Blogs, poems, even meals – were scattered to the winds this week in the headlong rush to get the show on the road. And I have to confess, I love the frenzy of rehearsals almost as much as the greasepaint and lights of the performance itself. The show was WRITERS ON THE ROAD – as the photo suggests, an attempt by Leicester Writers Club to get out of our comfort zone and take our work to new audiences. On Thursday night we gathered 18 writers into the Richard Attenborough Centre and slogged through 4 hours of dress rehearsal. The pace was manic because we'd had so little rehearsal time together and now there was set, lights and sound to add to the mix. But the ensemble camaraderie was in full swing and we knocked things into shape. A night later, we were back for the real thing before a lively and responsive audience of over 60 people.
Suffice to say it was a roaring success because each performer had put in hours before the mirror or mouthing scripts in the Green Room. And our technical crew somehow delivered sound effects or powerpoint magic bang on time. The programme ranged from children's fiction to poems to several plays and some edgy and powerful literary fiction. Everything from the heart-breaking to the laugh-out-loud. It effectively displayed the diversity of writing in the club – the thrill of good storytelling in every genre. The gasps and giggles from our audience more than repaid the hours of fine-tuning that it took to put the show together. And in a week that took in the excellent Short Fuse spoken work event, it got me thinking again about the pull of live literature.
As writers, we spend so much time struggling to get our work into print, to get the permanence and kudos of that. And indeed, turning pages of your own words in a real book is a pleasure hard to beat. But I also find myself drawn to the very different excitement of communicating story and emotion to a live audience. And the challenge of events like Writers on the Road or Short Fuse is to find new ways of presenting material and bringing it to life for an audience of listeners who have no page to revisit or linger over. Short Fuse do a brilliant job with a set of about 6 writers reading on a spot-lit stage with breaks to digest what you've heard. We also had powerful solo readings from writers experienced at standing in front of a mike. To that we added the dynamics of a play with several actors – or two voices sharing a poem. There was live music from Julian Wright. There was a truly bizarre and ingenious depiction of a Dalek, complete with plunger, from Chris de Lacey. There was a shimmering sari to evoke the Northern Lights – my own contribution. Given the chance, I will always veer for that element of theatre.
Personally, I think every writer gains from this exposure to live literature, to developing the skills of doing more than reading from the page. And it's wonderful to be part of a whole team sometimes, not just you and the keyboard. As we packed up props at the Attenborough Centre last night, I was already missing it. Don't be too surprised if you hear that I've chucked everything to run off and join the circus ...
Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.
Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:
My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:
Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:
- Leicester, East Midlands
- As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring.