Thanks to Marta Adamovicz for giving me a second spot at A Little Bit of Theatre this afternoon. Fellow performers included Glasgow Writers’ Group pals Emma Briant and Mary Dowds, two young women who have very distinctive voices and oodles of talent, along with comedian John Sheppard and poet / rappers Bram Gieben and Leon Deeside.
As it’s Easter, I decided to read something a little more redemptive than usual, so went for an oldie, “Teuchter Dancing when the Lights Go Out”. It was the default performance piece when “Occasional Demons” came out and I was whisked about all over the world to do readings; well, Inverness and Ullapool, anyway.
I’m not happy with my reading, though. It’s a piece that relies on pace, and I didn’t get it right. I was up on stage a couple of acts early after a rejig in the running order, so hadn’t quite composed myself: but the couple of stumbles and misreadings were my fault. Still, I think I managed to get the timing of the key moments just about right, and the joke about a marriage proposal got the biggest laugh of the afternoon…
… until Caroline McKenzie took the stage. Her recounting of her night-time reflections on the relationship between the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote and the Acme corporation was the highlight of the set. Perfectly nuanced, beautifully paced and very, very funny, McKenzie should have an awfy bright future ahead of her. Great stuff.
Was at a lovely book launch last night for J. David Simons’ third novel, “An Exquisite Sense of What Is Beautiful”. Set in Scotland and Japan, Simons describes it as a story about political and personal denial.
I really like David’s writing: it is elegant and beautifully crafted, and he has a distinctive voice redolent with lovely rhythms. Think about the all the information and connotation packed into the first sentence of the first chapter:“‘Your favourite season is the one you are born into,’ Edward’s mother, a bitter child of winter, used to tell him.
I could spend half an hour analysing that sentence with a class full of teenagers. What made Edward’s mother ‘bitter’? What kind of person was she? Why “used to tell him”? What has happened to her? How do we imagine Edward feeling about that? Is he a child of winter? How do we know? What would be the effect of a winter mother on a summer child? A spring child? What does it mean to have a favourite season? Do we know any fortune-telling idioms or sayings similar to this? “Monday’s child is fair of face…” – why do we believe these sayings?
And that’s just one sentence. David is such a nice guy and such an accomplished writer, I’m very much looking forward to reading “An Exquisite Sense…”; I’m battering through Hilary Mantel’s wonderful “Wolf Hall” to get to it as soon as I possible can…
For all sorts of reasons, I’ve been very quiet of late; hopefully I’ll be doing more in March. However, it was nice to be given the opportunity to stand in for a late cancellation at Marta Adamovicz’s “A Little Bit of Theatre” event at 13th Note in Glasgow. Since the demise of Words per Minute, there has been a dearth of regular opportunities for live reading in Glasgow, so this is a welcome relative newcomer.
An informal spoken word and music event, it has a nice, eclectic feel about it, with readers, performers, film, music and comedy to keep the interest levels high. Marta herself is a charming, warmly eccentric hostess and a pretty mean film maker. Amongst the highlights was fellow Glasgow Writers’ Group pal Alex Cox giving an excoriatingly funny reading of “Jesus is a Fat Fuck”, full of sly metaphysical wit and tons of grab-you-by-the-throat vernacular. Star of the show for me, though, was final stand up Keiron Nicholson, a guy with an instantly likable personality and well-worked routines on everything from computer geekdom to the inanities scrawled on the walls of Phnom Phen torture memorial site Tuol Sleng. He’s effortlessly funny and, I hope, destined for stardom. He’s in a new show for the Glasgow Comedy Festival on March the 29th at the State Bar: well worth checking out.
For my own slot, I satisfied an itch to read the whole of “The Beauty that Brendan Sees”; I’ve done sections of it on podcast and live, but I’ve been pretty desperate to do the whole thing. Called in only the evening before, I didn’t have enough rehearsal or editing time, but managed to perform it with minimal reference to the script and, I hope, a fair amount of the required charisma. As for the dodgy American accent – well, now that’s out of my system, I can put it to bed and revert to in-yer-face scary Glaswegian stories. It may be more authentic, but audiences are much less likely to sleep at night…
Hope that title gets my blog lots and lots of hits!
Many thanks to the lovely people at Edinburgh live event organisation “Illicit Ink”. They invited me to do one of their website podcasts, and I recorded it with the charming Tom Moore last month. You can find it here:
I’m reading an extract from “The Beauty that Brendan Sees”, the gay-themed story I was proud to have had published earlier this year in New York gay magazine “Chelsea Station“. While it has the usual dose of rampant sex you’ll find in many of my stories, here, it’s done much more gently; I must have been feeling very good about the human race when I wrote it. I also answer some of Tom’s rather unusual questions in which I display some sadly geeky knowledge about Kazakhstan that I will now never be able to verify in person…
Hope you enjoy it. I’m hoping they’ll let me perform at one of their upcoming shows, which, interestingly, are always themed. Coming along soon is “School”, and while I have quite a lot of work that would fit that particular subject, none of it could remotely be described as gentle. I love the job, love working with kids – but it’s a treasure chest of misanthropy!
I’ve been very quiet lately – always the same at the start of the academic year when I’m chasing my tail – but I’ll be back on the gig trail soon and have a few film outings to report.
However, I’ll be workshop leading at the Aberdeen City Council’s annual “Northern Writes” event – my third year in a row, so they must be getting sick of me by now – on the 19th September in the Belmont cinema. It’s a day I always enjoy because of the creativity of the young people I get to work with.
Videos of last year’s event are available online. In part 2, at around 18 minutes, you can see me reading “Bellflowers”, which was published in the “1000 Cranes” anthology in support of Japanese earthquake relief. You can get a good sense of the workshops we all did, as well as an interesting Q&A which showed just how perceptive these young people are. Unfortunately, sound and vision don’t always tally.
Then on the evening of the 17th October, I’ll be leading a workshop as part of North Lanarkshire’s “Encounters” Cultural Festival. I worked with a creative writing group last year, and they were kind enough to want me back to do some more work with them. The workshop will be at the Sir John Wilson Town Hall in Airdrie, from 6.30 to 8.30pm. It’s free, but if you fancy coming along, book up at the Encounters website. Perhaps see some of you there…
Just a quick announcement!
I’ll be reading a short extract from “Spree Killer” at the Glasgow launch of “A Little Touch of Cliff in the Evening” on Friday 7th September at 7pm in Waterstone’s, Argyle Street, Glasgow. It will be hosted by one (or both) of the editors, the terrific Zoe Strachan and Carl Macdougall. Should be good!
I’ll be reading at the Scottish Writers Centre SpeakEasy, a members only event, on Thursday 19th July. I’ve been really busy lately, so it’s my first visit to this great new initiative to support Scottish writing. I’m looking forward to it, especially as it’s held at the CCA, one of my favourite Glasgow venues. The line up looks interesting, with a healthy dose of Gaelic writers – and even some Gaelic drama! – on the bill.
Gaelic Drama: ‘Daolag’ (‘Bug’)
Reading: DOUGLAS THOMPSON – 3 Poems
Reading: J. DAVID SIMONS ‘PALESTINE 1919 – DECISIONS, DECISIONS’ [extract from novel, The Land Agent, forthcoming (Five Leaves, 2014)]
Reading from the Gaelic Writers’ Group; DAVID EYRE, ALISON LANG
Reading: RAYMOND SOLTYSEK, ‘The Beauty that Brendan Sees’
Reading: ANGELA BLACKLOCK-BROWN – 3 Poems
Readings from the Gaelic Writers’ Group; MAUREEN MACLEOD, CATRIONA LEXY CAMPBELL
Reading: JACQUELINE SMITH, ‘Dumbie & the Devil’
I’ll read an extract from the story about to be published in “Chelsea Station”. It requires three accents - New York, French and Russian – so we’ll see how badly that goes!
A terrific evening, and Graham Fulton reminds me why he’s one of my favourite Scottish poets. He’s been writing like a demon since leaving his job at the beginning of the year, and his work has become funnier, cleverer and more mature than ever. Stunning stuff.
Most of the readings are new and will probably appear in future collections. What I’ve always admired about his work is his instamatic quality: like Edwin Morgan, he has a terrific eye for the minutiae of existence. That has now been tempered with a contemplative quality that makes his work much deeper than when I worked with him in Paisley Writers’ Group. Thus, a hilarious poem about an untied shoelace is actually a reverie about growing older; a punk lads’ night out at the Silver Thread Hotel in Paisley (God, I remember the Silver Thread!) is a paean to nostalgia, to friendship. Many of the readings have that look over the shoulder at encroaching time that makes guys of our age (Graham is a few months younger than me) shift uncomfortably in our seats.
Of course, I recognise so much of what he writes about, given that , as a Barrhead boy, I know Paisley almost as well as he does; the pangs of recognition are like welcome taps on the shoulder. I also, though, recognise the characters he writes about: the wee old woman who embarrasses lads out watching a Scotland match in the pub by talking about her pet dog she had put to sleep that morning; the neds who beat up Graham as he weaved his way homeward on his 40th birthday; the stony faced policeman who commandeers a bus and makes everyone feel guilty just by being there.
It’s not surprising that Graham’s aesthetic is visual: like one of my other favourite Scottish poets, Gerry Cambridge, Graham is a talented photographer, of the urban rather than the natural world. I’m delighted when I win second place in the raffle and carry off, amongst other goodies, a copy of “The Ruin of Poltalloch”, a booklet of poetry and glorious black and white photographs of Poltalloch House near Kilmartin. That quality extends into the way he captures images of people. One lovely poem about a guided ghost tour of Paisley, “Jim the Witch”, has absolutely recognisable gallus wee lassies putting their oar in and punters staggering alarmed out of pubs to see what all the ghostly commotion is about.
Another pamphlet on offer tonight is an epic, “The Zombie Poem”, a thesis on life and undeath prompted by being turned down as an extra for Brad Pitt’s recent “World War Z” Glasgow shoot. He reads a couple of related poems, but I read the poem itself quickly before the reading starts, and it’s brilliant, lines jumping out of the page that speak directly to me at my age and in the place and time I am:“It’s a way of being content with the art of being alive, regret, bad choices, directions you can’t undo, commas in the wrong place, i before e except after c, words you can’t go back to…”
Graham reads practically non-stop for more than an hour, and there isn’t a dull moment. Stabs of recognition, lots of laughs, driving rhythms, pin-sharp images and characters – Graham is at his absolute best, and his best is quite brilliant.
Unfortunately, a couple of cancellations from the performance list mean that the programme is curtailed somewhat, but this is still a good wee event that deserves to be supported.
Jim Gilbert of folk duo Wing and a Prayer starts off the evening in good style, with one of his own compositions and a very creditable John Martyn cover. Good stuff; regular performers at Tchai Ovna, they’ll be worth checking out.
I read an extract from the first chapter of my novel: I can’t call it new because it’s been on the go so long, so its nice to remind myself what it’s like. It goes down well, though I felt a little flat.
Chik Duncan performs extracts from his children’s novel in progress. He’s a polished performer, and should be doing lots of work in primary schools: kids must love him. Talking to him afterwards, we discover that we graduated from Glasgow University in the same year, and both in Philosophy (him single honours, me joint). However, given that I spent the vast bulk of my time in my final year playing pool, snooker and darts – anything to avoid classes – it’s hardly likely our paths never crossed.
Nayan Patel has come off the street to investigate the joint, and reads some of his poetry. It’s good stuff – quick and witty – and if he finds himself a good writers’ group to push him on, I suspect we’ll hear a lot more from him
Graham Keen’s poetry is also witty and truthful, with a sharp working class edge in the finest Glasgow tradition. He performs at The Scotia Bar, bastion of local writing for generations; I think I did my first ever reading there nearly twenty years ago.
The event organiser, David Manderson, finishes off by reading a short but tantalising extract of his new novel, “Lost Bodies”, to be published next month. There will be a book launch at The Arches, so I’ll post information about that. If you’re into crime fiction, this sounds right up your street.
Tchai Ovna is a cosy place. Smelling of wood smoke and spices, it has a lived in feel, like a room in a croft; it’s the kind of place you wish you’d spent your childhood in. I bet it’s lovely in the winter, with the fire blazing.
I will be reading at the monthly writers’ event held at the Tchai Ovna Tea House (West End) in Otago Lane at 8pm on Friday the 13th of May. The line up – including Graham Meek and Pippa Goldschmidt – looks fantastic, and it’ll be good to be reading again with my old colleague from the Paisley Writers’ group of the 1990s, Graham Fulton, a great poet and brilliant reader who’s just had a new collection published.
Thanks to David Manderson for the invitation.