“Gee-nee-tals. No, no, wait, that’s wrong. JEN-nee-tals.”
“JEN-nee-tals. JEN-nee-tals. Okay. Okay, I can do this.” Banzai!
No, no, this is a not a naughty post! This was me practising just before my performance reading last Sunday for Illicit Ink’s Midsummer Murder Mystery spoken word event. The theme was crime, and it just so happened I had a related short story written. Or rather, it’s an extract of an offshoot/possible prequel of my still unfinished first novel Malaysian Dark. (Yeah, my head is spinning over that one too).
The point is my 1,000 word extract had – at first – three words I wasn’t sure how to pronounce: alluring, sashayed and modus operandi. Writing the words is one thing, but when the time comes to say them out loud, I find myself astonished by what I don’t know. For instance, for years I had unknowingly mispronounced ‘genre’ until someone set me to rights (I’d been saying ‘john-nier’). During a practice reading for the Edinburgh International Book Festival last year, my lecturer Sam Kelly told me ‘debts’ was actually pronounced closer to ‘detts’.
What I usually do before every reading is print out the piece of writing at size 14, with a 1.5 paragraph spacing. Then I take a pen and read it aloud so I can mark where I should pause, or stress, go slower, go faster. By the end of it the pages end up looking like a battlefield of lines, arrows and circled words. That weekend I leaned back after squiggling across the paper and smiled wryly to myself – it seems I’m not just a writer. I have to be become a storyteller, too.
To my surprise, I am not as freaked about performing in public as I used to be (last year at the Book Festival, I was a bit of a wreck – “I need wine!!”). I also find it helps to read aloud your work at least three times so I can not only practise, but circle those phrases where I have a tendency to stumble.
So anyway, my lovely landlady helped me pronounce those three problem words (modus operanDIE is easy to remember), and then I set off for my evening event. Unfortunately I only had the opportunity to practise reading aloud twice, and it showed. I was less confident.
What made it also particularly distracting was that, while waiting for the event to start, I reread my piece and realised there was a word I was going to stumble over:
What I did next possibly horrified some people. I grabbed hold of the victim’s jeans, yanked down the zipper, and exposed the hairy genitals for everyone to see. A horrible stench hit my nostrils – for reasons that had nothing to do with the supernatural. The man stank. I mean, seriously. He smelt like he hadn’t bathed in months.
I checked with my friend Babs, and she told me gee-nee-tals wasn’t right. Oh, lord! I couldn’t get this line wrong. I had an accent but needed to convey the dry, confident tone of my character, who was a detective-ish sort on a case. This was the part when listeners needed to see my character, Arshad, doing that weird thing he does when examining the dead body.
Which meant that for the next hour, while one writer after another were reading their work (I was number seven of ten writers), I kept repeating the word genitals over and over and OVER in my head. My mum would blush. Heck, that entire extract might shock the hell outta her.
So how did I do?
I did not trip over them naughty bits 🙂 Oh, and I heard some fabulous stories too!
Audience Feedback of the Evening: “It’s straightforward and not over-written!” Yeah, Arshad is not the sort to spout flowery words 😉
PS Speaking of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I don’t think I am going to be chosen this year. I submitted this same piece to be considered for the Story Shop spoken word slot, only to realise I’d missed a grammar mistake just a few paragraphs in. ARGH. Ah well! I guess this leaves me room to concentrate on revising my novel…