I’ve written before about the pleasure of hearing stories read aloud. You can do this all over the place these days. In London alone there’s the Word Factory, Liars’ League, In Yer Ear and Listen Softly London. And in Brighton there’s Rattle Tales, in Cork there’s The Lightning Bug… and new nights are starting up all the time.

I love going to this type of event. There’s something about hearing a tale being told by a human voice, with a whole room full of people listening as intently as you. I think the connection between the story and audience (via the performer) is different to that between a reader and the written text.

For me, the live experience makes the story more immediate, and the audible reactions of the audience inform and colour my own reactions. It really cuts to the heart of why we tell stories: to communicate a vision of the world in the most direct way possible; these visions may be diverse, but they all explore what it means to be human. And what better way to ponder humanity than in the company of other humans.

As a short story writer, I’ve been considering making the leap from listener to performer. The idea terrifies me though, so I decided to attend a workshop on performing stories, organised by the Word Factory and taught by AL Kennedy.

It was a fascinating afternoon, at the end of which I had:

  • lain on the floor while breathing deeply and trying to sink my body into the carpet;
  • had a conversation with a pillar and a wall;
  • said one line of a Shakespeare sonnet over and over to each of my fellow workshoppers in many different ways to convey a range of emotions;
  • and, of course, performed my story, once at the beginning of the workshop (terrified, knees knocking) and again at the end (less terrified, knees straight, with at least 50% more confidence than I’d had at the start).

It was challenging but also reassuring to do this things in a room full of people all willing each other to improve. Of course, I expected nothing less from the peeps who attend Word Factory events. It’s a lovely community.

Alison (sorry, it feels weird calling her AL) gave practical advice on posture, breathing and how to calm frayed nerves before a reading, but the advice that resonated with me the most was this:

When you write something, you are creating music in the reader’s mind. So, when you perform it, why wouldn’t you sing this music as loudly and confidently as possible? Don’t mumble the story you’ve spent ages writing and redrafting and honing and you know is good:


’Nuff said.


*PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT*  If you’ve got a spare few minutes, why not read one of my short stories? Click on the STORIES tab, or here, and take your pick.

One thought on “UNCHAINED MELODY

  1. Shane says:

    I totally agree. It’s like the difference between listening to a studio recording of a song and hearing it performed live. I also find it changes the performer, and the artefact; my songwriting has become a lot more direct since I started performing to an audience (whereas before I had half imagined my songs being consumed at home, on a stereo, with enough attention to pick out the lyrics and meanings).

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