Posts Tagged ‘radio’

listen_with_mother2-229x300Some of you (though perhaps not very many) will remember this introduction to Listen with Mother on the BBC Light Programme back in the 1950s. Listening to stories on the radio, at bedtime and in the classroom, was (and probably still is) an introduction to literature long before we read it for ourselves. We learned how to sit still and focus; how to imagine ourselves in another world; how to suspend our disbelief.

I can still remember the frustration I felt looking at a storybook and being unable to decipher the letters. So each night, when my father read me the latest installment of Rupert Bear in the Daily Express, I insisted on studying the words so that I could match them to what he was saying. Soon I could tell if he was trying to cut corners and read the short verse instead of the much longer prose! These experiences translated into an insatiable appetite for fiction, long and short. But for reading, not writing. That came much later.

Although I speak the words aloud when I write (and often suggest to writers whose work I am critiquing that they do this to check the dialogue, sentence structure and clarity) the idea of reading to an audience was unthinkable for many years. All my life I have shied away from public speaking (which rather scuppered my early political ambitions) and always insisted in being on the production side of school plays because, although I knew how a role should be played, nerves would have strangled the words before they ever came near to being spoken.

So it was with great trepidation that I agreed to read my prize-winning flash fiction Mother’s Pride at a flash slam on National Flash Fiction Day in Oxford two years ago. The closer the date drew, the more nervous I became and every day I had to force myself not to pull out. But my husband came along for support, there were a couple of faces I knew from the internet, and everyone was very friendly. They were also, I realised with relief, at least as nervous as me. So I sank a glass of red wine and got the job done, and it was fine – even quite good! I can’t tell you how proud I felt when other experienced readers told me they would never have known it was my first time.

My second public reading wasn’t such a success. It was at the first meeting of Southville Writers, in a Bristol pub, and the background noise made it impossible for me to tell whether I was speaking loudly enough. Turns out I wasn’t! No one had any idea what my story was about until they read it afterwards.

My third venture was last Saturday in the Bristol Foyles, at an event organised by Southville Writers and Bristol Women Writers, where a mixture of poetry and prose was read over a five hour period. It was great to hear poetry read by the poet not in that monotonous, dreary way it is so often presented (think of Roger McGough on Poetry Please). This was real and vibrant and the writers knew exactly how to get the best out of it. I learned some valuable lessons about pacing, expression and delivery during those few readings, which I was able to use a short time later.

There were long breaks in between sections for chat and I had fun catching up with a couple of regular live performers I had met before, whose names (Pauline Masurel and Kevlin Henney) invariably crop up on shortlists and as winners of short fiction competitions. By the time my name was called I wasn’t too jittery, despite the large coffee. It went well, although I had a last-minute panic over differentiating between three separate voices, even though I’d practised and practised. I more or less pulled it off without stumbling and this time I knew everyone could hear because I had a microphone!

Again, the feeling of achievement was immense and I am now looking forward to my next performance – a reading of my 300-word story, Care – at the launch of the Worcestershire LitFest Flash Fiction 2014 Anthology in November, with much less fear. I’m hoping it gets easier every time, but I have a feeling I’ll always be grateful for a swift glass of wine beforehand.

As a listening experience, I can’t recommend live readings too highly. I find that hearing the words the way the author intended gives an extra depth to the story or poem and recreates that feeling of being immersed in another world that Listen with Mother gave us. In an age when it is all too easy to skim the surface of experience on social media, electronic games, film and television, this is a real treat. Please, if you see an event near you, do go along and support the writers. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did!

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If you have any tips or tricks for live performance, I’d be very glad to hear them. Please leave a comment below.

 

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If someone had told me that one day I’d be writing for a living and running a very successful writing school I’d have laughed in their face. It had taken redundancy and then the death of my father for me to realise I had to do something about my dream of being a writer. Up until then I had scribbled short stories for my own enjoyment and written copy for my breed club magazine. I wasn’t even sure I had it in me to be a published writer and was frightened that my dream would fail. It was a very nervous me that ventured into an adult education class in 1998 after first checking that I wouldn’t have to stand up and read my work out loud. Within one term I was eager to learn more, I was devouring writing magazines, sending off submissions and entering competitions. I even started to send articles to magazines and was petrified when they sold. Surely before too long someone would find out what a fraud I really was?

Like many adult education courses our creative writing classes ceased due to low numbers and budget cuts. Determined not to give up on my writing and go back to full time work I kept writing and attended workshops and a local writing group. I fitted in the odd temporary job to top up the coffers. In 2002 I heard about a writing competition being run by BBC Radio Kent. They gave the first line of a story and we had to complete it. I won the April heat and went on to become the overall winner of the year long competition which was judged live on the radio by a panel of well known people in the media world. I won a mug and my story was broadcast, but that one win opened so many doors for me.

The following year I met a course manager at the very same adult education centre where I had been a student. We chatted about my successes and after an interview I was offered a contract to teach creative writing at three of their centres – I was being paid to teach my favourite subject and the first class was to be in the room where I had once been a very nervous student. I wouldn’t say it was easy being a tutor, especially as many of my students were retired teachers. It felt very intimidating. Gradually I became comfortable in my role as I found that my students had the very same dream that had started me on the path to be a writer. Thinking back to those first classes I realise now that I couldn’t have been that bad a tutor as many of those students are now good friends with whom I have shared the odd bottle of merlot at writing retreats and workshops. I also took the opportunity to study for a teaching qualification and learned so much about the world of education.

I began to realise that although I loved to teach my favourite subject and to motivate my students, the adult education service did not support creative writing students. I became sick of the form filling and having to drum up enough attendees so that classes would go ahead the following term. I began to feel like a salesman rather than an educator. The final straw was a new management team arriving who were not interested in the successes of the people who attended our courses but only counted the ‘bums on seats.’ I’m not ashamed to say that after one particularly annoying meeting where my manager ignored the list of competitions my students had won I picked up my briefcase and walked out. I felt awful as not only had I walked away from a well paid job but I had left many students without a tutor. What happened next still brings a lump to my throat. My students all left the adult education service and demanded that I start my own classes. It was a great idea but how to start and where?

It used to be easy to rent a church hall and run a workshop, I’d done it often with our writing group but to my dismay I found that most halls in our area were used for day nurseries and the evenings fully booked for many other activities. I tentatively approached The Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford. Attached to a boys grammar school the thriving arts centre had made a name for itself off the back of ex student Sir Mick and his group, The Rolling Stones. The man himself kept in touch with the centre and had funded many music ventures for young people. Already a haven for most forms of music and dance, would the centre be interested in renting rooms to a writing school? It was important that we were a school rather than a writing group as the idea was to be able to teach all forms of writing and also provide workshops with authors, speaker events, trips and competitions; many things we were not allowed to do within the confines of the adult education service. Thankfully the MJC welcomed us with open arms and classes have gone from strength to strength. With colleague and writer, Francesca Burgess we have been delighted with students being placed and winning competitions, selling stories to magazines as well as features in national newspapers. Some now work as writers whilst others just enjoy creating and enjoying the written word. We are close to seeing the first novel being picked up and already we have non-fiction books commissioned.

I feel privileged to have played a part in so many peoples’ writing lives and helped them on their way to publication. It has been hectic at times; after all I am still writing and still have goals to achieve myself. I am a working writer as well as a tutor so life is busy but it is also very rewarding.

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Apart from running The Write Place creative writing school Elaine is a freelance journalist and author. She has a weekly column in canine publication, Our Dogs and has written three non-fiction books for dog owners. Her knowledge of the pedigree dog show world sees her broadcasting on radio about such subjects as micro chipping, dangerous dogs and picking up after our pets – her life is nothing if not glamorous!

Elaine has also written for over forty publications on topics as diverse as self building and nasty neighbours to organic apple juice production and how to set up a catering business. She was a finalist in the 2012 Harry Bowling competition as well as BBC Radio short story writer of the year in 2003.

Books available on Amazon:

A New Puppy in the Family

Showing Your Dog, A Beginner’s Guide

Canine Cuisine

Diamonds and Pearls (a collection of short stories)

…and Elaine’s Dog Blog