Last night I read two stories at the excellent Spotlight Club in Lancaster. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the heat, it was a fairly sparse audience of only twenty people, but the wealth of talent was inspiring. I’d booked one of the open mic slots that open the show. The first two performers were Edward Fahey, reading from his novel The Mourning After, and poet Simon Hart a.k.a Big Charlie Poet. I was on third, and read two new short stories – one about home cooking gone wrong, and one about living in an umbrella. I’m pleased to say they went down fairly well. As ever, I felt wretched with nerves. When I’m reading live, I can feel my pulse pounding in my stomach, beating so violently that I’m certain people will notice – but then, when I’m settled, I start to enjoy the reading, to relax into the story and to remember why I wrote it in the first place. Reading aloud is engrained in my writing workflow. When I’m writing, I constantly read my work aloud, lips moving nonstop, speaking and repeating the phrases, looking for the way the words flow best, seeking out an organic rhythm to the story. It’s thrilling to take that back to a stage and a microphone. I’ll never be as good as performers like Alan Bissett, but I’m starting, at last, to really enjoy reading live.
Back to Spotlight: the open mic slots were followed by ‘ethnomusicologist of the imagination’ Deep Cabaret. He conjured incredible sounds from an apparently homemade instrument of wood and wire wrapped around a tin can (Steve Lewis, the man behind the music, has since been in touch to reveal that it’s not a DIY contraption, but a Delta Wedge, and manufactured right here – although it is based on the homemade instruments of early Bluesmen). With this extraordinary device, Deep Cabaret explored the music of a fictional world based on the fantastical fictions of Jorge Luis Borges. It was a truly original and engrossing performance.
Rosa Lucy Rogers followed with a series of haunting, abstract poems exploring emotional and physical space. Then came multi-slam-winning performance poet Trevor Meaney. He kicked off with a piece about Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce entitled ‘Baby you can drive my car’, which gives you an idea about his work; excellent and very funny. Short story writer Scott Hammell gave us a dying man’s last moments, before veteran punk-poet Nick O’Neill delivered his tight, intense rhymes, taking on big themes with disarming simplicity.
The night was finished by acoustic guitarist and singer-songwriter David Kelly. There are some guitarists who seem in total mastery of their instrument, knowing exactly how it works, never out of control for even a moment – David was not one of those guitarists. He was the sort where the guitar seems to play him, using him as a fulcrum, his body all angles and awkwardness, legs twisted against one another, tapping out mad rhythms, shoulders hunched, head down. It was brilliant. His voice had a raw, urgent quality, and his songs were a little James Yorkston, a little Conor Oberst, all cracked and lo-fi, thrilling and real. I’ll definitely be keeping an ear out for more of his music. I can’t find a website for him, but he looks like this:
As we made to leave, the organisers asked if I’d come back to read again in September. Spotlight has been going for 17 years, and September will be their 200th show. I’m honoured to have been asked, and I gratefully accepted the invitation. I’ll have a 10-minute slot, so I can try a slightly longer story – but I’ll definitely be reading a variety of pieces again, too. Hopefully my DIY flash fiction collection Marrow will be ready by then. I’m delighted to have been invited back, and it was a great way to finish the show.
On the streets outside, Lancaster felt like London, the streets buzzing with people. We walked back to the car through one of the glorious Mediterranean nights this heatwave has delivered: warm, soft breezes, and dim bands of blue to the west.