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Live readings of your own work: trial or triumph?

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  • Live readings of your own work: trial or triumph?

    The Harrison thread elsewhere here reminded me of something I wanted to ask. I happened to chance upon MJH doing a reading of his own work in London cough years ago, and as I'd long admired his work (and still do - another example of a significant literary talent being obscured by the sparkly cloud of 'genre fiction') I thought I'd have a listen... Let's just say that not all writers, however brilliantly they write, are necessarily expert at reading aloud...

    MM, I wondered how you felt about giving live readings? Do you do it? Do you like it? Do you feel you do it well if you do do it? Do you like to hear others do it? If so, who does it well?

    Cough cough years before that, I also once attended a poetry reading featuring another member of the posse, Libby Houston. Love her stuff, too, but even she seemed a bit tentative as a live 'performer'. I often wonder if it's a good thing expecting writers to read at all. Stephen King has been the reader for some of his own audiobooks, some of which I was once sent for review. I'm not a King fan at the best of times, but I respect his craft skills as a writer - and his nasal, trailer-trash whine left me in no doubt as to what he was best at!

  • #2
    I've had a lot more experience than most writers and have worked at my reading technique, learning from radio people, for instance. There is an art to it and you have to be more melodramatic than you would feel comfortable being in real life. I do enjoy reading my own work, most of the time, if I am reading something I like (sometimes I start reading a piece and don't think that much of it, but that's another story). I think it's possible to find bits of my reading online. I did the introduction to the Elric of Melnibone audio book and have read from Mother London, King of the City and various other pieces. When I toured Byzantium Endures, I worked with an actor, Freddie Earlle. Freddie played Pyat so that I could then play against him to show people that Pyat's outpourings were not my own opinions. That seems to have been a success. There is actually a tape of Freddie doing this performance but sadly it was VERY badly produced by a guy who frankly didn't know what he was about. But you can get a hint of what Freddie was like at his best, when we were touring it. I found Libby's readings good, but you can always catch someone on an off-day. MJH is a very self-conscious writer and I always found him at his best in public conversation rather than when he was reading his own work. He can be a very persuasive and eloquent speaker. There's also a series of short readings, I've just remembered, called Live at the BBC which Nomads put out on CD a few years ago. Extracts from Elric stories.
    And, of course, there was the declamatory rhetoric you can hear on various Hawkwind tracks. People call this 'poetry' but I don't!

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    Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


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    • #3
      Thanks for taking the time to reply in such detail - it's an interesting area. I was aware of the online snippets but wondered how much of this you'd done otherwise.

      In all fairness to Ms Houston, her reading was taking place in a somewhat distracting environment (a student bar) and although she'd been made most welcome and certainly had a receptive audience I imagine it still felt like trying to read poetry on a station platform during the rush hour. Are you still in touch with her at all? I think she was last spotted doing something of a botanical nature in, I believe, Bristol? I think I picked up this factette when Trevor Taylor at FMR put out the Amazing Band CD a while ago.

      I'm not really much of an audiobibliophile. but for a while I accidentally acquired a reputation of sorts as a critic thereof - one of those situations where you happen to acquire commercially valuable expertise in a field you don't really care for. Some authors may relate to this...

      I'd be interested in your view of audiobooks in general, though. I once found myself defending them fiercely against some rancorous old biddies who wrote about them for, I think, the TLS, who argued that they short-changed punters because, for instance, the majority didn't contain the complete texts of the originals. I'd concluded that the form was more like a kind of canned radio adaptation and should therefore be criticised in those terms rather than anything else. Bring on the literary podcast! Unless, of course, such things already exist. Anyone know?
      Anyway, MM, what say you? A form? A stopgap? A type of performance?

      I didn't really include the Hawkwind stuff in my query, much as you didn't count it as part of your answer - although as a perfect fusion of Greek chorus and pantomime, I wouldn't want to be without it! "It is dark - so daaark at the Edge of Time..." Ahem. Sorry...

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      • #4
        Talking books can be problematical, especially where a classic is concerned and interpretation might not be all it should be. I've heard some pretty dire versions of the classics, but also some good ones. It seems to me to be best for contemporary genre novels. I think Martin Jarvis is astonishing, of course. He seems to read about half of everything that's out there. I also like the idiosyncratic readings like Kenneth Williams's reading of the William stories, though again Jarvis is probably the best for those, too! I have no hard and fast opinions, in other words. Depends entirely on the work in hand. Some people don't like an American reading the Elric books, for instance, but I don't mind those versions. I have some wonderful early takes of Fenella Fielding reading from the Dancers at the End of Time! And my favourite of all is probably P.J.Proby reading The Wasteland by Eliot. A genuinely worthwhile reading, offering a fresh approach. Savoy Books, of course!

        Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
        The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
        Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


        Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
        The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
        Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Michael Moorcock
          And my favourite of all is probably P.J.Proby reading The Wasteland by Eliot. A genuinely worthwhile reading, offering a fresh approach. Savoy Books, of course!
          Nikki Hokey P.J. Proby? Wow!!!

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Michael Moorcock
            I have some wonderful early takes of Fenella Fielding reading from the Dancers at the End of Time!
            Now that I would love to have heard. I am perhaps a little too young to be familiar with a lot of her work, but I've seen her here and there (mostly in cheesy kids' TV) and she has a great voice. Very sexy. Hearing her wrap her tongue around those naughty End-of-Timers... that would have been something. :)

            As far as authors reading their own work goes, all hail WS Burroughs! The way he could squeeeeeze a word until it dripped with all sorts of strange fluids was magick. A comment that comes up quite often with the "Beats" is that their work was meant to be heard, rather than read. Not that it isn't good on the page too, but when you hear it spoken by the author it does really come to life.
            "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild

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            • #7
              The Fielding project is from Savoy and is still in progress. Ultimately, you WILL hear her reading some End of Time material. Also, very likely, some Colette and various other work. Dave is a fan of hers and gets her into the studio whenever their mutual schedules allow.

              Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
              The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
              Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


              Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
              The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
              Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

              Comment

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