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Thursday, 11 October 2012

NEWSPAPERS AND PUBLIC READINGS by John A. A. Logan

I hadn’t done a public reading in ten years, not since I was invited to read out my short story, Bringing Something Back, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2002. That had been fifteen minutes standing at a microphone in a tent called a Yurt. Including expenses, £155 for fifteen minutes “work”. Not bad, I had thought then. The wine had been free that day too, of course. Even a fish and chip supper paid for by Ron Turnbull, then-editor of Edinburgh Review.
And here I was, ten years later, on Friday 28th September 2012, due to attend a meeting of the Alliance of Independent Authors in Inverness, where I had been invited to do a wee reading from my novel, The Survival of Thomas Ford.
7.30pm at the Glen Mhor Hotel.
I Googled it. Nice old building, slate roof, not bad stonework.
I hadn’t been there for many years.

                                                  Glen Mhor Hotel, Inverness

After releasing my new ebook, Storm Damage, on 2nd September, I’d contacted the local newspapers who had taken an interest in The Survival of Thomas Ford back in February.
Interest was still there.
On September 14th, The Northern Times published an article about Storm Damage in their Arts and Lifestyle section:
“WEB PATH WORKS FOR JOHN’S NEW COLLECTION: Writer prefers download copies of work to printed versions”
Soon, another local newspaper wanted to do a feature article too.
They invited me to come into their office at 4pm on Friday 28th September, to be photographed for the article. The idea was to get a dark, shadowy, atmospheric picture.
Hmm.
That might be a good way to get warmed up for the reading at the Hotel later that day.
Margaret Chrystall, the journalist kind enough to be interested in my work, suggested I bring in my book covers as props, but of course, I have no physical books, only ebooks.
Perhaps I could bring the Kindle?
I looked out the window. Sunny. But spots of rain.
I didn’t want to risk my Kindle’s well-being.
I was 86 per cent through my read of Reb MacRath’s dazzling, visceral, heart-wrenching masterpiece, The Vanishing Magic of Snow…

 
 

A friend had gotten me a cover for my Kindle though, so maybe I could carry it safely.
I’d never used it, I went to look for it.
It wasn’t waterproof, and it wouldn’t fit in my jacket pocket, I’d have to carry it, a bit like a man-purse, as I travelled by bus, taxi, and on foot to make my way around Inverness.
My original plan had been to print out pages and take paper with me to the Hotel reading.
“Spindrift pages” as Dylan Thomas might have said, or did say.
But surely, an e-author should show up to do a reading from an e-reader?
And the photographer needed a prop for the article. What better?

I got lost on the way to the newspaper office.
The sun beat down on my man-purse kindle-case as I walked along.
Then the rain came. I had to take the Kindle out of the case and put it in my inside jacket pocket, zip up the jacket tight.

At the newspaper office, at the very edge of the town by the sea, I found myself in a proper photographer’s studio. The “shoot” before mine had been for a vodka advert.
To be lit ominously from below, I had to stand on a tilted source-light, holding it in place.
The photographer, Alasdair Allen, had me lean my weight on the table, sometimes looking down at the Kindle, sometimes looking up.
Like torture stress positions, the muscles ache, the sweat runs.
The flash goes off in the eyes.
After an hour, we had something, some frozen image, almost eerie.
Or, as a friend said later, after the article was published in the Inverness Courier and the Highland News last week, under the title, “Ebooks Light Up Inverness Writer’s Life”:
“Loved the photo…perched over the desk like some Satanic bird of prey.”

 Photographer: Alasdair Allen
 

Back in town, I realised I was too early for the Hotel reading.
A café then. Tea. I got my Kindle out again, never used one in public before, seemed quite natural though.
Then the terror struck.
What was I going to read at the Hotel?
As I sat in the café, I tried reading The Survival of Thomas Ford from the beginning.
Then I tried reading chapter six as an extract. Then chapter thirteen as an extract.
Nothing worked.
If I read one bit out of context it sounded too “shouty”, like bad Irvine Welsh; another bit sounded too dry and literary; another bit too intellectual; another bit, too rife with sex or violence.
These murky waters I did not know. I sensed sharks there. Unfathomable depths rising up to my knees.
Nearly time for the hotel anyway.

I stood on the street, half an hour early, in the rain again, Kindle safe in my jacket pocket.
There was the roof and the stonework, just like the Google image.
Inside, no-one at reception. I glance to the left. A woman shifting beyond glass panes. I look again.
Orna Ross!
Head of the Alliance of Independent Authors; author of After the Rising, Before the Fall, Blue Mercy.
We stand and talk, both too early.
She tells me my reading will be fine.
I tell her I’m still in love with this epublishing lark.
I can see it’s still agreeing with her too.

In the room where the meeting will be we take our seats.
There are people there also interested in these epublishing larks, some familiar faces in the group too, famous and accomplished local authors from the world of paperback publishing.
One of them is the first editor ever to publish any of my short stories in the late 1990s, the novelist, Angus Dunn, author of Writing in the Sand.
Anne MacLeod is there too, author of The Dark Ship.
And Peter Urpeth, author of Far Inland.
And Eileen Campbell, author of Barra’s Angel.





It should be them reading surely, not me, when did reality get inverted?
But I canvas opinion, the consensus is clear: It is always best to read from the beginning of the novel.
My instinct had been telling me the same thing for days; that photoshoot must have discombobulated my mind.
Mankind was perhaps never destined to be lit from below, like some Gargoyle flying over the raked coals of Hell. (Still, it made for a good, spooky photo!)
I was not to read until the end of the meeting anyway.
First, epublishing was discussed. Questions, answers, a lively roll of talk, excitement about a sea of new possibilities.
No doom or gloom here. No defeat, or spleen or mean; just facts and hope.
The talk billowed to and fro for moments on psychic waves.
Catherine Czerkawska’s Weeping Crocodiles piece was brought up, as a salutary balm for our times; Orna smiled, and said that piece was already ensconced safe, in the e-pages of ALLIA’s upcoming INDIE AUTHOR MANUAL.
That deep thread pulled at my guts again, I brought up John Kennedy Toole, Mikhail Bulgakov, Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa: their novels never published in their lifetime…Lampedusa reading his rejection letters on his death-bed…Toole dying with his novel unknown until his mother got it published 11 years after his death…Bulgakov dying at 48, blind, dictating corrections to his wife for his unburnable manuscript, and yet that manuscript, THE MASTER AND MARGARITA, lying unpublished for 27 years after Bulgakov’s death, until his wife got it out to the world.
I had tried to talk about that in London in April, while on an author panel for the launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors at London Book Fair, with Dan Holloway, Linda Gillard, Joni Rodgers.
That day it hadn’t quite worked.
I hadn’t really found the words yet.
The depth of the importance of this sea change of possibility, that could lead to a reduction or stoppage in the censorship of certain voices.
But here, in Inverness, it seemed right to speak of it.
And then, suddenly, it was time to read from The Survival of Thomas Ford.




I read as though I was trying to get to the end of chapter one, even though I knew there was not time enough to get there.
I had to become the narrator; I had to become Jimmy; I had to become Robert; I had to swear loudly at a room full of people when Jimmy did. Strange, strange business. No-one called the police.
I heard footsteps leaving. I couldn’t stop or look up. A man leaving for his train.
I heard a second pair of footsteps leaving. I waited for them to throw a net over me and make me stop reading. The e-words danced before my eyes. I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t tell whether I was really reading from the Kindle, or was I e-blind now and reciting Thomas Ford from crazed, deep-banked memory.
The footsteps came back again. The novelist, Orla Broderick, kindly bringing me a glass of water!
I gulped greedily and the reading was over.

In the bar later, there was talk of novels and stories and dreams.

Walking home alone by the river, the moonlight sparkled in the rippling water, like under-lighting sent up by some fresh-water Poseidon.
I leaned on the iron railings by the river, Kindle safely in my pocket, rain-drops dancing merrily on the top of my head.



If anyone would like to read the article published in the Highland News on 5 October, and in Inverness Courier on 6 October, Ebooks Light Up Inverness Writer's Life by Margaret Chrystall, here is the link:
http://www.highland-news.co.uk/Whats-On/Books/eBooks-light-up-Inverness-writers-life-05102012.htm

To read an in-depth interview with John A. A. Logan (otherwise known as an INTERROGATION by JOO!) please click here:
http://joobook.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/interrogating-john-aa-logan.html

The Survival of Thomas Ford (winner of a Special Award in the Best of the Independent eBooks Awards 2012):
http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Survival-Thomas-Ford-ebook/dp/B006Q68W7U/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1349893462&sr=8-1
http://www.amazon.com/The-Survival-Thomas-Ford-ebook/dp/B006Q68W7U/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Storm Damage:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Storm-Damage-ebook/dp/B0095BDIM2/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1349893612&sr=1-1
http://www.amazon.com/Storm-Damage-ebook/dp/B0095BDIM2/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

http://www.johnaalogan.com/






8 comments:

dirtywhitecandy said...

Lovely 'day in the life' piece, John. Fantastic photo, which really suits the image of Thos Ford. Kudos to you for getting such press interest that they spent money on a photographer!
Your description of reading from 'Thomas' reminds me of my own collywobbles when I had to choose a passage to read. If I'd ever thought I'd have to declaim some scenes out loud, I couldn't have written them. There's something very peeled about the way we write when we're only aware of the page. Blurting it all out in public seems too much.

Stephanie Zia said...

Congratulations! - sounds like a hugely successful night. The dry throat, footsteps leaving, brought back the collywobble memories for me too.

madwippitt said...

Reading in public - sounds terrifying - congratulations!
And as a slight diversion - I was happy to see that The Master and Margarita has just been republished and was taking pride of place on one of the Waterstones stands when I was in there earlier!

Chris Longmuir said...

I always take my book covers to talks. What I do is to print out the cover image that I had for uploading to Kindle and print it out on photograph paper, A4 size. I use an inkjet colour printer for that instead of my usual laser printer. Inkjet printers are quite cheap, it's the ink that's the expense. Good luck with the next talk, although it doesn't really get easier.

Enid Richemont said...

John - your blog reads like an accomplished short story in itself.
I've enjoyed doing public readings, often in schools. Although it's scary, when I begin, I find myself taking on another persona, but then, as a mainly children's author, I do read aloud a lot when I'm working.

Ken Korczak said...

Ha, ha! Wow! A typical writer -- far more at home in front of a lonely keyboard then engaging in "performance art" in public, even if it is the fine and deep tradition of reading one's work to a live audience. Charles Dickens practically lived to read his works in public ... oh well ... also, your extreme caution with your Kindle is well understood -- I just sent my FOURTH UNIT TO THE GRAVE! NOT KIDDING! (dropped, sat on, etc.) -- Amazon has graciously replaced 3 of the 4 for FREE! Anyway -- amazing pic. Can't wait to read your new short story collection on my fifth, shiny new Kindle ... cheers, all ...

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Nice post. I must admit I love doing readings. But I began my writing life as a poet/playwright and did poetry readings while I was still young enough not to be shy! Also, I think most playwrights have to 'read in' some parts during auditions / rehearsals and watching actors at work helps to get you used to the idea of reading in public, what works and what doesn't. I still find myself reading vast tracts of whatever I'm working on aloud. I've read my own stories on radio, too - huge fun, once you get used to the idea that scripts rustle! It also makes you aware of what you're asking actors to do. I still remember quoting a Robert Burns letter - 'The whipt syllabub of epistolatory compliment' in a play, without realising just what a tongue twister it would be. 'No' said the actor. 'Don't change it. I can do it.' And he did!

Aine said...

Best Blog yet, Mr. Logan. Hmmm... channelling both Jimmy and Robert in the same evening with a mention of The Master and Margarita? Was the floor starting to move a bit? Could Woland and the cat have been far away? Sounds like a seriously literary evening, but the telling of it was almost as good!