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Monday 21 September 2015

Top tips for Live Lit

September in West Sussex seems to be a popular time for Live Lit events. I have three coming up in the next week or so. Take a look if you fancy coming along ...

Small Wonder Slam with The Moth magazine (the US mag): read more here. This is a true slam where you put your name in a hat and they pick ten readers for the night. The theme is BRIEF. I have a story ready, but it will be in the lap of the gods if I get picked ...

Live-Lit with Melanie Whipman: 28 Sep, 7.30pm start, The Holly Bush pub in Frensham (nr Farnham) - details here. If you live close enough and would like to read (poetry and prose up to 9 min slots) then just email Melanie (contact details on her website). I'm definitely reading at this one. The last event in June was good fun. It was great to see a group of young poets all reading their poetry - and all very talented.

Words and Music at New Park Centre (Chichester): organised by Raine Geoghegan, an evening of poetry, flash and music. Readings by named writers then an Open Mic session. Starts 7.30pm at New Park Centre, New Park Rd, PO19 7XY. (entry fee £4 to cover room hire). I'm delighted that Raine has asked me to read at this. You can read my piece here. I've chosen 'Tantric Twister' as it's a  saucy piece of Flash Fiction that reads aloud well (is fun to read too!) - it's a bittersweet comedy, but hopefully also says something about memory and aging.

You can probably tell I'm a fan of these events, but reading your work aloud can be daunting and, quite frankly, terrifying. So here are my own top tips for surviving a Live Lit event:

  • Time Limit: most events have a set time limit for reading. Slams and competitions can be VERY strict and will stop you reading if you hit the time limit - even if you only have a couple of words to go. So time your reading several times to ensure you have plenty of time to finish. Read it aloud at home, at the pace you intend to read at the event. Try not to rush through to get under time. If the story is too long, then edit or pick another.
  • Choosing the piece: think carefully about what you plan to read. If there is a theme then stick to it. If you've been to the event before then what pieces went down well with the audience? Comic pieces work well. Complicated stories with lots of voices may confuse. Twists work well. Evocative or very emotional pieces may not sink in at first reading to evoke a reaction. Also choose a piece you know you can read convincingly. I have several stories with foreign accents and I CANNOT do accents, so I never pick these. If you have lots of expletives and know you will falter or blush then avoid these too. If there are words that you will stumble over then edit them out or pick another piece - you control the reading!
  • Getting a slot: if you need to contact the organisers in advance then do this. Otherwise you could be disappointed that there are no slots free on the night. For competition slams then it can be pot-luck with names going into a hat. But many organisers will do their utmost so everyone gets to read if the time allows.
  • Location: if the event is somewhere new for you then ensure you know where you're going. Nothing worse than being late when you have to read first. Allow to get there early and check out room/stage etc.
  • Clothing: most events are pretty casual and laidback (like most writers). I know we often don't get out much, but if you glam up then be prepared to stand out. Others are likely to be in jeans and T-shirts. Dress for comfort. You may find yourself having to climb up steps onto a stage, so ladies those brand new heels may be risky - falling flat on your face will dent your confidence. Watch out for microphone leads etc too ...
  • Props: whatever you're reading from, be it Kindle/tablet or paper then check you have the correct story. If paper then I always take several copies and even keep a back-up with a friend (if going with someone). And check you have ALL the pages. (My writing chum Wendy likes to tease me about the reading evening we both went to at a friend's house, where I forgot to check the pages of my story. At the exciting part I suddenly realised I hadn't printed out the last 2 pages. Ad-libbing the rest of the story really didn't work.) Also check you can actually read the piece - make sure the font is big enough and you have the right glasses for reading! (My husband never seems to have the 'right' glasses wherever we go).
  • Timed slot: if there are time slots then don't dawdle, get up to read quickly when your name is called. Don't suddenly start searching through your bag for the story/poem. Don't waste time introducing yourself or the story, but do clearly announce the title of what you're reading even if the compere has already given the title. To me the title of the piece is often critical to understanding and enjoying the work. Don't hang about on stage after you finished - get off quickly. This could mean the difference between there being time for more readings at the end or running out of time.
  • Introductions & questions: if you've been asked to prepare a biog or introduction then bring it along. A compere may also introduce you if you've forwarded a biog. Some events encourage questions after the reading (Rattle Tales in Hove are famous for this. The audience all have rattles on the tables to use when asking questions or showing appreciation.) Be prepared to stay up on the stage for a few minutes to answer these.
  • Speed: take your time. I can't repeat this enough. Nothing spoils the enjoyment of a piece more than the reader gabbling through it at top speed - just to get it over with. Remember the audience has come along to hear stories and poetry (they may have paid to get in) - they want  to enjoy your work. People don't go to Live Lit events to see others fail - they want you to succeed! A lot of events use stages with spotlights on the reader. This is a good thing! Once you get up on the stage you realise the audience is hidden in darkness - you can't see any of them. Relax and pretend you're back in your kitchen reading to the cat (I always read to LitPig).
  • Alcohol: avoid it before you read. You make think one glass of wine, or pint of beer will help to relax you, but alcohol will dry out your throat. You may end up a little too relaxed. Stick to water or soft drinks before you go on. Once you've read then a glass or two is always a nice reward - you will have earned it. Though you may find the natural high after a live reading is better than alcohol!
Unfortunately, I don't have any photos to share of any of my previous readings. I'll try to get some at the next events. If you've survived any Live Lit/ Open Mic events then please share your experiences, good or bad or both!

Also next week R4 is broadcasting the shortlisted stories from 2015 National Short Story Competition at 3.30pm Mon-Friday. Starting with Jonathan Buckley's 'Briar Road' on Monday 21st Sep. I will be listening to these and posting next week about my favourites for the top prize. Along with my thoughts on the competition and why I didn't enter this year. Why don't you listen to the shortlist and share your favourites here next Monday.


  1. I admire your courage, Tracy. Thanks for the advice, which I shall keep for 'one day'.

    1. Thanks, Julia. I'm not sure it's courage ... more like madness. Hope it comes in helpful one day for you!

  2. Good luck with all of these, Tracy.

    I did my first ever reading recently. It went fine, but I won't mind if there's a long gap before the next one!

    1. Well done on reading, Patsy, and glad it went well. Yes, I will be relieved when next week's all over.