Before I begin the entry proper, I need to ask a question of the WordPress community.

Whenever I post an update, a link is sent to three social media sites. The Twitter and Google+ connections have worked from day one, but the Facebook one needs to be refreshed at least once every couple of weeks or the link isn’t posted. Every so often, I also remove the WordPress app from Facebook and reauthorise it, but that has no long-term effect either.

How do you fix this permanently? I’m fed up of having to make a manual post to Facebook.

Last week, I mentioned I was attempting stand-up comedy for the first time through Bright Club. It was, for a while, looking like it might be a disaster. When I was rehearsing at home. I kept forgetting to say important lines. At the rehearsal on the day, I forgot which section came next and had to ad-lib until I remembered.

During that final rehearsal, a lot of my material hadn’t received much of a reaction, probably because I was speaking to the other comics and they’d heard much of it already. But at the end of that rehearsal, the organiser wanted to check the microphone level, so I recited a limerick that wasn’t part of the act. It went down so well with the others that I was persuaded to slot it in.

English: Empty stage for a stand-up comedy sho...
This is not the venue I was in. It’s merely a generic representation of it. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were six acts performing; I would be fifth on the bill. I chatted to the MC before the show and in the interval and we agreed it was going well. All I would need to do was remember all my lines, plus the limerick, plus the other tweaks that were suggested, plus a prop I needed, plus to speak slowly enough so everyone could catch my words.

When I walked on, I began with a joke that referenced the previous act, then launched into my own material. Most of it got the reaction I wanted, and the limerick even earned a round of applause. Indeed, everyone was a hit with the audience.

Would I do it again? Of course I would. Bright Club is slightly limiting in that you have to talk about your research; I could have crowbarred twice as many gags in there if I’d been free to discuss anything.

The performance was captured on camcorder, but it’s not yet available as it needs to be edited. I’ll make sure you’re the first to see it, Facebook connection permitting.

… and be counted.

This Friday coming, I’m going to try my hand at stand-up comedy. I’m quite comfortable with reading prose and poetry out loud, and I tell jokes on Twitter. However, this’ll be the first time I’ve combined these two skills, and it’ll be in front of an audience comprising students and academics. If you’re in Dundee, Bright Club starts at 8:30pm at The Braes on the Perth Road. At the time of writing, there were still tickets available.

Stand-up is a stream of consciousness art form and needs to be delivered from memory. I don’t have a great track record with memorised pieces. If you’ve been a long-term subscriber, you might recall the time I crashed and burned when trying to recite my opening piece:

But Bright Club looks after its comics. I attended a four-hour training session with Susan Morrison from The Stand and came away with a book titled Be a Great Stand-Up. There is also a rehearsal session tonight.

At first, I had some difficulty writing enough material for the eight-minute slot, but by using the techniques imparted in the training, I’ve added parts and cut others, and more or less made it the correct length. And I’m not having as much difficulty recalling it as I thought I might.

I sometimes forget not everyone is comfortable speaking in front of an audience; this was brought home to me during a discussion with classmates on the MLitt course I’m taking. I’d like to share with you, therefore, three great pieces of advice about posture, emotion, and focus. I’ve learnt two of these from experts, while the other is from me.

  • Posture, Giles Brandreth. In his Edinburgh fringe show Word Power!, former MP Brandreth imparts a wealth of advice. My favourite tip was a rather rude one to help you assume correct posture on stage: nipples leading. In other words, make sure they’re pointing straight forward and your posture will look after itself.
  • Emotion, Jenny Lindsay. During the summer, I attended a session run by one half of Rally & Broad. She related a story about a writer who was becoming upset every time she reached a certain part in a monologue. She asked the rest of the cast to write positive messages on the paper to help her through it. This is an extreme case but it is a useful way to remember everyone else wants you to succeed.
  • Focus, Gavin Cameron. This is general advice, so I’m hijacking it and sticking my own name upon it. For most of the time, I avoid looking at individual members of the audience. Instead, I pick a point of focus beyond the back row of the audience and address it. For a change in focus, I look between two audience members; the person on the left assumes you’re looking at the person on the right, and vice-versa. This allows you to concentrate on the words without being distracted by the listeners.

The only real way to improve is to keep doing it. I often ask to have my pieces videoed – as Bright Club will be – and watch it back. I’ve long reached the stage when I’m able to watch and listen back to myself without wanting to turn away. From doing this, I’ve learnt I say ‘um’ a lot without me even realising it, and that’ll be the next fault I work on.

I’d like to leave you with a video of me reading my poem Textbook. It’s one I had difficulty writing, but has proved so popular that it was used to promote the MLitt course along with the work of my contemporaries. I was most pleased I managed it in one take, and I hope Friday’s gig goes just as smoothly.



Pomodoro is Italian for tomato. Did you know that? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Pomodoro is Italian for tomato. Did you know that? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re a regular reader of these words, you’ll know I like to be productive. A few weeks ago, I began to use the Pomodoro technique to improve my time management.

At its most basic, you set a timer for 25 minutes and carry out your main task until it sounds. Then you set it for five minutes, during which you carry out a different task. This can be repeated up to four times.

Dividing up like this makes it easier to plan both mentally and physically. Mentally, it’s easier to imagine 25 minutes of writing than a four hour slog; physically, it prompts you to change position regularly. It’s often surprising what you can do in this apparently short time. So far in this period, I’ve proofread and sent a bulk e-mail, written two paragraphs of this entry, and I still have 3½ minutes to go.

If you try this yourself, here are a few tips I’ve developed:

  • Once you’ve started the timer, turn it around so it doesn’t distract you.
  • Make your five-minute activity totally different from your 25-minute work. I use the computer a lot, so in my rest time, I’ll go and load the washing machine.
  • Use a different timer for each period to avoid having to reset it. I use a kitchen timer for 25 minutes and my watch for the other five.

Let me know if that helps you.

Education, education, education.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be returning to the University of Dundee to complete the MLitt in Writing Practice & Study. Some people have asked why I need to take a course when I’ve already been published and read aloud at as many events as possible. To answer this, allow me to draw an example from the movie industry.

There is a group of older A- and B-list actors who used to be at the top of their game. If they were in a film in the 70s, 80s, perhaps even the 90s, you knew it was probably going to be good. If these guys show up in a picture nowadays, it feels like they’ve stopped making the effort to improve their craft. I use the word guys deliberately here, as this phenomenon doesn’t seem to affect actresses nearly so much.

Michael Rosen (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Yes, I know it's grainy, but if I use a Getty Images photo, that would be huge and can't be resized.
Michael Rosen (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Yes, I know it’s grainy, but if I use a Getty Images photo, that would be huge and can’t be resized.

I don’t want to suffer from that sloppiness. However much I know, there’s always one more lesson ready to be learnt. In fact, I drafted this entry on a train ahead of a talk by children’s author Michael Rosen, and he happened to make a similar point.

I think you can always learn something new, however minor, from every event – especially if it’s through necessity. For example, I spoke last week about reviewing books for the first time, and I learnt a lot from that, including: the DURA house style, some of the editors’ preferences, and even how to use the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word. My third and final review was published yesterday.

Even if the only lesson you take away is not to repeat the same action, your time is never wasted. That’s especially true if you also come away with a great anecdote or a free pen. Or a Masters degree.