Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

Thanks to Eddie McEleney for fab pics which captured the mood of the afternoon.

The hostess with the mostess! 😉

On Saturday, I was the guest host for [Untitled]’s monthly spoken word event in Falkirk.

There’s never any guarantee of how many readers will turn up to share their work so to cover the worst-case scenario of a lack of performers, I decided to dig out something to read. The last few times I’ve read at [Untitled], it’s been extracts from my novel, Buy Buy Baby (on promo at only 99p for this month!) but I felt I should try out something new.

I’m not ready yet to share any of my work in progress (which isn’t progressing much at all at the moment!) so I was struggling to think of a piece I could read that would standalone. It’s quite hard to find extracts from novels that make sense without setting the scene to explain the background of characters and the context of the piece. That’s where poets have it easier.

But for me, poetry isn’t easy. The one and only time I submitted a poem it was actually published. This instant success didn’t spur me on to write more and I’d never read out the poem in public. The poem was published in 2003 and I had a different surname, my previous married name, and a very different life. When I reread the poem, it was hard to recognise the person who wrote such a dark and melancholy poem. I felt exposed just reading it privately.

I also remembered that included in my WIP, the main character writes a poem to describe her relationship with her new friends. Again, the voice didn’t feel like mine. But I did have two poems to read if I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone.

As it happened, there were eleven readers keen to share their work on Saturday and I relaxed in the knowledge that I wouldn’t need to air my poetry. But here’s the thing… several of the readers had never performed their work before and were understandably a wee bit nervous. In my role as host, I did my best to support them and encourage them to be bold and put themselves and their words out there. And yet, I realised I was a hypocrite who was avoiding reading my own work. On the spur of the moment, I decided (with grateful audience encouragement) to practise what I preached and I read both of my poems.

Genuinely, to my surprise, they seemed to go down well. Later, I even got a tweet from one of the readers who said, “@HelenMacKinven poetry was wonderful. Poignant and delicate. You should write more poetry!” That made my day and I was chuffed to bits although I think I’ll leave writing poetry to poets and stick to prose. But it felt good to push myself a wee bit and it gave me the boost that I needed to keep writing, in whatever genre…

When have you stepped out of your comfort zone? Do you enjoy sharing your work in public or is your writing private?


Love is in the Air

10615502_759935190742545_4776851674993844753_nFor the third time, I went along to Woo’er with Words with my bestie and I was one of 16 local writers who took part in the monthly spoken word event held in Falkirk. It’s organised by [Untitled] to give writers an opportunity to read their poems and short stories in public. It’s a lovely set-up with a very casual, laid-back atmosphere to experiment with new writing and practise reading aloud. It’s also a great chance to meet like-minded folk and make new friends.

Love_HurtsThere’s a theme for each month and as it’s so close to Valentine’s Day, the obvious choice was ‘love’.  I decided to challenge myself to do something out of my comfort zone. I don’t read or write poetry but at a recent workshop, I was given the task of writing a list poem starting with, ‘Who here has… ?’.  The idea seemed simple enough so I thought even I could manage to come up with something about love. My poem is called ‘Crazy Little Thing’ as I’m intrigued by the things people do and say with the pretext of love. I wanted to hint at the flip side of love when it can morph from being positive to negative when protective turns into being possessive. I’m not convinced my poem worked and it’s probably a one-off for me (some might be glad to hear) and I’ll stick to fiction but it was worth dabbling with something different.

logo4 copyI also read out a piece of flash fiction I’d recently submitted to Paragraph Planet. I enjoy writing flash fiction and regularly submit to the Paragraph Planet as I like the discipline of keeping within the rigid word count and have often found that the short pieces have sparked an idea for something much longer.  It’s a great cure for writer’s block. The website has been publishing one 75-word paragraph every day since November 2008. Famous authors and aspiring writers have all got involved, submitting a mixture of twist-in-the-tale flash fiction. My latest offering has been submitted in the hope that they might feature it on Valentine’s Day. If it doesn’t get selected, you can get a preview (or only view!) here.

No Rhymes or Roses

I stood at the window but the postman’s van sped past the house in a flash of red.  There was no thump of mail on the doormat so no need to check for a card.

The single tear rolled down my cheek.

My brother shook his head.

“I don’t understand why you’re upset, there’s nothing special about Valentine’s Day, no one loves you on the other days of the year either.”

Have you written a love themed poem or story? Do you have a local opportunity to experiment and share your writing?


download (1)During December I hibernated, there wasn’t much in my social calendar but January has made up for it and I’ve been to several really interesting events.  My latest jaunt was to Edinburgh to attend a masterclass from one of the UK’s top spoken word acts, Francesca Beard, organised by Rally and Broad. To be honest, I’d never heard of Francesca as I’m not familiar with the spoken word scene. I hadn’t heard of the masterclass either until my friend from Twitter, Claire Archibald, gave me the tip-off that she was going and it sounded like a great chance for me to improve my performance technique.

The masterclass was billed as “an opportunity to explore your poetic voice through creating a persona and aimed to give you the tools to create a journey arc for your audience. Each participant will write and have the chance to perform a new piece of writing. Please wear comfortable clothing and come prepared to work as well as play“.

Two things in the descriptor scared me, ‘poetic voice’ and the bit about ‘playing’ in comfortable clothes. What did that mean? Reciting poetry in a onesie?

images (1)I’m not a reader or writer of poetry but I’m up for a go at most art forms so dressed in leggings and a stretchy tunic I found myself sitting in a circle at The Counting House with twenty or so other writers. It soon became apparent that most of these folk were experienced spoken word performers, and I wondered if I should slip away and go shopping instead. But Francesca made us all feel safe to experiment and when she asked us to write a list poem I wasn’t frightened to have a go. The list of questions all starting with, ‘Who in the room has ever… ?’ isn’t what I recognise as a poem but I was assured that this was a structure that was particularly effective as an active form to engage an audience. And the biggest surprise for me was that I enjoyed writing a poem!

The responsibility of the performer to connect with the audience was something Francesca likened to the writer being the driver of a bus and it was our job to make sure everyone in the audience stayed on board for the entire journey.  This means thinking carefully not just about words but also about body language and to be present on stage in every sense.  We did several physical exercises to look and sound confident in our delivery. We also spent time creating an introduction for an audience that would give them a sense of our identity. This could take the form of, ‘Here are 5 things you don’t know about me…’ I’d never considered developing a more interesting introduction other than, ‘My name is… ‘so this was a really useful exercise.

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Throughout the afternoon, Francesca encouraged us to share our inner world with the audience and not to be afraid of being judged as that’s something we can’t control and will happen anyway.  The idea of opening up to strangers is a challenge that I’m working on and the masterclass really helped to develop my confidence.

How do you connect with your audience? Do you have any tips to share when performing spoken word?