Saturday, January 28, 2012

Performance Prose

Enjoyed the launch of Socrates Adams' debut novel, "Everything's Fine", at Blackwells Manchester last night. They've now got a P.A. and are planning many more events during 2012; just like a bookshop ought! A surely unintentionally all-male line-up (amazing how quick this starts happening again, when you don't realise it) gave us Chris Killen, author of "The Bird Room", Joe Stretch author of "Friction" and a 3rd reader, whose name, I'm sorry, didn't catch. I never quite made it to the popular "No Point in Not Being Friends" events where this crowd cut their performing teeth, but there was a larger audience along at Blackwells than I've seen for Booker Prize winners. Great to see young Manchester-based writers getting their books out there, and winning an appreciative audience.

Its a while since I read prose live, but in the distant past (1999!) I set up a one-off night in a bar called "Wrote for Luck" where myself, Lee Rourke and his friend Doug read from our "works in progress." Performance prose needs to have some of the immediacy of performance poetry to really work - and last night's readers were primarily funny, first person and in the present tense; only Joe Stretch's work in progress moving from that template. I remember going to see Mark Powell read in the early 00s in Islington at a regular night that had DBC Pierre on the following week (this was just before "Vernon God Little" won the Booker) and it did seem that prose was the new rock 'n' roll.

What was pleasing about last night was that nascent performance pieces have led to the more elongated work that is a novel. There's an art to reading from a novel, and Howard Jacobsen once told an anecdote about reading at the Buxton literary festival and when being asked by Roy Hattersley whether he was going to read from his new book was told "don't, you'll sell more that way." Hopefully, Socrates sold a few books last night - its the 2nd book from Transmission Print, another elegant new Northern press to sit alongside Hidden Gem - and it was good to hear from the other works-in-progress. My only caveat was, that the first person, present tense, which works so well in performance, can become a bit samey after a while, however different the readers and stories are. And I was wondering at what point this became a favoured fictional mode, for writers, readers, and also publishers? Just a thought...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your last point about the first person present chimes with me. I started spacing out my attendances at our local performance prose event, because, with a few memorable exceptions, you could more or less sketch out what was going to happen. It could be relentlessly "quirky" - exaggerated stories of "funny" incidents, a bit like an updated verion of Ronnie Corbett's bit from his armchair.

But then, of course, as in everything you've got to have the patience for this to find the shiny nuggets.