Contributing to Gutter’s spoken word issue (which is all about celebrating words off the page as well as on them) has made me wonder how I got from crowd-avoider to (fairly) confident reader.
There was a very, very brief moment in my teenage years when I thought I might like to be an actor. I was probably about fourteen. There was something very appealing, then, about the feeling of being someone other, someone bigger, on the stage. I quickly realised that there was a massive difference between doing well in your drama standard grades and actually working and let that dream drift safely away. I wasn’t destined to be on stage and that was fine.
Except, many years later, when I started to take writing seriously, I found there was this whole other side to it: the spoken word. This side tends to take place, you guessed it, on a stage. Or at least, in small space cleared among a motley collection of bar stools. Microphone optional, position as the centre of attention required.
Up until that point, I’d assumed writing was writing, other people would take care of the reading. Then I started paying more attention to those author events and lit nights and realised that reading your own work aloud is a skill. One I was lacking.
So I worked and I shook and I sweated and I fumbled with microphones and heard my voice rise to an unholy pitch and depended on kind audiences to forgive me my nerves until, eventually, I found I was really enjoying myself. To my relief, I’d discovered that reading stories to people isn’t the same as standing up in front of them and talking about yourself. It’s got a lot more in common with those heady, teenage moments when it was possible to step outside a bubble of embarrassment and be someone else for a while.
For Gutter, I read a story written to be read aloud. I originally wrote it for Illicit Ink’s Unbound slot at the EIBF, when I read it to a tent full of nice, bookish people. This time, I read it into my little brother’s microphone (thanks, Evan) and had to magic up an imaginary audience for myself. And you know, whether in the room with you or just there in your head, there’s nothing like an audience for conjuring up a touch of magic.