The unweekly herding: stepping up to the mic

It would seem there are two types of writers – those who are comfortable with reading their work to an audience, and those who would rather be trapped in a lift with Piers Morgan than stand before a microphone.

EMReapyRedDustEM Reapy, author of Red Dirt, is of the latter variety. In an upfront piece for the Irish Times last week, she explained that, though thrilled with the positive reception her debut novel received, she struggled with the public appearances that were expected of her as part of the book’s promotion. This came to a head when she won Newcomer of the Year at last year’s Irish Book Awards, an award that’s arguably more about the writer than the book. To her horror, she had to give an off-the-cuff acceptance speech at the glitzy awards ceremony, with TV cameras present:

‘It was a sort of out-of-body experience walking to the stage. I don’t remember what I said in the speech but I recall lights, the crowd in their glamorous suits and dresses, the blur of faces. I had an intense desire to leave but was ushered to a green room and was then brought in for an RTÉ interview. I don’t remember that either, I was very much on autopilot. Some part of me had shut down….

‘…Two days later, I was struck with a stabbing pain in my side. I couldn’t walk or stand up. I was sent to hospital with suspected appendicitis. The highlight show of the awards ceremony was on that night. The doctors ran some tests and checked me over the course of the day but I was sent home in darkness, appendix intact. I watched the highlights through my fingers, reliving the fear I’d felt on the night, feeling nauseous all over again.’

To make matters worse, this was after several years of trying, and failing, to overcome her fear of public speaking. She began to wonder whether she would have to stop doing what she loved altogether when public appearances were proving such an obstacle. Fortunately, the story does have a happy ending as she has found a way of coping using a form of therapy.

Obviously this level of exposure is something most aspiring writers can only dream of, but even on a small scale reading in public can be very stressful if you’re shy, self-conscious or prone to anxiety. And yet readings are very much part of the literary landscape, so shouldn’t they be something to embrace?

This article struck a chord with me because the prospect of reading also fills me with dread. It took me a long time to even be able to read my work to my writing group without quaking, and I trust those people completely. Doing a reading in front of strangers seemed like a rite of passage that was beyond me. But then I became annoyed with myself for being such a wuss when others could just get on with it without making a fuss. So I decided it was time to face the fear once and for all, and made myself take part in the open mic section at the most recent Fiction at the Friary [which, incidentally, was terrific as always. Check out the April guest speaker Susan Lanigan on Soundcloud for a great excerpt from her WWI-set novel White Feathers. Now there’s someone who knows how to read confidently].

I have to confess I was shaking like a leaf, and was clamping onto my pages so fiercely to keep them steady that the nerves had to travel elsewhere, which meant my legs were practically buckling. Luckily, the mic is set up in a quirky sort of pulpit so my interpretive-dance lower half was hidden from view.

20170430_174050-1
Reading. Scared. But those pages are going nowhere (thanks, Lourdes Mackey, for the photo)

For anyone with a similar fear, plus the means to get to Cork, I can recommend trying this particular venue. The room is encouraging and attentive, and organisers Madeleine D’Arcy and Danielle McLaughlin are the most supportive people you could hope to meet. It was daunting, particularly as much of the audience was made up of people who know a thing or two about writing, but I’m glad I faced it and that I managed to get through it without keeling over or weeping with nerves. It also allowed me to figure out that – in my case, anyway – much of the fear is the worry that the material is not good enough to lay before an audience. So if you’re going to read, make sure it’s something you feel you can stand by.

Will I be more confident the next time I get to read, or will I continue to be a bag of nerves like EM Reapy? I know for a fact it will be the latter, but at least I’ve gotten over the terrifying hurdle of the first time.

Martin_Doyle_Michelle_Read_Rosemary_Mac_Cabe_Bert_Write_Propel_Irish_Writers_Centre_1024x1024For those whose phobia runs somewhat deeper, there’s also professional help at hand. On Twitter this week, I spotted that the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin is running a series of workshops called Mindshift, aimed at helping to improve confidence and performance skills, among other things (such as social media training and the art of self-promotion, which can be equally challenging for shy and retiring writerly types). Details can be found here of events coming up soon in Listowel, Dublin and Belfast.

Short story competition

Screen-shot-2016-04-29-at-15.47.10Entries are now being accepted for the Books Ireland Short Story Competition 2017.  Stories can be up to the rather quirky limit of 2,600 words, and the competition is open to writers of any nationality writing in English. First prize is €400, a place on a writing course at the Irish Writers Centre and publication in Books Ireland. Second prize is €200, and third €100. It isn’t mentioned whether the runner-up stories will also be published.

There’s an entry fee of €10 (€5 for subscribers or members of a writing group), with a closing date of July 31.

Photo: StockSnap.io
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9 thoughts on “The unweekly herding: stepping up to the mic

  1. Well done for doing that reading Anne, that’s quite an achievement!!! At least you know you’re not alone in that fear, it’s a very common problem. I did a lot of acting on stage when I was in my 20’s and didn’t suffer a great deal of fear on those performances. I’ve also read various poems etc for church events many years ago, and spoken and read poetry at both my parents funerals. Somehow survived all of those with only moderate fear, which I think is quite normal. Maybe my acting days helped me a great deal. But now, even though I post recordings of my poetry on SoundCloud and a few You Tube videos, I’m not sure how confident I’d feel about reading my work in person at an event… I know I don’t feel comfortable thinking about it.

    It could be to do with wondering if what I’ve written is worth anything at all, but I don’t usually fear that about my work. Maybe it feels a little self indulgent? Oh, I really don’t know what it is!! But I do know if someone asked me to read my poetry or stories at an event now, I’d probably turn it down. I much prefer creating and posting SoundCloud recordings. I know this is going to sound lazy but… at least with SoundCloud you don’t have to worry about your outfit… you can wear PJ’s if you prefer… I often do!! 😀

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  2. It’s fascinating that you have a background in acting, yet would still consider yourself an uncomfortable reader. I wonder if it’s because as an actress you’re cloaked in the character, but you read your work as YOU? Interesting.

    Are your Soundcloud recordings available on The Writing Garden? Must give them a listen! Thanks, as always, for your well thought out comment, x

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    1. Yes, I think you’re right Anne, it probably does have a lot to do with being comfortably cloaked in a character. But also most of the time in acting, unless it’s a one person show, you are part of a team, I think that helps with nerves a lot. There were a few times I had to be on stage on my own, just for 15 or 30 seconds, I found that uncomfortable too. And yet I had very little problem reading something at church or a stressful day like a funeral. Maybe it’s something about religious buildings gives me permission not to worry… haha!! 😀

      My SoundCloud recordings are shared to my main blog (WordMusing), but I also have a link to SC on my Twitter profile, if that’s easier for you. When you get to there, you’ll need to click ‘tracks’ at the top of the page, so you get a list of just my own tracks, because I repost a lot of music and poetry too… you could be there a while wading through the feed of reposts! If you enjoy listening to them, in the sidebar of my SC page there is a link to another account I have called The Writing Garden Group. That’s a SC version of The Writing Garden, where I repost other poets spoken word and also a few podcasts.. all writing related. You might find something interesting in that list. There’s a lot of talent out there, and never enough time in the day to get to it all!! 😉

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  3. Great piece, Anna, thanks for that. I was at Fiction at the Friary that Sunday, but had to leave early so I missed the open mic. I’ll catch you next time. I have read my work before audiences a few times and yes, it’s terrifying, no two ways about it. It does get a bit easier, I think, or maybe one just becomes more inured to the terror! But practice make less imperfect, I think, for sure, and there are a few dos and donts that one picks up along the way. Well done on the Colm Toibín shortlist, that’s fantastic. Good luck with it, fingers crossed!

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    1. It’s good to hear other people’s stories, Tadhg, as it gives me hope that the gibbering wreck stage will pass. Congrats are due to you as well on the Mercier Press shortlist. Such an achievement! Plus I believe we’re both on a shortlist that I’m not sure can be mentioned yet? Thanks very much for reading, A

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  4. […] First was the news that I’ve won this year’s From the Well competition. Run by Cork County Library Services, it has an amazing prize in several parts. The winner – in this case me – gets to choose a five-day writing workshop at the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry in July, and receives money towards accommodation. There will also be an anthology of the top 20 stories, with an official launch in Cork. My story Smoke in the Rain will be the title. Then there’s a From the Well event at the festival, with readings by some of the shortlistees and yours truly (this being marginally less daunting thanks to my recent opportunity to practice at the only gorgeous Fiction at the Friary). […]

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