I was recently given the opportunity by the amazing author Kali Napier to read some of my writing at the launch of her novel The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge (now a bestseller) at Avid Reader in Brisbane. Kali chose to have an emerging writer’s salon to open her launch and asked me and Fiona Robertson, an award-winning short story writer to read some of our work.
What a mix of emotions! I felt grateful, honoured and thrilled to be given such an amazing opportunity, but also terrified. I’d never read any of my work in front of anyone before, let alone a group of 100 people. I’m petrified when someone reads anything I’ve written, let alone me reading it aloud at such an important event.
On the night, Fiona told me her daughter had given her some wise advice – no one would really be listening to us anyway. Fiona thought this was a good point – everyone would be waiting to hear Kali’s ‘in-conversation’ with Cass Moriarty. I agreed, hoping lots of people would trickle in late and miss seeing me at the start. (As it turns out, the audience did listen to Fiona and were very supportive and welcoming.)
Kali recommended choosing a scene with plenty of dialogue, less description and ending on a line of intrigue. (She also advised speaking slowly – not something I’m good at!) With this advice in mind, I chose a scene which occurs early in my mystery novel, The Princess Murders, where the main character, Sylvie, arrives at her friend, Bianca’s house. When Bianca doesn’t answer the door or her phone, Sylvie peers through a window and sees Bianca lying unresponsive on a bed. Another friend, Zara, shows up at the house and together they break into the house. Fiona had the audience captivated with a scene from her short story The Ground Beneath, about a woman who discovers a sinkhole in her backyard.
After choosing my scene, I made the outlandish decision to prepare for reading my work aloud by… reading my work aloud! Reading your work aloud is not a new concept and you’ll find lots of writers recommend this as a strategy to proofread your work. Lia Weston notes in her hilarious blog post that it is especially useful for dialogue and suggests taking things a step further by acting out scenes.
I read and recorded my scene on my iPhone using the Voice Memos app and played it back. After listening to it a few times, some awkward word choices and clunky pacing stood out to me. I even found an implausible action that I hadn’t noticed despite reading the scene on my computer screen multiple times. It wasn’t until I recorded it and listened back to it that I picked up this potentially embarrassing mistake. It also become apparent where I needed to add speaker attributions as it wasn’t clear who said what by simply saying “she said” with two females speaking in the scene.
The exercise of reading and recording my writing aloud helped me edit the scene down to a neat three-minutes reading time and in a way that was hopefully clear and concise with a nice balance between dialogue and description. I also tried different ways of emphasising certain words for dramatic effect but of course all of that flew out the window on the night when I stood in front of the audience!
As I continue rewriting/editing my manuscript, it will be useful to continue the practice of reading and recording my scenes aloud for other scenes, if not the whole book. (If I can get used to the weird sensation of listening to my own voice.)
Another great suggestion comes from Alisdair Daws, who states in his blog post Why You Should Read Your Writing Aloud, that writers who use Scrivener can use its text-to-speech feature. He provides instructions on how to do just that and this is definitely something I’m going to try (because then I don’t have to listen to my own voice!)
It was a great experience to read my work aloud and although I’m sure I will still be nervous if given the opportunity to do it again, at least I know I can survive the incredible dry mouth of anxiety and the sweaty palms of stress.
Click here to buy The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier.
Click here to buy a copy of Fiona Robertson’s short story The Ground Beneath, published in Gargouille Issue 3.