Thursday afternoon I called in to see my parents. After we’d caught up on family news, we got to comparing plans. ‘We’re off to Cheltenham tonight,’ I said. ‘For an open-mic story evening, Flashers’ Club.’
‘Oh,’ said dad, ‘are you reading?’
‘No. I’m going to listen,’ I said.
‘You’re taking something along though, aren’t you?’ said Ray, when I got home.
‘I’m more comfortable listening,’ I said.
‘That’s because you avoid doing it. You need practice.’
‘I don’t think I’ve got anything suitable,’ I said, switching on the laptop and trawling through my files. ‘Most of my stuff is intended to be looked at rather than listened to.’
I did put a story in my pocket. I even found time for a couple of read-throughs, figuring out which bits made me stumble, and making minor changes. I’d done the poetry reading, last year; I sit in front of groups discussing story theory and practice without a qualm, but this was different.
During the twenty-minute drive through lashing rain, we talked. ‘Is it right at these lights?’
‘No, straight over, then left at the roundabout.’
‘This rain’s getting heavy.’
‘I’ve an idea about your dad’s birthday present.’
There was a five minute dash from car park to street, and the decision about what to order to eat. It’s so much easier to open the fridge and see what needs using up, than having to chose from a list of tasty dishes someone else will prepare.
‘Where will you be sitting?’ said the woman at the counter.
‘By the window,’ said Ray.
As we settled, two more people came into Smokey Joes, and headed for the glass doors beside the serving counter.
I said, ‘I think it must be open.’ A woman at the next table did too. She picked up her plate of food and migrated through those open doors.
Ray said, ‘You’re right. We’d better follow, if we want to nab a table too.’
Alex greeted us with a smile. ‘Three pounds if you read, four if you don’t.’
That’s clever, because it isn’t about saving the money. How many other events can you find that cost less than a fiver? Besides, all the proceeds go to charity, so I don’t begrudge a quid. But, having paid less, not reading would have made me a fraud.
I’d picked one of my shortest pieces of writing, less than a page, double-line spaced, font size fourteen, for ease of reading, and luck was on my side. My name was not first out of the hat, it was second. Phew, no time to think, I was up at the lectern, concentrating on my paper and trying not to stumble.
Heart pounding in a way I don’t remember ever experiencing in classes, I tried to breath as I spoke. Slow and clear, I told myself. I concentrated on one word at a time, and followed the punctuation, and wonder of wonders, I arrived at the last full-stop only slightly breathless.
It was done. I could sit back and enjoy the other readings.
What a selection, aliens, memoir, fantasy, vampires, crime and comedy. This is why, even if you think you’ll never ever stand at the open mic, you should seek out your nearest story-reading event.
‘The difference is,’ said Ray, on the way home, ‘in class you’re talking about other people’s stories. Tonight, it was just you, revealing glimpses of your imagination, of yourself. Vulnerability! We don’t do that, do we?’