Thursday, 16 April 2015


Once upon a time there were two women - lets call them Susie and Martha - who met when they were cast to play wee Scottish girlies in a BBC radio drama. It was a brilliant 3-part adaptation by Patricia Hannah of Susan Ferrier's Marriage, directed by Patrick Rayner in Edinburgh for Radio 4.

Having to rehearse singing 'My Heart's In The Highlands...A-Chasing The Deer' in very young voices, and sing it as if dressed in tartan taffeta and very tight bodices, Susie and Martha were soon highly amused and quickly became friends.

In due course, they considered ways in which they might find ingenious creative things to do together.

SoundCheck in article in The Herald, 2007 ~ click to enlarge
They talked about their mutual experiences of performance and of writing and of doing commercial voice-overs and narrations, and about stand-up and improvising on stage, radio, TV, and about confidence and fear and breathing and frame of mind...

And - asking around - it seemed there were many writers out there who could use some of this confidence, those performance techniques, to help counteract nerves to prepare them when asked to read from their own scripts or stories in front of audiences of strangers.

But there weren't any services being offered by anyone with such a number of credits in those specific skills.

So they invented one - SoundCheck

SoundCheck offered workshops, initially to members of the Society of Authors in Scotland, and then more widely.

And they went rather well.

Now, Martha and Susie (because yes, I mean, clearly it's me) - having coached, mentored, written and acted, in the intervening years -  are thrilled to be offering Sound Check to YOU.

Attending one of our interactive workshops will help you to become more comfortable with the process and practicalities of presenting yourself to audiences, learning to focus on letting your words emerge without fear and hesitancy.

Our first 2015 event - a 'taster' session - will be held on 14th May, in Edinburgh.

Full details and booking info can be found here, via the SparkForWriters site 

Feedback from earlier workshop participants:

I put your advice into practice when I gave a reading. Having prepared along the lines you suggested it went extremely well, I think it is fair to say, with many people congratulating me on it afterwards. Warm regards and thank you again for an excellent workshop! E.S. 

It was excellent! Couldn't fault it in any way, and I felt it was what we all of us needed. Very non-threatening too, due to the skills of Martha and Susie. O.E. 

I found this afternoon's workshop VERY ENJOYABLE. It was a real pleasure to find myself among such creative and experienced people, and stimulating to hear about things to be considered by an author when "performing". I liked the practical suggestions a lot. Everything that was said was new and interesting to me. All in all, I was delighted with the workshop, and thank you Susie and Martha for holding it. S.T.

Dear Susie, I remember hearing you speak, several years ago in Musselburgh - at a Writers' Workshop. You read a very amusing story [...] the jist of which has stayed with me. You clearly practice what you preach!! SR

It really went well this morning. My daughter was in the audience and she always tells me the truth!! I had prepared my talk thoroughly, there were lots of chuckles from the audience, and I didn't appear nervous at all. I took your advice and set out to enjoy the experience and it worked, so my session with you was well worth while. Thanks again -- I really felt confident and I didn't 'um and er' which I was dreading... AF

Greatly enjoyed, and more importantly, benefited from yesterday's session. This was due to the experience and expertise of the two presenters and their almost relaxed method of presentation. This cloaked the diagnostic skills, gently pointed criticism and positive suggestions from which all of us participants hope to improve the impact our readings have on the public. KH

A very helpful comment and emphasis was made that it is the words that need to be the 'star' of the show and put forward as the focus of interest, rather than an acted performance or presence per se.

Thanks for the workshop - I really enjoyed it and got loads out of it. I thought the feedback from both you and Martha was very good, practical and inspiring, even. I liked hearing the other participants read and learned a lot from their approach and your response.  BC

Thanks for a helpful afternoon, enabling me to do something for the first time, move out of a comfort zone in 'safe' supportive surroundings which didn't try and edit content but instead, built up existing skills. I thought the 'Top tips to take away' was a useful simple reminder of what the purpose of readings, or any other presentation, may be.  LP

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

I went to Ireland and it was great.

More details? Well, I was invited - by Margaret and Nollaig of The Story House Ireland - to co-tutor - with the wonder that is Julian Gough - a first ever course, a 'pop-up' pilot event one might call it, at A Place in Waterford, near Colligan Falls.  The last time I was in Ireland I was about to turn 4, and I have lots of 4 yr old memories of the size of the rooms of the little hotel we stayed in (I didn't travel there alone, my parents and older brother were along for the trip) but I can't remember where exactly it was.

Anyway. The Story House set up is along the lines of the Arvon courses which inspired it. It's a residential course. There are usually about a dozen participants, two tutors, morning workshops, individual tutorials, readings, a guest reader mid-week (we had the amazing, lovely Donal Ryan, whose The Spinning Heart I suggest you buy right now, and read his comments in that link.)

 There are conversations, discussions, lots of laughter, some tears (and that's all good).  Dinners each night are cooked in teams by participants themselves, and the week runs from 4pm Monday to 10am Saturday, by which time everyone has formed a kind of clan, which is one of the beautiful side-effects (main purposes) of the whole notion.

Shall I spell it out for you? It's that we are all writers, there.

All at different stages, and all willing to take the risk of sharing stories and experiences and apprehensions and joys with our comrades, fellow-outsiders, fellow questers and questioners.

This week, 23-28 March 2015, was about the Short Story - but, of course, it's about all writing, and we talked about what you'd imagine was pertinent, and lots that wasn't but which arose out of the necessity to express our individual needs or concerns or vehemently held or tenderly nurtured feelings about writing and what it's for and why and so on and so forth. And about compression. All this in a yurt, by the way. All this fuelled by porter cake with butter and tea and wreathed (almost to a wo/man) in colourful scarves and cosy jackets and boots of varying glamour.

I'm not writing this as an accurate accounting for posterity, and I don't want to log names and facts, as my feeling is that everyone's experience is their own, and that sometimes telling it to Those Who Were Not There defuses the energy created by the thing itself (ie this is not a story I'm creating, where I'd edit it for heightened tension, just a sort of diary jotting, unedited, and if you're intrigued, then follow @TSHIreland and sign up for whatever their next course will be, and support them in making that possible).

I liked all the people I met, and by the time we said goodbye I liked them all even more. I enjoyed every tutorial, and every workshop (even the ones where, due to a migraine, I was speechless). It was a privilege to have their company, and to try to earn - very important - their trust, and to hear whatever people brought to those encounters.

It was also an extremely useful reminder to me of what I forget in my own writing, the necessity from time to time of having someone else say 'your work is interesting, keep doing it, and how about this, would this help', which - as a hermit in pajamas, at home, writing in a vacuum (a Dyson, actually) - is not often to be found.

So I was very lucky to have great feedback, not only from those who listened when I read aloud all three (hey, it was an encore, my arm was twisted) of my BBC Radio 4 Portrait stories, but also from Margaret and Nollaig, throughout the week, with hugs and niceness and smiles and all the nitty gritty detail of keeping us fed and warm and free from pneumonia; but also from Julian, who is a fantastic co-tutor and good friend, and makes a fine bowl of microwave porridge too.

And maybe now, if I go back into a dream state, I will see myself as that 4 yr old, in her birthday dress, in a hotel somewhere in the soft Irish countryside, and remember more about it, and use it as something to prompt a bit of a story. Maybe.