Hot on the heels of my copyright post the other week, a case of poetic plagiarism was brought to my attention. Remaining copies of Laventille have been pulped after Sheree Mack admitted to including others’ work in her own inadvertently, although fellow poets have accused her of stealing work deliberately.
In this instance, it’s not only the original poets who have been hurt by her actions, but the pulping will wipe out the profit margin that Smokestack Books would otherwise have made.
The one positive aspect we can salvage from this mess is that this type of plagiarism is relatively rare. If it happened every day, this story wouldn’t have been reported and nobody would have kicked up such a stink.
I’m a firm believer that every writer ought to learn the skill of public performance. More on that story later. But last Wednesday marked the first time I would be performing to an audience of academics, rather than the general public or other writers.
The University of Dundee has run a Postgraduate Conference for the last four years where students set the agenda by presenting papers. Students were also free to respond creatively to this year’s theme, Lost in Translation. When I saw the final running order, I appeared to be the only person giving a creative response, and I seriously considered withdrawing as I didn’t feel it would fit in with the other presentations.
The upshot is that I did go ahead with it, although I was moved to a different slot with theatre students and a novelist. I felt it flowed more smoothly, and I received an excellent response, both verbally and on the anonymous feedback slips. My tutor was also sure to stop by and ask a couple of tough questions.
Shortly after the Postgraduate Conference, I went along to a workshop… on performance; unfortunately, it had to be in that order. Jenny Lindsay, one half of poetry duo Rally & Broad, was hosting, and they’re one of my favourite contemporary acts. She asked each of us why we were there. I told her I was quite comfortable with public speaking, but I felt there was always more to learn.
She took us through the process of preparing for an event, including how we might introduce ourselves, putting together a set list, and we even took turns at walking out in front of an audience. The organiser is hoping to put on another event in the near future but using an actual stage.
If you have the chance to hone this skill where you live, I recommend signing up. What many writers don’t realise is that if you’re snapped up by a publisher, you’ll be expected to read excerpts to a live audience. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy to stand up and entertain people, but the only way to make it easier is to keep practising, and prepare your materials thoroughly in advance. Remember, most audiences aren’t sitting waiting for you to slip up – they’re willing you on.
Although National Novel Writing Month and its offshoot Camp NaNoWriMo are over, an enthusiastic band of us have continued to meet each week. The most recent meeting was yesterday, but we left after an hour to visit Waterstones where Kirsty Logan was promoting her novel The Gracekeepers.
I’d seen the posters across town, but I hadn’t heard much else about it until that evening. By the time I’d listened to the excerpt, learnt about the background of the world in which it’s set, and was told were some characters written as gender-neutral, I decided I wanted it. The issue of gender is something I become interested in since my feminist friends talk about from time to time.
And our group each spoke to Kirsty Logan for a couple of minutes each as she signed our books. I wish I’d thought to take a photo, as her dress contained pictures drawn in the same style as the book jacket. If I ever have a novel published, that’s a touch I’ll think about adopting, although I might settle for a shirt rather than a dress.