I’ve been involved in quite a few reading sessions where people (including me) have read out loud pieces of writing. They can be quite intense and draining experiences so I found it hilarious to watch a series of piss takes of the whole reading aloud process on ‘Bellamy’s People’ tonight. The book in question was probably by the least literary character of the whole lot — Tony Beckton — an East End Kray wannabee (hilariously played by Simon Day). The book is called ‘Beyond Reason’ and it’s an autobiography/confessional about his life of crime — supposedly forty or so years banged up in prisons and mental hospitals. The prose style is a clever blend of monosyllabic repetition (‘we changed cars’) and some incongrously flowery prose about his anguish. It also alternates between the banal and the surreal — a rhesus monkey is used as an accessory in a robbery and cheese and Christmas cake are weapons used in prison.
It can be seen for the moment on the iPlayer— Tony Beckton’s reading starts about 15 minutes of the way through and there’s about 5 short clips spread over the remaining 15 minutes.
I had the experience of being workshopped in the tutorial on Saturday, which was particularly nerve-wracking for me as I was the last one to be done (and we had over-run as well so I guess people needed to get away).Â Even though I’m quite used to this process, both in person and on-line, reading for the first time in front of a new group of people is quite daunting. It’s worse when people who go before you get very positive comments as well and you think ‘Oh no, mine’s nothing like the style of the one everyone loves.’
What was most useful was getting the notes that people had made on the scripts. I read these on the train on the way back (and again on Saturday evening) and I was very encouraged. In the main people must have made the comments in advance and I was struck by the differing views. Listening to the class discussion, one might be tempted to think there was a uniform opinion (possible influenced by Alison giving her comments on hearing the extract read out.) However, there were plenty of instances where one person had scribbled something out as being, for example, over-written whereas another person had written ‘this is great’ next to the same line. I guess it goes to prove the truth of the Vonnegut quotation where he instructs writers just to write for one person and not try and please the whole world. (Bren Gosling mentions similar thoughts on his blog.)
One comment that slipped into the back of my mind on Saturday but has now come back to me was that someone said that she didn’t know how to interpret some of the material. I take this as something of a compliment now I think about it as some of the writing (and other art forms) that I enjoy most are those where the reader (or viewer) is not sure how to take it. ‘The Office’, for example, is comedy that borders on tragedy and parts of it stir emotion much more than many straight dramas. Similarly, Jane Austen’s writing is overtly humorous in places (Mr and Mrs Elton) but much more subtle in others. Two of my favourite TV series, ‘The Day Today’ and ‘Brass Eye’ (which I’ve just unearthed on DVD) are simultaneously deadly serious and incredibly hilarious. I don’t think I’ve seen anything funnier than Phil Collins with his ‘Nonce Sense’ T-shirt or ‘Dr’ Fox saying in all seriousness ‘This has no scientific basis whatsoever but it’s a FACT’.
I was hoping to write something brand new for the reading in the class on Saturday but got a bit bogged down. I’m still hoping to write something on the new novel, even if it is a collection of fragments, for the tutorial with Alison.
For the reading I looked at what I’d written most recently for ‘Burying Bad News’ and was guided by the 2,250 word limit more than anything else in picking two of the sections set in Oxford, which came to about 2,500 words. They are when Sally and Ana are roaming the streets and when Sally argues with Emily Smiley. They’re mostly dialogue, which will be interesting as I’ve had a quick scan through some of the other extracts sent around for reading and, as might seem sensible at this part of the course, they’re first chapters of novels so set the scene for the rest of the storyÂ and tend to have a lot less dialogue. I wonder if picking something outÂ from the middleÂ of myÂ novel will totally confuse everyone. The problem is that the novelÂ doesn’t have aÂ chapter one yet!
I knocked off a quick 500 words of ‘Gravediggers’ for Swan Supping. This is basically a more comedic version of ‘The Angel’ but allows me to try a few things out forÂ ‘The Angel’. Again it’s almost exclusively dialogue with a referenceÂ at the beginning to aÂ famous work whichÂ might set some expectation about what may happen in the end. Click here to read: Gravediggers Part 3
Useful e-mail conversations today gave me a bit of a shock when I realised I’m both a reader for Saturday 30th and also down to do my tutorial with Alison.Â She recommends a week’s notice for readers so that means trying to send something out by Saturday. I’d quite like to do something new but I might work on the new novel for Alison and maybe bring in something to read from the current one. Up against time whatever…and today was fun with a vomiting daughter to tend to at 2.30am and a visit to A&E at Stoke Mandeville with my son all morning (he’s ok but the doctor wanted him seen in a hospital).