Personal Notes from BristolCon 2015

While writing my review of BristolCon recently, I wanted to add further details from a personal point of view, yet didn’t want to detract from the overall focus of the blog – that BristolCon is awesome. To stop that, I decided I’d write a few personal notes about some of the things I experienced there in a separate post.

I’ll offer advanced warning that this is a longer blog post than usual and will not contain a summary.
The Open Mic

With all the busy planning of BristolCon, I almost didn’t remember to print something to read for the open mic event. I printed two possibilities out in a rush, then shot out the door. I had no time to worry about the public speaking aspect of it, right up to the point I was called up at random as the second to read of the evening. Even then, I still didn’t know what to read and chose something on the spot while stared at by twenty faces.

Before the reading, I attended a workshop by Roz Clarke. It was offering tips on public speaking by suggesting warm up techniques, correct breathing, making eye contact with the audience and the power of the pause. Cheryl Morgan also chipped in with some tips on how to use a microphone correctly, something I’d never much thought about before and was well received. The best tip from all of this by far was learning that pausing can really increase the power of a reading, that when you’re up there, pausing feels faster than it does for the audience and that you can drag it out longer than you’d expect you could get away with.

Back to my reading then. I finally chose a piece, stared at the crowd feeling confident and internally questioned why my body had to dump several pints of adrenaline into itself. I didn’t feel scared at all, yet I couldn’t stop my hands and legs shaking like I was being electrocuted for at least the first two minutes.

After my first reading, I was given the feedback that I started to speed up towards the end. Utilising the tip about the pauses from the earlier workshop, I felt I was much more able to regulate my speed, and also found it helped to lend power to certain phrases that I wanted to emphasise and leave the audience to think over for a few seconds. Glancing up at the audience every few lines to maintain eye contact showed it was having the desired effect too.

Overall, I think the reading went very well, and I was surprised at my own confidence, both before and during. I felt that I had a positive response from the audience in terms of attention during the reading and genuine applause afterwards, that was confirmed when several people later came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed what I had written.
Workshop with Jasper Fforde

During BristolCon, I attended a workshop with Jasper Fforde that was titled ‘What Creative Writing Courses Won’t Tell You’. This covered the four levels of ability a writer, or any creative person, can attain; beginner, adequate, professional, inspired. The idea being that you can work hard and start to sell a few copies of something at the professional level, maybe even make a half decent living, but it’s unlikely that you’ll sell well until you can attain the coveted ‘inspired’ level (*ding* achievement unlocked).

I’ve always known there was something extra required, that little spark of life that writing needs to turn it from yet-another-story to one-that-stands-out, but it was good to have it confirmed. He then went on to explain a few ways that you can try to attain this spark.

The main basis was that as a writer, it really pays to know a little about a lot. Being wide read and learned in a variety of different subjects has always been a habit of mine, something I enjoy, and I always thought it was a useful trait the moment I started writing. My passion for learning, anything and everything, kept this momentum going while I wrote more and more. Having this thirst for knowledge confirmed as a very desirable trait in a writer, and a must for anyone that seeks to be inspired instead of just professional, really gave me that warm fuzzy feeling. It’s something I’ve believed, but having it confirmed by someone as knowledgeable and experienced as Jasper Fforde was wonderfully affirming.

To sum up the main points of the workshop in one comment, inspired writing is in the details. Little nuggets of character, a clever trick in the story arc and masses of tiny details that plant seeds and grow into the memory of a great story at the end. At the risk of sounding arrogant (or at least knowledgeable), I already suspected most of this before the workshop, but being told it really gave me a motivational push. It’s further proof that I’m on the right track as a writer, and that my general attitude and way of thinking about the world is perfectly in line to being a writer.

As someone that has had difficulty choosing a career and finding a niche in the world before, that is a very powerful and glowy-fluffy-feeling thing to happen.
My Panel on The Secret Life of an Editor

This was my first ever time on a panel, and a hurdle I needed to get over. I want to be a career writer, and need to face this public speaking thing in every way possible. Not to mention that since attending my first BristolCon, I really wanted to be on a panel and discuss things because it looked like a lot of fun.

I was more nervous than I gave myself credit for, the real terror settling in about two hours before my panel was due to start. Once it was time for the panel though, I settled down surprisingly well, and wasn’t shaking as much as I was during the open mic. I think part of it was that there were fewer people there this time, and that I’d already been in the same room speaking less than twenty four hours earlier.

Once the panel started, I felt extremely glad for Cheryl’s tips on using a mic, as there was no stand and I had to hold the mic myself. I also utilised the reading tip of making eye contact with the audience because it felt right, and was relived to find that it didn’t make me want to run away screaming.

I’ve yet to receive any feedback about how others thought did on the panel, but I feel I made some good points and managed to get a few laughs from the crowd (bonus points for the laughter being in the right place and not strained too). Although I will offer my apologies to the others on the panel as I realised after I was so busy concentrating on not tripping over my own tongue, that I only realised afterwards that I didn’t speak to them very much at all.

Overall, I’ll be more than happy to volunteer for panel duty in the future, and I don’t think I’ll be anywhere near as nervous the next time either.

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