A Funny Thing Happened on the way to Byron (or how I ended up on stage with Nick Earls)
On Sunday 27th July, I found myself sitting on a raised platform at the Coast Hotel next to Nick Earls, microphone in hand, telling a round of a story of the top of my head. Later, I had to pinch myself, I’d been on stage with a panel of Byron Bay Writers Festival authors. How did I get here? Well, I can blame and thank Angela Meyer for this.
At our meeting of the Nambucca Valley Writers Group the day before, Roby Aiken gave a workshop on reading our work for an audience. This indeed is a handy skill for any author, and I suggested ‘especially when we’re on a panel at the Byron Bay Writers Festival.’
Little did I know that my words were almost prophetic, as I would end up on stage with a panel of writers during their 5 Writers, 5 Towns, 5 Days road trip on their way to Byron Bay. (Photo below by Tim Eddy)
The event was held at The Coast Hotel. Literature in the Pub. This brought back memories of the heyday of the Harold Park Hotel in Sydney with its little back room that held plays, poetry readings, and author events.
Angela Meyer was chair and on that night, she filled in for one of the other writers who was sick. Angela was a local girl and I’ve had the pleasure of knowing her for around ten years. (This was to my detriment/advantage as the evening went on.)
The other writers were Ashley Hayes, Craig Sherbourne, Zacharey Jane and Nick Earls. Each read a short piece from their latest novel and answered questions from Angela and the audience. It is always fascinating to hear other people’s writing processes. As Nick Earls said, ‘Writers find their own perverse methods of producing the novel.’
I could probably tell you some of those perverse methods if I’d taken better notes, but one has stuck as particularly perverse and specific. Craig Sherbourne writes in school exercise books, lying on his stomach on a bullskin rug. (umm, don’t think I’ll try that one.)
There was a cosy group of writers in the audience including members of Coffs Harbour Writers Group along with fans. Then we got to the games bit of the night which required audience participation. I was sitting directly in Angela’s sightline and she asked for volunteers, then added, ‘How about you, Diane?’ Well, as most who know me realise, I do have an issue with saying ‘no’, especially when somebody asks so nicely, but part of me was screaming in terror. It’s a long, long time since I’d done anything on stage that resembled improvisation, and I don’t remember ever being good at it back in my drama days. But I jumped out of my comfort zone and took my place on stage. For her second victim, Angela coaxed her mother onto the stage. Unfortunately I don’t have any photographic evidence of me on stage during the game. You’ll have to take my word for it.
The game was simple, apparently. Each team would tell a story in 30 second rounds based on a genre picked out of a bucket and a topic suggested by the audience. The audience could yell out ‘random’ at any time and we would then choose either a random word or phrase from a bucket or a random prop from a sack, this would then need to be incorporated into the story.
I was on a team with Craig Sherbourne and Zacharey Jane. I chose the genre ‘Horror’ and an extremely helpful audience member yelled out ‘air travel.’ Well, my mind did scream ‘No’ at this and I somehow managed to vocalise it. It was only a week after the Malaysian airlines disaster – way too fresh. So it was suggested we pick another genre. This time we got ‘Literary’. Aargh! Could this game get any worst? My fellow team members suggested I open the story but my mind was already in panic and I shook my head and passed the microphone over.
We ended up with a story about a guy who suffers claustrophobia on a plane, who had overdone his meds, added champagne to the mix. At one point I had to pick a random word and drew out ‘smell’, so of course the obese passenger spilling over the seat next to him on the plane farted. Oh how unliterary! My mind in panic couldn’t turn ‘flatulence’ into a verb to give it a bit more style. I think I ended the story with the protagonist passing out from the mixture of pills and alcohol.
Then it was the other team’s turn. They had the advantage of Nick Earls on their team and I wonder if their suggestions were planted because their genre (chosen randomly) was sci-fi, and the topic proffered by the audience was ‘Volkswagen’. Of course, they won.
But afterwards, still on the stage, I was almost pinching myself. ‘I’m on stage next to Nick Earls.’ It was only later that night, with the events replaying in my head, that my incredulity really took over. I’d been on a Byron Bay Writers Festival panel. I’d stood on stage with a microphone, improvising a story, in front of an audience, and I hadn’t frozen, faltered or fainted.
The next day, all the words I could have, should have, would have said, came to me. The story kept building in my mind taking on Jabba the Hut proportions until the poor hero’s claustrophobia really kicked in. Yep, would have been great on the night but those ideas didn’t emerge until later.
After the audience participation thing, we kicked on, had drinks, talked about writing. I talked to Nick about the previous days workshop and reading work for an audience, and he showed me his secrets of the trade in his marked-up novel. He told me he would have started the literary story with ‘I was having a cup of tea.’
The next weekend at Bryon Bay Writers Festival, I bought Nick’s novel, Analogue Men, and he signed it ‘Good to be on a BBWF panel with you.’ and posed for a photo with Bondage Bear (more of BB’s literary adventures to come)
One day, the real thing – maybe there could be a panel on the reimagining of the fairytale, and I could be up there with Kate Forsyth. I’ll add it to my vision wall.
To read more about #555writers, visit Angela Meyer’s blog, Literary Minded.