Change of Scene

I started writing this entry in a Dundee pub called the George Orwell, a cosy neuk not far from the art college. I was waiting to meet my pal Lydia, whom I’d first met there in 2015.

Appropriately, the Orwell had been a gathering spot for a social event called the Literary Lock-In. Despite that title, it was held during regular pub hours and was an opportunity for writers and readers to mingle and drink without attending a formal reading or performance.

At another venue, which varied from time to time, there also was a silent reading party where participants would bring their own novels, read them in each others’ company, then chat afterwards.

These events, and many others, were run or supported by the University of Dundee under the banner of Literary Dundee. However, the department closed when its head Peggy Hughes moved to Norwich Writers’ Centre. We were left with something of a vacuum to fill.

Five years on, the literary scene has morphed into a different creature.

Last year, a couple of street poets began performing at locations around the city centre, an event that became monthly, then moved into a café for the winter. We also have a playwrighting evening that frequently ties in with the exhibitions at the aforementioned art college. There is also an arts collective set up by self-described queer writers and artists that runs a number of workshops.

While it’s lamentable that the lock-in and the silent reading no longer exist, I’m glad that the scene as a whole is still as strong as ever, and I look forward to what the next five years bring us.

Double Dutch

Every Sunday, I sing in a church choir. One of my favourite parts is listening to the minister’s sermon. That’s not because I’m religious, but because he shares my dry sense of humour.

Last week, he read the Parable of the Fisherman, but he felt it was too well-known to have the same impact. To freshen it up, he elected to read it in the Scots language.

I’ve previously discussed on this blog my relationship with Scots. The bottom line is that I can understand it, but it takes a lot of concentration to, especially when written rather than spoken. Even more effort is required to speak it myself.

I’ve been told that this experience is consistent with learners of other languages. When listening, you can often form a general sense of what is being said, whereas speaking it requires precise phrasing.

In the case of Scots, many words are mutually intelligible with English while others can be inferred from the context. A good introduction is to look at humorous Twitter updates from native speakers. These don’t usually require much explanation, thanks to their brevity, and they offer an insight into our somewhat nihilistic culture.

My pal Paul Malgrati is a poet from France who has learnt both English and Scots as foreign languages. He frequently weaves them together in his pieces, including one devoted to his Scottish partner that wasn’t shared publicly. French is already considered to be a romantic language, and peppering it with Scots sounds makes it distinctly his own.

This put me in mind of my own partner, who is Dutch. She speaks excellent English, and I love the peculiarities of her speech. For instance, I had to think for a moment when she described a car glovebox as a ‘dashboard cupboard’. She also speaks several other European languages.

One day, it would be great to learn Dutch to add an extra level to our communication. After all, I already know how to switch between English and Scots depending on the situation, and I reckon I’d be able to do it with an unfamiliar language, just as those around me have done.

Rejected, but not Neglected

I’ve been invited to appear on a new podcast called Story Circle Jerk. It was started by my pal Kai Durkin to showcase short stories and music, either self-written or from others. We’ll be recording our episode at the end of the month, giving me a deadline to prepare material.

One part of my appearance will be an interview about my open-mike evenings. I’ll have to do some preparation for this, so I cover the all main points without overloading the listeners with information.

The other part will involve me reading one of my own short stories. The one I immediately reached for was a piece called Him, in which the narrator talks about seeing his life replayed through his own eyes after his death. I wrote this in 2014, with its most recent revision dated 2018.

Between these dates, the story was rejected by six different publishers. However, I’ve also read it to an audience on a number of occasions during that time; I deliver it in a slow and stark tone, inspired by Salman Rushdie reading Concerning The Bodyguard by Donald Barthleme. As such, it seems to work better on stage than on the page so I still have faith in it.

The story will need to be revised a little. The way I start the process is by reading it out loud, not to an audience, but to myself. If it sounds excessively wordy, or if I find myself unable to follow a plot point, it needs to be revised. This particular piece, however, shouldn’t need too much changing for Story Circle Jerk.

Another podcast I can recommend is The Beans Podcast, run by three friends. Be advised that it’s not specifically about writing, but covers many topics, from advice columns to caffeine to nuclear bombs.

Let’s be Clear

Last week, I went to a music and poetry event where a friend was performing. I arrived at about 7:15pm, giving me 15 minutes to find a good seat and to buy a drink.

However, there had been no indication in the event listing that the show actually began at 8pm, and that 7:30pm had been when the doors opened. Conversely, if I’d treated 7:30pm as the ‘doors open’ time, there’s a chance I would have missed the start of the show.

It’s not the first time I’ve experienced this ambiguity, so when I’m listing my own events, I specify when the doors open and when the show actually begins. It doesn’t stop people being late, but it signals that they’ll miss part of the event if they arrive after the stated time.

At least at the aforementioned poetry evening, the performers spoke into the microphone, which brings me to my second pet hate of this entry: those who don’t use it, or use it incorrectly.

Where a working microphone is provided, always speak into it, as it’s usually there for a reason.

We bought a PA system for our open-mike night because we used to meet in a noisy pub. But even where there is minimal background noise, anyone with hearing difficulties might not be able to make out what you’re saying without amplification. Even among an audience with good hearing, taking away the amplification can mean they miss the beginning of what you tell them.

In a larger venue such as a theatre, hearing aid users can usually tap into the induction loop, which relies on microphone use, so they might not be able to hear you at all without one.

Where amplification is used, be sure to keep your mouth a consistent distance from the microphone – especially if it’s hand-held – or the sound can come and go in a distracting manner. Also be aware that some of them need you to speak into one side rather than the top.

In a nutshell, to be figuratively and literally clear:

  • Be specific about when your gig starts
  • Use a microphone where one is provided