Monday, 25 January 2010

Reading and writing (events)

I've had some interesting discussions with fellow writers recently about my views on venues for creative writing and reading events. Following on from these, I had the pleasure of being invited to take part in the 'Reading the Leaves' event at the cafĂ© Tchai Ovna in Glasgow's west end.  It was a good company and a good night. Thanks to Dave Manderson for organising it. I met and chatted with fellow writers Jim Ferguson, Sue Reid Sexton and Graeme Fulton, whose readings held the audience's attention.

It's a funny thing, reading aloud. Especially when the audience comes to the writing cold, i.e. without a copy of the text in front of them or in their memory.  I'd love to be a performer who can capture the audience's attention and also parry with them, bringing in a bit of playfulness.  It always feels too serious when I do it but then that's the way I am, I guess. At Tchai Ovna, I read the short piece I have in the Luath Press anthology 'Written Remedies' about a woman who finds creative expression and satisfaction through dance, despite being blind. During this reading, I enjoyed that lovely sensation of having the audience in the palm of my hand. Or, if you will, of seeing myself as the conductor of their emotional response. A nice feeling! And powerful! 

For my second piece, I read a short extract from 'Frozen Waste' - my story in the first edition of Gutter - and while that started well, I could feel the audience drifting when it came to the dialogue section, though also, perhaps, because the illustration of the character's psychological split was a little too difficult to get across in what was just a glimpse of the story.  There's definitely a difference between writing that succeeds on the page and on the stage.

A few days later I went to a book launch held at the Glasgow Print Studio gallery. Lovely venue - even if the photos on display at that time were a little mawkish as they documented the artist's coming to terms with death.  The writing event was to celebrate the publication of Fugitive Bullets. As always, I find Jim Ferguson's work entertaining, intellectually satisfying and emotionally fulfilling. Jim really has talent. He's a clever performer, too, who works one to one with each audience member, though they're sitting in a group.

Last week, I attended the first of the new monthly events staged by the Scottish Writers' Centre, this one in the CCA in Glasgow. The spotlight for this inaugural session was on Donal McLaughlin, whose short story collection An allergic reaction to national anthems is published by Argyll. Donal may have lost his childhood's Irish accent but his voice has lost none of that purring quality.  He draws on his Irish-Scottish childhood experiences for his stories but much else besides. Given what I've said, above, about my own reading, I found it interesting that he was able to differentiate clearly between the voices of multiple characters in his stories: that's a true gift, as all the textbooks unite in warning writers away from using more than two or three characters in a short story (other than mentioning very minor characters, of course).

Particularly interesting in Donal's session was the variety, given that he works as a literary translator as well as author. So, he read his translations of poems written by one of the Second World War's many displaced people: Stella Rotenberg, a woman who has lived in the UK for seventy years and is now in her nineties but who still writes in her native German. Moving poems, simply expressed and direct, and beautifully translated. We can express so much more truth when we write in our mother tongue, I believe - which is why I encourage my students to experiment with writing in their own dialect, whatever it may be. Writing in our own tongue opens up areas of our experience which we have overlaid and suppressed through adult life. A talented literary translator must enter into that other writer's experience, adopt it as his own, then express it through the heart. As a displaced person himself, in a sense, Donal seems able to identify with the original writer's quest for expression. He ended his session with a reading from a novel by the recent Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Herta Muller.

Friday, 8 January 2010


Four weeks of snow and bitter cold. Today, the temperature at 9am was -13c.  I've gone into a state near hibernation. Good time for thinking, eating, drinking sloe gin. I took this photo at 4pm on 31 December 2009 from my bedroom window. Moon rise over Lanarkshire. Full moon on the last day of the year. I like it!