Saturday, 15 February 2014

Actors Reading Writers

About 2 years ago a fellow writer, Emma , invited me to a Liars League event. At the time I thought,

What a good idea!  Wouldn't it be great to find an actor willing to read my stuff?  What a shame I don't know any actors.

But knock me down with a robin feather –  last September I got the opportunity to have an extract of my novel performed by


I've been working on my novel Sharp Dark Things almost 4 and a half years now and it was beginning to feel a bit of a trial. It needed extensive editing and I was baulking. I needed a kick up the jacksy. A huge one. And since I'm not double jointed I wasn't able to perform the task.

The lovely Sue Lanzon (Something In The Water) asked me if I'd like to contribute to the event.

Well I would have been a total fool if I'd said no.

And here's the evidence that I stepped into the void and hoped I wouldn't crash too hard.

What an experience! I was blown away.

And the response from members of the public and friends who came to the reading was overwhelming.

Josie Dunn read my extract. She is an actress who graduated from Rose Bruford in 2011. her professional debut was in the West End production of Backbeat, which subsequently toured to Toronto and Los Angeles. Other credits include Faust (Greenwich Theatre) and The Bridge (Rose Theatre, Kingston). Television credits include Hey Diddly Dee (Sky Arts).

Josie reminded me who my character, Alanna, was. Suddenly I remembered how I felt about all of my characters when I first started the novel. They began being demanding in a whole new way. One particular character complained that I wasn't giving him enough page time.

Characters – actors – all the same.

But he was justified in criticising my approach to his personality. I'm currently trying to address this particular character's role in the novel. And he's making a lot of noise, I can tell you.

The critical thing is that having the Actors reading Writers experience is something I think every writer should experience at least once in a life time.

I'm of course hoping I'll be able to do it again later this year because quite frankly, I'm totally hooked.

My enthusiasm has been given a fresh burst. I'm tackling the editing head on.

And here is the piece Josie read:

Alanna – Winter 2008
(Extract from Sharp Dark Things - © Rae Stoltenkamp)

"Do you think you have second sight?" Dr Lang pushed his round glasses up his sweaty nose. His attempt to look piercing, made her think of Danny De Vito as The Penguin, so she couldn't take him seriously.

"It's not second sight Dr Lang. Maybe it's third sight? It's not extra sensory perception, more ... extra fantasy perception."

"Interesting, that you use the word 'fantasy' Miss Webber."

"Mmmm." Alanna nodded

"Why do you use that particular word?"

Raising an eyebrow, Alanna said "Because, they are fantastic beings."

He cleared his throat. "And how many of these...fantastic...things have you seen?"

"Oh loads. After about three weeks of regular sightings I named the different types and gave them all job descriptions. I'll give you some examples shall I?"

Dr Lang grunted so Alanna took that as assent. "Well, gnomes hang around professional types. I know they're gnomes because they're not particularly attractive. They tend to have pot bellies and crooked ears. Pixies, pointy ears, get up to all kinds of mischief and make people crave things. Goblins are into food in a big way. I think they're the food critics of the fairy world. Sprites do things to the weather and dress accordingly. I especially like the summer sprite. He sports all sorts of summer gear, from a polka dot bikini to snorkels and an inflatable ring round his middle.

"When did you start getting these symptoms exactly?"

"They're not symptoms Dr Lang I see these little creatures. In fact there’s one on your book case right now.”
The doctor's left eye twitched. "And this began just after your mother died?"

"Yes, after Moxi died." Alanna scraped nail polish off one thumb with the nail of the other. Flakes of emerald nail polish landed on the grey carpet and sparkled there like jewel flakes.

Referring to his notes he said, "Moxi, that's what you call your mother?"

"Yes." She waggled her fingers at the gnome on the bookshelf behind Dr Lang. It was wearing a massive pair of horn rimmed glasses making its eyes look enormous and bug-like. Its hair was pulled back in a tight secretary bun.

"Why do you call her Moxi?"

Alanna pulled her focus back to the good doctor.

"Moxi didn't believe in the conventional way of doing things. Confused the hell out of me when I was learning to speak. Aunt Fran would insist I called Moxi mum. Mum would insist I called her Roxanne. In the end I suppose my baby brain decided something in the middle was best, so it settled for Moxi and that stuck."

"You've just finished your AS Levels, is that right?"

"Uh huh."

"What are your main subjects?"

Did the man listen to nothing? Three previous sessions and still he couldn't remember what she was doing at college. "History of Art, Media with an emphasis on film and Psychology."

“I see..." Dr Lang scribbled extensively in his folder. He had clearly made a discovery. Leaning back in his chair he squinted at her through his glasses.

His eyes seemed out of focus to Alanna. That’s why glasses are so hard to draw. He has an interesting face. I wonder if he'd agree to sit for me.

Leaning forward Dr Lang pushed the button on his intercom system. “Selma, please send Mrs Webber in.”

Ooooh that will get on her nerves. She hates being mistaken for a Mrs instead of a Ms. Alanna chipped away at the remains of her nail polish while they waited for Aunt Fran.

She arrived looking flushed and chewing on her bottom lip. Alanna waited for Aunt Fran to harangue the Dr about his form of address. Instead she looked over at him submissively.

Oh no, she's got Professional-itis.

Dear Dr Lang pointed to a chair. Aunt Fran smoothed her skirt as she sat.

He cleared his throat and adjusted his glasses. “Mrs Webber, your niece appears to have created an elaborate and detailed world. She is clearly very intelligent. And her background in the arts has enabled her to develop a psychosis to an intricate level.”

Aunt Fran looked over at Alanna with alarm. She turned back to Dr Lang. “Could you explain that in layman’s terms please.”

Alanna groaned inwardly and chimed in before Dr Lang could speak. “What he means Aunt Fran is that I’m living in a fantasy world because I don’t want to deal with mum’s death.”

Aunt Fran flinched at the word 'death' and resorted to the clipped tone she used when she was shaken up. “Alanna, really. Dr Lang can speak for himself. And I’m sure you’ve got it all wrong.”

The faintest flicker of annoyance crossed the doctor’s face. He hid it better than some but Alanna had seen that look before: in year four, when she'd completed the Rubik's cube on Miss Swallow's desk; when she’d got 100% in the year seven general knowledge quiz; when she’d bested an English teacher in a lesson on Marlowe. Intelligence came at a price.

Dr Lang’s reply came grudgingly. “Well, she’s more or less right. I told you she's extremely intelligent.”

Aunt Fran’s voice sounded as though it was trapped in a box. “Well, what’s the next step?”

Dr Lang smiled in what he supposed was an encouraging manner, but Alanna thought only of a death mask.

“She needs to channel her energies into her studies more and she will find her hallucinations will begin to fade.”

“Hallucinations!” How was it Aunt Fran always caught hold of the most insignificant detail in the midst of the whole? “Alanna, you never mentioned hallucinations.”

Was there even any point? She should never have mentioned the little people to the delightful Dr. It was too late now. She would try to salvage the situation later with Aunt Fran.

“Now Mrs Webber, there’s no need to worry. I’m going to up her medication to help her through this trying time. As she is still classed as a minor I need your consent.”

Alanna listened to Dr Lang and Aunt Fran conferring about her mental state and how the new set of drugs would affect her.

“So these drugs will stop these.... episodes she's having?”

“Yes, she won't see these creatures any more.”

Alanna shifted in her seat. She wanted to run out of the office screaming about civil liberties. Why did she feel such unending apathy?

Without the little people Alanna knew the only thing her mind would see was her mother in her coffin. More than anything she wanted that picture to fade. "But I don't want them to stop. I like having them around."
If it was possible to sit up straighter, then aunt Fran did. “Them?!”

Oh Lord.

This was exactly why she hadn’t told Aunt Fran. She might be her aunt, but she had no creative sense at all. How was it possible for two sisters to be so completely different? And she had misjudged Dr Lang.

Dr Lang snapped the elastic banding on the corners of Alanna's folder. "Right now your niece thinks she knows what’s best for her but both you and I know that my medical expertise and your parental concerns will steer her down the right course."

“She's no parent of mine.” Alanna felt a sharp stab of regret but it was too late.

The shift in Aunt Fran's demeanour was palpable. The psychiatrist's praise had reawakened her aunt's guardianship ardour.

Alanna tried standing her ground. "I'd prefer not to take any more medication Dr Lang."

"Nonsense, “ he said, “it's just what you need.”

Aunt Fran stared at Alanna implacably. “I completely agree.”

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