… 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.

 

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Review of the week.

Recently, I’ve been trying my hand at book reviews. It’s markedly different from ordinary reading and from fiction writing, as you’ve to make notes as you go along. From these notes, you then have to identify themes and techniques, and explain why the author has or hasn’t delivered a successful product.

The first volume I reviewed was In the Catacombs by Chris McCabe, which appears on the website of Dundee University Review of the Arts (DURA). I had some difficulty writing it, not only because this was one of my first pieces, but because I found the author’s research to be less focused than I would have expected. That point is reflected in the final piece.

One of the DURA editors then handed me Play with Me by Michael Pedersen, which I duly opined about. I found this one so much easier as I enjoyed his writing and the themes that emerged from it. It turned out after I’d submitted the review that the editor had given it to me purely for personal interest, but it was accepted anyway. I’ve heard the book publishers liked it as well.

Scrymgeour Building, University of Dundee
Scrymgeour Building, University of Dundee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There will also be a third review published in a few weeks, as each one goes through a rigorous edit. By that time, I’ll have returned to the MLitt Writing Study & Practice course at the University of Dundee. Part of your final mark depends upon carrying out a review of a live event, so this is prime practice. It also gives me an insight into how editors think and how to resolve any disputes that might arise.

A secondary benefit of writing reviews is exposure. The more publications in which you can place your name, the higher the chance that someone will have heard of you; like Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, I’m always pleased when this happens to me. Last week, I was recognised by an art student who had heard me at an event in May and enjoyed the two poems I read. I was especially pleased because I also enjoyed her Masters art installation so much.

That said, I forgot to ask DURA whether these reviews could be published under my pen name, as my real one is harder to spell, but I’m not bothered by it. It never hurt Peter Serafinowicz’s career.

Binge Reading™.

You were expecting an entry on Monday, weren’t you? Douglas Adams commented, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

While I normally frown upon such a laissez faire attitude, I completed National Novel Writing Month on Sunday 30 November at 1:13pm with 50,123 words. As Municipal Liaison, I wanted to set a good example, but I was keen to stress to the members that there’s no shame in not reaching the target.

From there, it was straight into the folio for my MLitt module, comprising two short stories, two poems and a poetic monologue, representing a variety of styles. I’d done most of the work, so it was a matter of pulling together the threads into one document. I submitted that at lunchtime yesterday, the day it was due.

Which left today to craft an entry, and I’ve had plenty of time to do so, as I’ve been awake since 1:50am after approximately four hours’ sleep.

This will be my blow-out weekend before I dive straight back into other projects and catch up on my reading. On my coffee table lies Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips and Raymond Carver’s collection Elephant and Other Stories, both of which need to be returned to the library in under a fortnight. The former is a weighty volume, but I shall tackle it before that deadline.

For this, I’d like to introduce Binge Reading™. It’s similar to the more familiar binge drinking or binge watching, but better for you than both of these activities. Use Binge Reading™ as you please, but remember to mention you read it here first.