I performed four stories at the 200th Spotlight Club in Lancaster last night, and it was great. I’ve talked before about how nervous I get before a reading, and yesterday was no exception; I spent the whole day oscillating between calm and stomach-churning tension. It’s always terrifying to put my work before another person: the fear that they’ll hate it never goes away. I get worried whenever I show a new story to Monica, who is always my first reader, and I’m just as nervous when I send it on to Sue and writer friends like Iain Maloney and Steven John Malcolm. Any happiness at having a story published is matched by the anxiety that people will realise I’m making it up as I go along.
Performing live takes those concerns to a different place altogether. My heart thrums in my solar plexus, and my throat goes tight. Last night was the biggest audience I’d ever read to, of fifty or sixty or seventy people, and I was scheduled quite late on the bill. As the night rolled on, more and more people joined the crowd – and the more nervous I became – not least as the bar was set extremely high right from the first performance.
Big Charlie Poet (a.k.a. Simon Hart) kicked off the open mic with an extremely brave, extremely good poem about bullying. I really like Simon’s work and I’ll definitely try to catch him again. I also really enjoyed Ros Ballinger’s poems – tight, witty work about one-night stands and more.
After the open mic came musician Kriss Foster & Friend. All I knew of this act was that Kriss wore a homemade leopard onesie – it turns out they are Lancaster’s equivalent of Flight of the Conchords. They combined a great stage show with three songs about our wee corner of the north-west, and had the audience in stitches. Their first song was from the point of view of a taxidermied seabird in Kendal Museum:
Then came the tragedy of a blind date gone wrong in Rivington motorway services, before they finished with a love song to Morecambe. Brilliant.
They would have been a hard act to follow, so I’m glad there was an interlude before the next slot. The first performer after the break was Italian poet Carla Scarano. Her poems about portraits married intricacy to power – and the last two, about Francis of Assisi and Beowulf, were simply magnificent.
Then it was my turn. On Mon’s suggestion, I started with the Lion Tamer’s Daughter, and I’m pleased to say it went down quite well – I followed with The Black And The White Of It, then Hutch, and finished with new flash piece Circle Stone. I had twelve minutes, which is probably the longest slot I’ve had to work with. About halfway through I was surprised to realise that the nerves had gone. The good reaction from the audience helped, without a doubt, and gave me greater confidence in my stories. That in turn helped me relax and enjoy the reading, and I think that improved my performance. I don’t know if there’s some secret to starting a reading with that attitude – I suspect it needs to be earned at each new event. Anyway – I loved it. It was my best reading by a mile. If anything, it made me want to write more flash fiction for live events.
I was followed by performance poet Miss P, who managed to combine memory and incisive observation with humour and relentless energy. It seemed to be a bittersweet show for her – she’s moving to Oxford, and this was her last gig in Lancaster. Large sections of the audience had come to support her, and the reaction to her work was explosive and good-humoured.
Paddy Garrigan finished the night with half-a-dozen of his excellent songs. I really like Paddy’s stuff, and it was so good to see him live for the first time. My favourite song was loosely about cathedrals – or, more accurately, our notions of what makes something important. I can’t find it online to share, unfortunately, but it was sumptuous. If I can track it down, I’ll update the post; for now, here’s another of his gigs, playing ‘Where Do The Dead Go When They Die’ with his full band:
Thanks go to compere Simon Baker, too. He was a generous and very funny host. There was a great atmosphere around the occasion of Spotlight’s 200th event, a real sense of community and history. I’m always impressed at how eclectic the performers are, and it’s an honour to be part of something so embracing. It reaffirmed to me how important it is to share my work with others – to validate what I do away from a computer screen.
I signed up to compete at their annual Slam next month, so I’ll be back to Spotlight in October. I haven’t done a slam event before. Hopefully I won’t disintegrate. Each of twenty contestants has a three-minute slot. It’s not a lot of time, but I already have a few ideas brewing away about how I can make best use of it…