So I'm trying to work out what to read at Pipe & Slippers, next Sunday. The slots aren't very long, which makes for a much more varied diet for the audience - and the bill really is varied - but harder decisions for me. And I do want to read from both The Mathematics of Love and A Secret Alchemy, though presumably a couple more books down the line I'll have to get over that one.
Do I go for bits at the beginning, which don't need too much explaining? Do I go for high drama, or something quieter which leads up to it and leaves the audience with a cliff-hanger? Do I worry about giving away any of the plot, or only the ending? Dialogue's livelier to read, but considering I used to be a drama student accents are not my forte, so it's usually safer to avoid them, though I can do the police in different voices. Do I go for several short bits, tasters of the many-layered, parallel-strandedness which is what I keep seeming to write, and all in ten or twenty minutes? Or do I go for a whole and single scene, something with a beginning, middle and end, with room for the characters to be liked or hated? After all, I do write novels, not haiku.
Yes, it's odd, trying to choose pieces out of a novel which both stand on their own, and represent the whole. (This is partly why any aspiring writer will tell you that writing the synopsis to go with their submissions to agents and editors often seems more agonising than writing the novel was, and partly why published authors will tell you that blurbs can cause such angst.) Since it took all those words to say what I wanted to say - tell the stories I wanted to tell - in the first place, then I guess I'm just going to have to get over my desire to represent everything: it can't be done.
One thing that works is to describe one of the book's themes, and read, say, two short bits which are both part of it. An alternative is to find a single passage that stands on its own, self-contained: a whole scene, a letter. It's tempting to go for a passage of description, but you'd better be a darned good reader to put that over, especially for the whole of the average twenty-minute slot, and still have people awake at the end.
One little difficulty is that your publisher would like you to read from their edition of the book, but books are designed to be held eighteen inches or so from your nose, with typography to suit. And microphones cause a whole new set of problems. I always prefer not to have one, but if everyone else uses it, then you sound very weedy without. If you hold the book right up - always supposing the damn mic doesn't get in the way, your face is totally invisible and your voice goes straight into the crack between the pages. If you drop the book you give yourself a neck-ache, your face is fairly invisible, and you send your rather squashed voice straight into the floor. Or you can lift your head, send your voice to the back of the room, and be unable to see a word that you're trying to read, let alone the pencil marking-up you laboured over. It's actually easier with an unpublished novel, because you can print it out nice and clear at a sensible size, there's room to mark it up, and you can then hold it one-handed well below eye-level. Or, of course, I've got the proof of A Secret Alchemy, but that's not, as you guys will know, what it'll look like in the end. And at the moment it's pristine: the spine uncreased and the pages dazzlingly clean, and I know it's silly, but I rather like it like that...
Well, I'll have to have decided all these things by Sunday 1st of June. If you're in South East London and fancy an afternoon of prose, poetry, comedy, accoustic music, full bar, coffee and chocolate cake, do drop by. The Ivy House is a gorgeous little Victorian pub theatre - the kind which were the original music halls - and doors open at 3pm, first act 3.30. The link at the top has all the details.