Monthly Archives: August 2012

A Pint of Poetry and a Dash of Drama

This ‘review’ was originally intended to be submitted to The Flaneur, the website where the bulk of my Fringe reviews from this year are going to be posted (eventually), but I decided it was a little too personal, plus, well, barely a review. A Pint of Poetry and a Dash of Drama is a spoken word and performance poetry group based out of Peterborough.

As it happens, I grew up just down the road from Peterborough, and yet I was still surprised by some of the facts I recently learned; that Peterborough is, apparently, the birthplace of Pizza Express, which I’m not sure whether or not to believe since for most of the time I lived there Peterborough did not actually have a Pizza Express; that Warwick Davis runs an acting agency from Peterborough; and that Peterborough has a performance poetry scene.

In retrospect I’m not all that surprised that this passed me by, since I wasn’t exactly a social butterfly in my teens, but the fact remains: Peterborough not only has a spoken word scene but apparently a big enough scene for it to be possible to showcase the highlights of it.

A Pint of Poetry and a Dash of Drama – or A Pint of Poetry and a Dram of Drama, as they prefer to go by in Edinburgh – runs monthly open mic nights and, very occasionally, performs at the Edinburgh Fringe. This year they put on two shows, of which I saw only one, on Monday 13th August.

So what did I make of the poetic highlights of my home city? Well, for those not familiar, I should probably give some context: Peterborough is not the most cultured city. It’s home to some of England’s most spectacular sixties architecture, created by bulldozing much of its historic city centre. It has an extremely dilapidated arts centre. It has two theatres, but I don’t remember either ever putting on anything interesting. My memories of Peterborough mostly consist of chain stores, pound shops, motorways, and an endless, monotonous beigeness. I’ve always thought of it as a somewhat soul-less city. (And before anyone takes offence, I must remind you again that I’m a local.)

So what are its artistic outpourings like? I’m not sure if ‘better than I expected’ is quite the right way to put it, because I’m honestly not sure exactly what I expected. Patchy quality? Most definitely. Clever wordplay? Not really. Tinkerbell, robots, and fabulous waistcoats? Almost certainly not.

As with any group that grows out of open mic nights, the quality was variable. Many of the poems rested more on wordplay than on ‘deep’ meanings and not all of the poets had the necessary stage presence to make their poetry exciting and interesting to listen to.

But the highlights of Pint of Poetry were actually some of the most memorable poems I’ve seen so far this month – and I’ve been to see two sets of published poets perform their work. I saw some poets I’d happily watch for a full hour-long show. My favourites were Tim Goodings and his poem ‘Massive Beard’ about the most beardy of beards he one day plans to grow; a poet in a fabulous waistcoat whose name I didn’t catch who invited the audience to share his love of Tinkerbell; J.S. Watts, the group’s only published poet, with her surreal and funny poems about the ‘mechanoid female’ scrapyard Sue; and Mark Grist, Peterborough’s poet laureate (another surprise for me) and his ‘love poem’ to Peterborough, warts and all.

I suppose the final question is: do I have a new appreciation for Peterborough and its artistic merits?  If I’m going to be honest, not really. Do I have a new appreciation for A Pint of Poetry and a Dash of Drama? Quite definitely.

As a final note, the point about it being the most memorable poetry I’ve seen so far this month still stands – the other day I went to a poetry reading I shall not name that almost bored me to sleep – and though the Festival of Spirituality and Peace’s five-day poetry event is about to start so my feelings may change, there’s something to be said for the uninhibited, amateur poetry of groups like Pint of Poetry and its total lack of pretension. Because if there’s one thing we all hate it’s pretension.

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Top Ten Favourite Books

With the exception of the number one slot – I’ve had the same all-time favourite book for about a decade now and I don’t see it changing any time soon – this is not an easy list to write. Partly because of the various tricky issues that kept coming up – is this favourite books, favourite authors, or favourite series? If I love a series or an author am I obliged to include at least one of their works, even if there are standalone books I prefer? – and partly because, well, I have a lot of favourite books, though I doubt that comes as much of a surprise.

Eventually I decided to make a separate list for favourite book series, and thus to exclude all books that are part of a series from this list… except for book series which I happen to own in one volume, naturally. And books that are part of a series in name only. And the book that occupies the number one slot. And I’ll just start the list now.

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The Magic of Editing

In the last couple of days, I dusted off what is apparently the fourth draft of Summer, what I tend to refer to as ‘my other novel’ and started editing again. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, since of the two series I’m working on Summer, its sequel, and its hypothetical threequel is quite definitely the more publishable, so getting an actually decent draft together in the near-ish future would be a good idea. So far it’s mostly reminded me of how much I love editing.

I should qualify that statement. I hate editing things I’ve just written, which is awkward and sometimes near-painful. I loathe cutting things down to get them under a wordcount. But editing something written upwards of three years ago, which needs to be longer rather than shorter (Summer currently stands at 80k, which is a little short for a novel)? It’s excellent.

You get all the fun of writing and wordsmithing and playing with characterisation without having to worry about what’s going to happen next because hey, you already worked that part out! Above all, you get the satisfaction of making something better and deeper and more interesting. I remember one moment during my last round of edits to Summer where I took a few lines where one minor character enters a room as another is leaving, expanded that oh-so-brief interaction, and made it a bit flirty.

On top of that, properly reading and contemplating the story this way is good not just for the details but for the over-arching themes. Now that Summer‘s in my head most of the time, things have gotten pretty interesting. Here’s some pretty big news that won’t make sense to anyone but me: I finally figured that thing out! You know, that thing. The plot thing at the end of the second book that’s been confounding me for going on two years now. I figured it out. Turns out the key was replacing castles with standing stones. Seems pretty obvious now I think about it.

Much of Summer needs to be largely re-written. It’s not completely a problem with the writing style. This brings me to the first big issue I’ve been trying to combat: one of the three main characters is terrible. Just terrible. She’s incredibly bland, and somehow it took me until midway through the second book to realise just how pointless she is.  Unfortunately, a bit more than a third of the book is told from her point of view, and that all now needs to be re-written, because it’s bland as hell – and now that I’ve given her a personality, everything from her point of view has to be re-written to be more consistent.

Then there’s this problem: characters are constantly doing things because the plot says so. Formally-bland-character, Caitrín, is the worst for this. Because she had no personality, she had no real motivation, so when she had to do something important plot relevant (which was rare) it was next to impossible to give her a reason to do it. So she would just do it. In the first draft she’s constantly wandering in and our of rooms and attics and stables for absolutely no reason at all. Somehow I didn’t even notice this until just now. I’ve spent a lot of time tweaking the plot to give her actual reasons to do things.

Thankfully that’s the main issue with Summer. The rest of the editing mostly involves polishing the style and working out the kinks of the worldbuilding. I’m also throwing around ideas for a better title – something to do with masks, maybe? – or more accurately, a title that doesn’t force the series to be a quartet. All in all, very productive.

It’s strange, because a year or so ago I bought a book called Writing Magic. It’s a writing advice book for children by Gail Carson Levine (author of Ella Enchanted), which I am way out of the age range for, but it was cheap on Amazon and I liked her books enough when I was younger that I was honestly interested to see what she had to say about writing. Here’s what she has to say on the subject of editing:

Revising is my favourite part of writing. When I’m working on a first draft, I feel like a prisoner. I’m in an iron cell with no windows and no doors. Nothing is happening, and I’m trapped. I notice a bit of moisture condensing on the walls, four or five beads of water. Each bead is an idea. I scrape them off and write feverishly until I use them up. Then I wait for more moisture.

But when I finished my first draft, the walls come down. A fragrant breeze wafts by. No more waiting for condensation. Now all I have to do is make the book better, which can take a long time.

At the time, I thought I disagreed completely with Gail Carson Levine on this one, but I think the fact that I quite enjoy first drafts fooled me into thinking I must therefore not enjoy editing. As it turns out, I do, very much so. So now, to quote from Gail Carson Levine again, I must go and face ‘the revision beast’.

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Filed under Editing, Summerverse, writing