My First Public Reading

Saturday, February 28, 2009, 6:36 PM

So, night before last, I did my first ever public reading. It was a strange experience, but one I enjoyed a great deal. There was a decent turnout, and a few familiar faces, such as an old friend I hadn't seen in a few years, and a couple of teachers from my old school.

I remember mentioning to a few published writers I've met before that giving readings was something I was not looking forward to. Some writers do it very well. Declan Hughes and Tana French, for example, both enunciate and project beautifully, thanks I'm sure to their theatrical backgrounds. John Connolly also turns readings into performances of sorts, which I imagine he learned through experience. I've seen video footage of James Ellroy, who plays up to his cantankerous public persona, great showman that he is. I've heard Barry Eisler is also an excellent raconteur, and some have said his entertaining readings have contributed to his great success.

I've seen other writers who mumble and stumble their way through it, and of course the impression they leave is less memorable.

So, where do I stand on the Mumbly Stumbler to Polished Performer spectrum? Somewhere in the middle, I think. I practiced the two pieces I was going to present, reading them aloud, looking for phrases that were liable to trip me up. I'm glad I did, because knowing them beforehand saved me a lot of mistakes. But I should have practiced more; I'd go so far as to say I should have had the pieces close to memorised. This is for two reasons:

1) I didn't make enough eye contact. Readings where all you see is the top of the author's head while they stare at their pages are less than riveting. I did try to look up now and then, and managed it a few times, but nowhere near enough. I think this is the difference between an author performing, as it were, and an author simply reading aloud. It takes eye contact to fully engage the audience, to let them know you're reading to them, not at them.

2) I stumbled when I got distracted. Only a few times, but that was still too many. When I was absorbed in the narrative, it all went smoothly, the dialogue was natural, the prose flowed. But when something pulled my mind away, perhaps worrying about some words ahead, or becoming self-conscious, then I stumbled, misread, and fluffed words. And when you do that, you also pull the listener out of the story.

So, if I may be so presumptuous as to rate my own reading, I'd give it a C. Good effort, but could do better.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, rating your own reading is totally allowed, Stuart. YOU'RE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR!!! For God's sakes, you should be allowed to do cartwheels in whipped cream and Swedish Fish and get an Olympic 10.

(I am /wee/ little bit hyped on sugar, don't mind me.)

7:23 PM  
Blogger McKoala said...

I suspect you're being a bit harsh. Now, when it comes to the top of the head, do you have hair on it? That gains you a point. Visible dandruff loses you a point. If you've thought far enough ahead to shave an interesting pattern or the title of you book into your hair, gain a hundred points.

6:05 AM  
Blogger freddie said...

If you've thought far enough ahead to shave an interesting pattern or the title of you book into your hair, gain a hundred points.

LOL!! Never let an advertising opportunity go to waste!

8:41 AM  
Blogger Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Every artist is his biggest critic, even when most of the work (the writing) is done.

When I finish a painting, I find too many flaws in it, but the client seems to love it. Go figure.

I did a reading from the Bible at my brother's wedding in front of 300 people. A few practice rounds, a couple of glances at the audience and some inflection of the voice, and I think I pulled it off.

I only hope I can do it when I read my own stuff!

What scares me the most is the question period afterward.

3:47 AM  
Blogger Ello said...

I bet you were awesome! You are too hard on yourself!

5:00 AM  

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