SBT's Performance And Presentation Course
The Performance and Presentation course organised by Scottish Book Trust was my first outing as a published author. My aim for the course was not only to learn about performance and presentation, but also see how I would fare in the big wide world, among fellow writers and in a possibly stressful situation.
Having been a stay-at-home Mum for just over four years, I’ve lived in a lovely cocoon of playgroups, nursery gates, coffee with friends and mummy-related activities. When I started my publishing adventure, even just going to Edinburgh to see my publishers seemed like a great challenge that involved so much planning, and so much worrying. I found hard to believe that I was the same girl who, the week after her move to Scotland, was already a student teacher standing and delivering in front of classes. In English. Where was all my confidence gone?
As I got to know the writing world I realised that meetings with publishers and agents is the first (and easiest) challenge, because authors are also expected to do events. Naturally I had not a clue that this was going to be part of my job description when I started, it always seemed like something other people did…but no, it really is part and parcel of the writer’s job.
Now, the idea of going back into schools and nurseries makes me so happy. I was a primary teacher, and I can’t wait to be back to do, in some way, the job I love so much – but reading to adults, oh, that’s a different story! That’s a truly, truly terrifying sort of ordeal.
Of course, me being me, if there’s something to get stressed about I’ll dive in head first. So I enrolled myself in the Performance and Presentation course, you know, to feel the fear and do it anyway sort of thing? Armed with Rescue Remedy and Kalms pills and breathe deeeeeeeply techniques, I jumped in with both feet.
When I walked in (late, just to add to the panic) a semicircle of writers/rabbits caught in headlights was perched on plastic chairs, cheeks flushed and shaking hands clutching paper folders. And there she was, Alex Gillon, She Who Speaks Like The Queen (only better). Think Prof. McGonagall, just scarier. I sat and cursed myself. Why oh WHY had I decided to do that? Could I not just go home and hide away and write? A few minutes of I want to go home I want to go home I want to go home followed, until the other writers, one by one, started introducing themselves and talking about their reasons to attend the course.
Their reasons were mine, too. I felt an instant connection with them, and in the space of two minutes, I was rooting for them. Especially when it came to Hazel. She too had been a stay-at-home mum for a few years, she too was very nervous, but ready to challenge herself. She was blushing, and her hands were shaking, but she was there because she wanted to do it, she wanted to do justice to her work and win her fears. As I listened to her I thought RIGHT, THEN. I’m SO going to do this!
It was clear that what Alex was there to deliver wasn’t just technique, although she did that with great precision – it was an injection of confidence. She was scary, oh that she was! But also funny, and supportive, and charismatic. And she respected us, and our work. One by one we read our pieces, and she gave us invaluable advice on how to stand, how to breathe, how to stress certain words and how to keep eye contact with the audience. My favourite bit had to be Alison Murray’s delightful reading of Apple Pie ABC, her gorgeous picture book: it made me want to work with children so much, as I remembered the excitement of telling a story to the wee ones and seeing the enthusiasm on their faces. One by one my fellow writers read, and I thought they were amazing. And I thought that after all, it wasn’t that difficult. That of course I’d follow Alex’s advice and stand like a tree, and breathe deeply, and keep eye contact, and read slowly.
Except I didn’t. I was last, and I rushed through the words as quickly as I could! I had made the big mistake of choosing a very emotional piece from my novel, intensely private, things that nobody would really ever say aloud. When I started reading I had the overwhelming feeling that I was talking my clothes off. In a weird way, I enjoyed it greatly. It was horrible and it was great. Like I was speaking out to the world, speaking out because I had something to say. I wanted to do it again…but better. To be a vehicle for my own work and do justice to all the blood sweat and tears (many of those) I pour into it.
You know that folk song, Cruel Sister, where a girl is drowned, and two minstrels make a harp form her breastbone, and string it with her hair? And then the harp plays all by itself, and it tells her story – the girl singing from her very bones. It felt a bit like that. Like my very bones want to tell a story. Ultimately the very first stories weren’t written, they were told: and us writers have a long, long line of storytellers behind us, that’s what we’re supposed to be. Computers and paper are great vehicles for our imagination, but the stories really live in our souls and come out as easy as breathing, if only we let them.
A writer’s job is to tell the story. And if I’ve got to face the panic to do that, I will. With a little help from Alex…