Wednesday 30 October 2013

The Hits and Misses of Short Story Readings

Short story readings can be really hit and miss, can't they? Even if the stories are great there's always a mumbler who'll swallow one whole. Often the worst reader will have the longest piece, which could be a masterpiece, though no one will know because they can't hear it. A shopping list read by an engaging reader is more enjoyable than a well-written story delivered in a quiet monotone by someone with their eyes glued to the page.
Liars' League has avoided this problem by carefully selecting their stories and then getting actors to read them out. The result is a consistently entertaining short story evening which I would be happy to recommend to my friends, and I don't do that lightly because in the past I've had to buy a round of drinks as an apology for what they've been put through.
One such terrible short story reading was held in a pub in Charring Cross. It was years ago and I'd been invited to read an excerpt from my book so I was feeling upbeat. When I arrived I discovered the pub hadn't been reserved for the event. We just had a corner of it.  
As it was a Friday in London, obviously there were people coming in, loosening their ties, unbuttoning their top buttons, stretching their toes under the table, heels momentarily vacated; everyone generally looking forward to unwinding with a drink. People were in good spirits and soon the laughter from one group started to overshadow the reading. This time mumbling wasn't the problem. The reader, and organiser, incensed by their racket, which in my mind was perfectly justifiable, started to read her piece louder. And louder. AND LOUDER, until she was shouting. The group continued chatting and laughing oblivious of the great literary event taking place in their midst.
The reader was not happy. She circled the groups' table reading at the top of her voice. They were baffled. She was determined to punish them with her story. They just wanted a drink. By that point, three stories in, a drink is all I wanted to. Problem was I was blocked in by chairs with no access to the bar,  or the exit, which soon became more desirable than the bar. It went on for hours. Pure torture.
My faith in short story events was lost for a while after that. Fortunately evenings at Storytails and Liars League helped restore it. I never stopped writing short stories though and this Saturday 2nd November I'm taking part in the E17 Short Story Walk for Waltham Forest's festival Words of Waltham Forest. It involves six writers reading  a short story each in six different venues. The idea is listeners walk together to each venue, stop to listen to a story, and then continue on to the next venue. The best bit is there's unlikely to be any mumbling because we've just received this wonderful message from the organiser, Ken Barlow:
"I know this is probably telling you how to suck eggs, but please do try and practice reading your stories as much as possible, and when reading them try and do it as slowly as possible, with appropriate pauses.  Also, try and look up and engage the audience with eye contact, rather than just looking down at your piece of paper.  Sounds obvious, but I've seen a lot of awful readings with people mumbling, reading too fast and looking down, including from professional writers."
Perhaps he was at that Charring Cross pub all those years ago. The point is you can now expect great stories read loud enough for everyone to hear. Except mine. I'm going to be reading my story Fishy Business in Walthamstow Central Library so I'll probably whisper. Or mouth it. Maybe sign language. Don't let that put you off though... Come along!
Love Short Stories?
My short story collection SHORT STORIES FOR BUSY ADULTS  is available for the kindle (Cost £1.53 / $2.33) and includes 10 short stories  which have been either shortlisted, highly commended or performed at a literary event. It offers a variety of genres, mixing comedy and drama. There are characters in love, in denial, insane, in character and one who just can’t make his mind up.


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