I believe that reading out loud is a lost art. I have a sneaking envy for those genteel Victorian ladies who acted as companions to the wealthy and whose main role seemed to consist of reading aloud.
When you were at school, did you cringe when your teacher asked you to read out loud? Not me. I was right there, my hand waving. And when I did get the chance to read, I showed off gratuitously, doing voices, singing songs, the works. Maybe that’s what prompted my decision to perform my book when I was published.
Put simply, this means that when I give readings for my novel, The Pink Cage, I won’t read from a book. Instead, I’ll act it out. I’ve chosen three extracts that I will learn and then deliver, with accompanying actions. I’ll even dress a bit like my central character. In between, I’ll talk about the inspirations behind the novel and the writing process. It’ll come to about 45 minutes, but I can cut it down to a 10-15 minute slot if necessary.
There are practical reasons for this too. Because of my poor eyesight, I’d either have to hold a book up to my face, which would block communication between me and the audience. Or I’d have to bring a rainforest of paper with me to every reading. Instead, I’ll do an outline, which will be like a guiderope during the reading.
I’ve learned a few techniques that will help me in performing my book. I’m a member of public speaking organisation Toastmasters and I learn off all my speeches for them. So preparing for my reading will be like learning three speeches. And for four years, I went to Bag of Trees Drama Group in Waterford, where I learned improvising techniques.
The Ancient Roman statesman Cicero advised against learning speeches by rote, because if you blank, then you crash totally. Instead, he recommended learning by images, or prompts. There’s always a danger that I’ll sound over-rehearsed, or strain too much for the next line. That’s why I’ll be picking the brains of my actor friends to give my readings an edge.
A lot of writers dread giving readings. But to me, readings are a platform for displaying my writing to my audience. I want to give that audience an experience that they’ll remember. Above all, I want to give them a performance.