Month: May 2015

Tips for Reading Writers

After taking part in the reading reading slams at SMUT by the Sea in Scarborough and talking about reading to an audience with other writers I thought I’d share my top tips.

For writers who are preparing for any public reading of their work (any genre) there are a few really simple things you can do that will improve your presentation even if you are not a natural performer and absolutely dread getting on stage in front of people.

Rehearse, of course, record yourself and watch/ listen to yourself.

There is more you can do.

The very Basics to Reading Aloud to an Audience

1. Read at a rate of 160 words per minute

Reading aloud is very different to reading in your head, for one thing it is much slower. Out loud you should be reading at no more than 160 words per minute. If you know you have five minutes choose an extract that is no more than 800 words. Time yourself. If you  have plenty of time left at the end, you are reading too fast. Reading too fast means:

  1. the words may sound like a blur of noise rather than being clearly articulated;
  2. you aren’t taking sufficient time for natural and dramatic pauses;
  3. the listener will struggle to process all that they are hearing;
  4. you are NOT making the maximum impact with this opportunity to entertain readers.

2. Edit Your Extract for reading to an audience

Given that reading in our heads is almost twice as fast as reading aloud and given that we may only have five or ten minutes we might not want to read all of the individual sentences or phrases in a paragraph.

My advice is to take the section you want to read from and don’t be afraid to cut out as many surplus paragraphs, sentences, phrases so that you are reading something that is suitably fast paced, action packed or what ever it needs to be in those brief minutes.

It is like preparing text for a newspaper (which I have done), with a very specific and limited word count.

Example: At Smut by the Sea 2015 I read from my short story Broadstairs Bloke Week, published in the anthology Who Thrilled Cock Robin (Slave Nano and Janine Ashbless were also at the event and they also have stories in this book of erotic stories inspired by Folk Songs). A woman is walking home with two gorgeous men, she has only just met them but discovered one lives just a few doors from her.

To the audience I read this:

  • “let’s face it, it feels really good to have not one sexy man on your arm but two, one on each side. Who wouldn’t feel good about that?”

….(missing out a whole chunk of text)….

  • “Do you want to come in for a drink?” I interrupted. The words just slipped out so easily, it was not like inviting someone back for coffee when you mean something else, because it was too early in the evening, we were too sober and there were two of them. And did I mention that one of them was a neighbour?

I carefully choose my paragraphs and then crossed out the “I interrupted” tag because in the edited version I wasn’t interrupting anything.


these were two surplus words that didn’t add to the story, every word is precious if you can only use 800.

3. Mark Your Extract with Helpful Symbols: Punctuate for Reading

In the privacy of your home or when you are reading to the kids, reading aloud can come very naturally. Pausing at the full stops, being dramatic and loud when appropriate. Under pressure, on a stage, in front of a room full of strangers it can all go wrong. You might whisper words because you do not get to the exclamation mark until after the words are out there. It is really useful to take a pen to the extract and write in new “punctuation” or symbols that means something to you as you read it. Some examples:

  1. Emphasis certain words or a phrase – print them in bold or (I prefer) underline them. Say them slower, and louder.
  2. The Dramatic Pause between words – I use this / or // or /// more for longer silences. Note: these pauses may or may not correspond with normal punctuation. You can take a second or two for these. Look up from the script and look around at your audience.
  3. Asides or another voice: you may want to face a different direction and/or change pitch/tone when reading thoughts in contrast to dialogue, for example. I use brackets [ ] or ( ) as in the second example, below.

Here is my hand written blue pen punctuation, just for reading aloud purposes:

  • “Do you want to come in for a drink?” I interrupted. The words just slipped out so easily, it was not like inviting someone back for coffee when you mean something else, /// because it was too early in the evening, we were too sober and there were two of them. And did I mention that one of them was a neighbour? (from Broadstairs Bloke Week)

And another extract, with my handwritten markings:

  • [You.”]  /// Unemployment hadn’t battered his self-confidence, because Nick came right back at me, and to make sure there was no misunderstanding, he clarified. [“We’d fancy you.”]{“We’d?”} ///  Did I hear that right? I had to make sure.

    “Yes. Both of us.” Kieran was nodding, he wasn’t shy, either. “If you’re not into threesomes, it’s no problem. But no harm in asking, is there?” 
    {No harm at all.}

I have seen people use different shapes, triangles, squares, just use what works for you. Not too many and keep it simple. It needs to work when you are under pressure.

Of course, the printed version does not have this strange punctuation.

4. Reading from your printed book, kindle, ipad or A4 paper

I’m sure it is good for the audience to see a physical copy of the book you are reading from. It creates a lasting impression, they may remember the cover when they are looking it up whereas they probably don’t remember the title you announced at the beginning of your presentation.

Of course, I’m not perfect, at SMUT I forgot to show off my book. A few people were impressed by my clipboard. For a small investment it keep my papers in order and for me it offers these benefits:

My extract was on four A4 pages in large print, .18. You might have perfect vision and not need this but this is why I do it:

  1. far bigger print than a book so I could hold it at arms length;
  2. I could easily find may place again after looking up at the audience;
  3. I didn’t have to swap to reading glasses;
  4. plenty of space for my hand written markings;
  5. the clipboard keeps the pages in order, flat and gives the impression that I’m prepared.

A clip board has a number of advantages over loose bits of paper but think about what the audience sees and decorate that side of the board (perhaps with your book cover).

5. MORE?

There is so much more that can be said about presenting to audiences but I think this is a good start.

I didn’t come up with these ideas all by myself. I have been a performer and public speaker and am currently involved in a speakers club. I’ve picked up these tips from other people through my life and I’m still working at improving my own skills.

And here is the cover of the book that I forgot to show people at SMUT by the Sea: Who Thrilled Cock Robin

who thrilled cock robin pic

Erotic Stories and Folk Music

I must assure you that I am still alive and well as It has been ages since my last blog posting. In fact, through April I doubted if I’d ever sit at this desk again. I was treading a fine path between feeling a little delicate and being doubled over in pain. I was suffering a mystery ailment that I was sure meant the end of days. Husband had as good as spend the life insurance money with an “every cloud has a silver lining” mentality, it kept us both smiling, when I suddenly recovered. As sudden as it can be, a few days AFTER the extended course of antibiotics expired.

Great I could drink alcohol again and the end of celibacy was in sight; we didn’t have sex for the whole calendar month (well, not together anyway).

Some good things happened in April.

I couldn’t sit at a desk but I read loads of fiction.

And a short story of mine appeared in print! Broadstairs Bloke week

It is available from all the usual places to download or buy in print as part of the anthology inspired by folk music: Who Thrilled Cock Robin and edited by that well known Morris Dancer Sallyanne Rogers.

who thrilled cock robin pic

Whilst I was sitting around in April there was more good news. Another of my short stories was accepted for an anthology to be published next year.

Now I need to be disciplined as I’ve so many half completed, almost finished and just started writing projects on my drive and I’d really like to get some more into the done and dusted folder.

At the weekend I’m off to Smut – a gathering of like-minded readers and writers. It will be fun. in

Scarborough Library

I’ll be reading an extract from my newly published story and gathering autographs.