the kitchen before the pilot arrives.
I convince my sister she has our grandmother’s eyes. That brings a smile to her face. Then there is no time for anything else. The pilot is impatient and our limbs are moving slowly in the heat.
‘Run,’ he says. ‘Run. You’re young, you can move faster than that.’
Our cheeks puff with the effort. I hold my sister’s hand. We run. We hold each other so tight my hand hurts. It is slippery with sweat.
The pilot wears Biggles-style glasses and we move faster than we’ve ever moved. Pile into the small plane. My sister is in my arms. My arms aches but this makes me feel safe and excited. I have never been so close to her. She is like a baby in my arms with her grand mother eyes and hair smelling like apples. I push the salt pyramids aside and kiss her forehead. She falls asleep like that. I wrap her in a cotton sheet and place her in the bread basket. Her mouth is like buttermilk. She sleeps peacefully among the reeds where the wind whispers as the sky turns purple.
In these surreal segments I discover themes, motifs, emotions, characters and story. This is the raw material I will use for a longer work (a book). I enjoy to eat my mind.
Sunday, 10 November 2013
|Storytelling for Grown-ups at The Wheatsheaf Hotel|
The final night of storytelling for 2013 takes place on 26th November at The Wheatsheaf Hotel in Adelaide. There won't be another until May 2014, so get along for some excellent listening.
I began curating these readings in 2011 and my mission was to promote Australian literary fiction and Adelaide actors. So there is an emphasis on quality - the actors are professionals and the writers are published. The stories are short, playful, strange and written by Australian authors who you may or may not have heard of.
On the 26th you'll hear stories by Tom Cho, AS Patric, Threasa Meads, Mark O'Flynn, Melanie Pryor and Julie Chevalier. Most of these writers have been writing for many many years. And it's high time we started taking a bit more notice of them. Same goes for the actors. These are all professional Adelaide actors with years of training and performance experience. I'm one of those Australian artists who is proud of who we are and what we have achieved and look forward to what we have yet to create. Adelaide, particularly, tends to downplay its artists and even the place itself. Let's turn this around. Tell stories, create connections, listen, be proud of who you are and what you have. What sux is always available but so is what's good. "What's good? (Life's good)" Thank you, Lou. RIP.