I was too shy for the bug to bite properly, but I always enjoyed Drama classes at school. I was good at remembering lines, and there was something quite fascinating to me about climbing into somebody else’s skin. Actors are the ultimate practitioners and conveyors of living-empathy. Were I to take another spin around life’s wheel, I’d like to give it a real go, but in the meatime, I’ve found a few other ways of scratching that itch.I came to them relatively late in life, but roleplaying games were a revelation. I’m talking Star Wars, Warhammer Fantasy, D&D, World of Darkness. A whole bunch of ’em. I got in with a good crowd in my uni days and *never really stopped. I’m not sure I’ve ever been ‘good’ at them in terms of **resolving the plots, but roleplaying has never been about the win for me. It comes down to the characters and how they interact.
Backstory is always fun to create, of course, flex my writing muscles as I try to imagine what might shape a person to become an adventurer. Where possible, I try to do that in advance, forming a good scaffolding upon which a performance ***might hang. It hits the stratosphere for me when I find a real voice for the characters and they…take me over. I don’t really know how else to put it; collaborative story-telling becomes acting. Whole strings of dialogue emerge without any forethought, deliniating the character even as they engage with the party and the events going on. I find it an ecstatic and profoundly weird experience – dead flesh brought to life on the slab.
I love an accent, me, and I have to fight against reflexive mimicry when I come across a new one, but it’s amazing how much variety you can get from shifting pitch, tone and rhythm as well. I developed and practised the skills, quite unconsciously at first, by reading aloud to my daughter. Words cannot express the delight I got from that aspect of fatherhood. I read to her most nights for the first 10 years of her life, and quite often to my wife, too.
The written word has real power but a quick and careless reader loses much of it. I’ve found that reading aloud makes me really pay attention to what’s happening – the emotions being felt, the internal drama unfolding with the external, the subtleties and subtext beneath the dialogue and the narrative voice. The more I read to my loved ones, the more I found myself trying to inject that nuance into the tale, really performing them rather than simply translating text into speech.
It is this of course that finally led to my side-venture: the ‘performed readings’ I’ve been recording and releasing over the past few months. You can find them here. I don’t know how many people have been tuning in, but the feedback I’ve had from the authors has been ****wonderful. Turning it into a viable, purchasable service will take a little thought and market research, though. Authors love it because it adds layers and depth to their work, but few, I imagine, have money to burn – particularly in these tightened days.
So, is it worth it?
The book-marketing machine is large and complex, and I definitely need to learn more about it. Advertising is tricky on social media; you can pay the companies to shove images onto people’s feeds, but how many users actually respond? I don’t know about you, but the moment I realise something is a paid ad, I block and mark them as irrelevant. I refuse to be pumped. Good cover design can be enticing, but again, they are limited in what they get across. The product is the writing, so to my mind that’s what people need/want a taste of.
Readings are performed, of course. Authors often try to get a spot in local bookshops, at conventions, or literary festivals to do a little reading, sign a few books and hopefully sell a few copies. With the financial backing of their publisher, they may even get sent on a tour around the country to do so, but in terms of scale and reach, is that really economic? It doesn’t seem so to me.
And then there’s the bigger problem: writers are writers, not performers. Some do a cracking job, to be fair, but if you’ve ever seen a bad reading – shyly mumbled or lifelessly droned – you’ll know how much of a double-edged sword they can be. They can actively dull enthusiasm, killing sales an author might otherwise have made.
So would publishers pay for a professional service – recorded to go out on their websites and social media?
To my mind, it would be a more reliable and economic way to make the writing shine its brightest and share it far and wide in a medium that requires no effort from potential readers. Folk can listen while they’re walking, washing up, lying in bed or what-have-you.
Would small presses see the value in hiring somebody like me to do the readings at conventions if the talents of their authors do not quite stretch to engaging live performances?
It’s tricky. Most people who attend launches are already half-committed to a purchase anyway, though it could influence the other half who have merely been tempted to come along for the free wine and hopes of good entertainment. Hm…
And what about agents? Would they find a use for recorded readings as part of their persuasive arsenal, helping to capture the attention of the publishers and stir excitement?
I don’t know at this point, but it feels like fertile ground to me.
Whatever your perspective, I would love to hear from you. Drop a comment in the box below, let me know your thoughts, and tell me how you fit in with the whole system.
* As I write this, I’m actually heading up to Matlock – nearly 22 years later – to meet up with the old gang and pick up where we left off. We stayed in touch, you see, taking occasional long weekends each year to continue old campaigns or kick off some new ones.
** Some people seem to wield their imaginations like levers, bending the rules, exerting their will on the non-player characters, shaping the narrative to suit their purposes as party leaders and problem solvers. I stand in awe of them.
*** It doesn’t always work. In an average game, I tend to bimble along, enjoying the scenery and drama, but mostly just rolling dice and cracking bad jokes. The games are still fun, just not as memorable.
**** I’ll be sharing some of their Testimonials on a new dedicated Audio page in the near future.
If you are more interested in my Editing history, you can find my work on the Accomplishments page.