Saturday, April 02, 2005

On Talks and Readings

I went to a poetry reading last night - unfortunately some members of the audience chatted all the way through so it was difficult to concentrate. Afterwards one of poets, a friend of mine called Sheila Parry whose poetry I love (http://www.falklands.info/background/poem3.html) seemed unperturbed by the reception. Apparently she’d had worse than that, she told me, outside the town hall in Liverpool they had had to compete with a steel drum band, but whatever happens they always persist in carrying on...

I suppose persistence is one of the most important qualities of a writer. We keep going in spite of everything, persist in sending stuff off, persist in spite of lousy reviews...Sometimes I think it is a form of insanity This weekend I have to prepare a new talk to go with my new book to take around Literature Festivals around the country. It will take some time but once it is done I know I’ll be able to refine and reuse it, but as I’m doing it, and as I set off to each talk I shall be asking myself, why am I doing this? But in the end I know I’ll enjoy it because the audiences are usually so appreciative. It hasn’t always been like this though...

One of my earliest experiences was in a library near Manchester which was hoping to start a reading group. Taking the recently announced Orange Prize long list as a theme, the librarians had gone to a lot of trouble with supplies of books, orange balloons, badges and streamers, several tables of opened wine and food...

I’d been invited to talk on writing and reading, it was the first time I’d ever done such a thing and had spent a long time in preparation. I got there a little later than I’d planned because the traffic was bad, but it was a pleasant evening, not wet or cold, no reason not to expect a full-house. ‘We’ve had a lot of interest,’ one of them told me as I arrived, ’We’ve given away fifty tickets.’

At 7.30 pm the first member of the audience arrived...but unfortunately no one else did. Giving a talk to one person seemed to me to bit strange and I was hoping that I would just be able to go - but this woman was enthusiastic and wanted to stay - so I ended up giving a talk, well more of a discussion really, to this one member of the public and three librarians all of us filling up on twiglets at the end.

This was close to the first talk about Wegener I gave at a local Science Festival. There was quite a build up to this one, weeks of letters, discussion, trying out the audiovisuals and forty tickets given away. A few friends came with me, the local bookshop unpacked a big box of books...and three members of the public turned up, two of whom were parents of one of the organisers of the festival.

Since then things have improved. The talk I gave then has been modified several times and I am more selective - I give free talks only to established societies otherwise I do events where people have paid just a little to come - and in the last couple of years my audience has not been less than thirty, which my publicist at Hodder Headline says is good. Whenever I used to complain to her about my audience she always used to have an example of a well-known film director or comedian who’d had to speak in a huge great theatre to an audience of...nine. It’s quite reassuring to know that Chester Poets and I are not alone.

Clare.

2 Comments:

At 9:24 AM, Anonymous jmorrison said...

look on the bright side clare, the readings are a support system for your work, the actual books. in the case of some musicians, the performance itself is the work, and playing to an audience of nine, or one, is even worse.

a friend of mine who plays very avant guard, totally improvised, music relayed a story of playing at a new york street fair. it was a rainy day. when he was scheduled to go on there was not a single human there to listen. there was, however, a mangy dog sitting by the gutter. he plugged in, focussed on the dog, and went ahead and played.

 
At 3:01 PM, Anonymous Clare said...

Ha, can just see it - the musician and his adoring mongrel alone in the rain - excellent....

 

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