Red Button Publishing

Publishing and Consultancy

Putting on a show: The Writer as Performer

We’re delighted to have one of the Red Button authors, Christopher Russell, guest-blogging for us today. Christopher’s hilarious debut novel Mockstars was released in digital formats this summer to great reviews. The novel is, in part, inspired by Christopher’s real-life adventures with his band The Lightyears, which puts him in a great position to talk about the importance of performance for modern writers. Over to you, Christopher…

Once upon a time, storytelling was an oral tradition. Performance was the lifeblood of the discipline and, if you couldn’t deliver the goods in front of an audience, you couldn’t be a storyteller. Simple as that.

Then, of course, the printing press was invented and over the centuries the accepted stereotype of the storyteller morphed from the convivial raconteur by the fire into the gloomy, misanthropic scribbler locked away in a darkened room mainlining caffeine and eating crisps from a sock.

However, since technology has thrust authors back into the limelight, Things Have Changed. In today’s competitive market, the writer must be (and apologies if this makes some of you gag) A BRAND. The writer suddenly needs a USP and an ANGLE and a SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE and must GO JOGGING REGULARLY. The writer must crawl out from underneath his or her rock and perform.

I recently appeared at a rather charming event at the Shoreditch Book Club called Story Collider. Many of the other storytellers on the bill were teachers and academics who, although accustomed to speaking in front of an audience, normally did so behind a lectern and hadn’t previously thought of themselves as “performers”. As a musician I was, I guess, lucky to have spent the better part of my life flouncing around onstage, flicking my hair about and generally craving attention, because it served as an effective boot camp for taking the literary spotlight. So, with that in mind, I thought I might humbly offer up a few tips for writers taking their first tentative steps into the world of live performance…

Preparation, preparation, preparation
Okay, so this one is rather obvious, but it’s often overlooked. If you have to memorise something, don’t wait until the day before. Learn it a month in advance, then sleep on it. Sleeping bakes knowledge into your brain (that’s science, that is), and stores it there for future use. Incidentally, this general model is worth following even if you’re not required to commit the extract to memory, because it’s hard to fully commit to a piece unless you know it inside out. Don’t leave anything to chance. Practise into a mirror. Use a deodorant can as a microphone. (That’s totally what I do.)

The audience are on your side
There may be exceptions to this rule, but every publishing event I’ve performed at so far has been enormously friendly, and the vast majority of audiences will instinctively be on your side. They’re not baying for your blood: these people genuinely want you to succeed, and remembering that always helps steady the nerves. (The old adage, of course, is to “imagine your audience naked”, though personally I find this counter-productive. I mean, anyone who can stand in front of ninety-five nude strangers and not be sidetracked by nipples possesses a frankly implausible level of self-discipline.)

Actually speak into the microphone
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about writers, it’s that they’re mortally terrified of microphones. I remember one of the authors at the first book reading I ever attended – she was a wonderful novelist, but the distance she kept from the microphone strongly suggested she suspected it of carrying some heinous viral disease, and much of what she said was barely audible. The chances are that most microphones you are likely to be presented with (radio interviews aside) will be “dynamic”; that is to say they are designed not to pick up ambient noise, and you need to speak directly into them. So be intimate. Get up close and personal. In short, don’t be afraid that the audience will hear what you’re saying… be afraid that they won’t.

And after all this, if the whole thing falls apart, make sure you position somebody in the wings with a stripy cane to comically pluck you off the stage and away from the pelting of rotten vegetables. Because that trick, quite simply, never fails.

Christopher Russell

 

Check out some of Chris’s live readings below. For more head over to the Mockstars website

Mockstars Video Extract: “The A&R Man”

Mockstars Live Extract: “Posh Groupies”

Christopher’s rock ’n’ roll novel Mockstars is available to buy now from Red Button Publishing. 

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