A Reading is a Performance

« A reading is a performance, » said Terry Fallis* in one of his University of Toronto Building An Audience courses.

(Award Gala photo by Danielle Maheu)
Maybe I revive this outfit for one of the readings?
(Award Gala photo by Danielle Maheu)

With three readings coming up over the next few months, I have reviewed my notes on the subject for a few hints that can help prepare the best performance possible:

1. Choose a section that reflects the book / that reflects you as a writer.

2. Make eye contact with the audience.

3. When reading, it’s good to « act » the characters a little.

4. Use your voice as your instrument. Adjust your voice/performance to fit the writing. Change volume – lower the voice for dramatic moments (but not so much as to be inaudible) and raise the voice for excitement.

5. Vary the pace – slow down to add drama; use pauses, let the audience hang before delivering a punchline (coup de grâce), or speed up for intensity.

6. Practice, practice, practice. Before the reading, try out your piece. Practice in front of friends, or in front of a mirror. You can even time yourself, so that you know how long your reading takes.

I’ve been rehearsing my readings, timer at hand, to help me choose the best sections. Want to know which I picked? Feel free to attend any one (or all) of the readings to find out!


*I know, I know, sometimes I should just call my blog a fan page for this award-winning author…

Fantastic French Book Fair

What a pleasure and a privilege to have been invited as an author at the 2012 Toronto French Book Fair. There, I met authors I admire, such as Marguerite Andersen, Lawrence Hill, Michèle Vinet – and discovered new ones, such as Sonia Lamontagne, Daniel Groleau Landry, Éric Charlebois.

A.M. Matte and Lawrence Hill,
Toronto French Book Fair 2012

As a reader, it was wonderful to discuss books with their creators. As a writer, my Book Fair experience revigorated my desire to write. I have many projects planned for 2013!

A.M. Matte and Marguerite Andersen,
Toronto French Book Fair 2012

Just Write

I was browsing through newly-discovered writers’ blogs such as this one and this one, and  was taken with how often a writer must be reminded to stick with it and just write.

Get typing

Don’t worry about getting the perfect words down on the page/screen right away – just write.

Don’t worry about the laundry, or the dishes, or the toys all over the floor – just write.

Don’t worry about the plausibility of a police officer wearing her hair that way, or the kind of tomatoes that grow in Ontario in September – just write.

The extra research, the editing, the rewriting will come soon enough. Just enjoy the now and write.

(I should add that I shouldn’t worry about making it to the Twitter chats I’ve also recently discovered – ‘sup #writestuff – and just write, but tweeting counts as writing, right?)

A New Notebook

Three blank pages remain in my current notebook and I’m eagerly writing all I can in order to break out my already-selected, crisp, new notebook.

New notebook, with assorted pen attached

I love paper, and notebooks, and notepads. I have to exercise control in the vicinity of paper shops lest I forget myself in the presence of pretty letterhead and envelopes, sniffing and cajoling the cardboard- or plastic-bound notebooks (I can’t afford leather).

I have collected notebooks for years, lining them up on a bookshelf, the ink-filled ones on one side, the virgin ones on the other. They include notebooks gifted to me nearly twenty years back (I finally filled that one half a year ago – thanks, Maman!), notebooks bought at discount for other people that I then couldn’t give away, and notebooks given away as swag by various companies (thanks, Collège Boréal and Telus!). My current and next notebooks fall in the later category, and include matching pens. Score.

In my notebooks go story ideas, character sketches, name lists, notable quotes, memorable dreams and passages of my current works. Those eventually get transcribed into my computer. Other than that, I prefer handwritten notes, whether in ballpoint pen, pencil or gel pen; re-reading my notes, in hard copy, often inspires me to write more. A virtuous cycle.

What’s in your notebook?

Countering Writer’s Block

Shi– I mean, writer’s block happens. Truth or myth, there will be times when writers struggle to fill the page. There are a few things I do in order to counter this imagination constipation and, no, I don’t mean doing the laundry.

I’ve been known to:

  • Search the internet for weird news items. There are crazy stories out there, just begging to inspire yours. My short story À l’air results from such searches.
  • Open a (yet-unread) book and copy out a sentence or passage. Then, keep writing. Another author’s writing can spur me back to my own project. If opening a book at random doesn’t do it for you, you can find an inspiration-spurring sentence on Twitter or FaceBook.
  • Eavesdrop on the conversations around me. On public transportation, in an elevator, in a restaurant or a café. I’m hard of hearing, so I don’t always catch everything, but that only helps; I can more easily let my imagination take over if I don’t catch the context. What situations do I impose on the words I hear? What characters introduce themselves? This technique can also work while you are part of the conversation, but your friends will have to be understanding if you suddenly dash off to write something down.
  • Keep a dream notebook on my night table. Imagination (and libibo, sure) runs rampant at night. Some plausible scenes and stories can come up in one’s unconscious. It’s worth writing down ASAP in the morning. (The worst thing is not to do so right away, and mourn what one has forgotten. True story.) A few words can suffice. Later, if writer’s block rears its unwelcome head, read your dream notebook to poke at slumbering inspiration. My short story Timothy’s Blanket was inspired by a dream.

These are but a few of my go-to ideas to counter writer’s block. What are yours? Whether they lead to your continuing your current writing or to something new, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is never not to write.


An intimate reading

Fallis-class reading
A.M. Matte reading "A Treat"

I’ve heard it asked before: What if you plan a reading and no one shows up?

The answer: It’s not the quantity of people who attend, it’s the quality.

I had the opportunity to read my short story « A Treat », about a young girl who desperately wants her older sister’s approval and is willing to do anything – even buy her an ice cream treat – to get it, in Terry Fallis’ Building An Audience For Your Writing class at U of T this week.

There were only three other people in the room, but they gave me their rapt attention and insightful feedback on my writing and my performance. They asked probing questions about my characters’ motivation and gave me tips on how I can make reading excerpts of the written word more compelling.

The best thing about a small yet captivated audience?  You can read more material. Case in point: we had such a great time at our reading that we’re doing it again next week.