The Big Read

Friday, 26 January, 2007

When I was at Uni studying creative writing, once a semester (at least in the early part of my undergraduate years), we would have The Big Read. It was usually held in the Performance Space and all creative writing students were expected to attend. I think we occasionally got some outsiders as well—loyal supporters, perhaps—but I think that the quality of some of the work would have put some people off—too many pieces about love, sex and post-adolescent angst, etc. All creative writing students were expected to read, and they put their name down on a list. We had a 3-minute time limit, and one by one over the course of the evening (while the drinkers amongst us guzzled down glass after glass of cheap wine), we would get up to read to an audience of our peers. It was a good exercise because not only did it force us to actually write something and get a piece of writing to the stage where it was ready to be read to others, it also forced us to muster up the courage to put it out there and “perform” our work. Plus we got to hear what other people were working on which was always interesting as well.

In later years, the character of The Big Read changed. I suppose the lecturers got sick of hearing so much schlock so they would call in guest speakers (who were quite interesting—I remember hearing this woman give an extended dramatic monologue and she was great) and only let the senior students read. There were advantages to this format (one of them being that the event didn't stretch on into the small hours of the morning as we struggled to get through the list) but in a way think it's a shame that the students in younger years weren't subject to such a trial by fire in their creative development.

In the tradition of the Big Read, I started organising dinners for Word by Word (the writing group that Ben and I run). We had one last year in early November and I thought it would be good to kick off the year with another one. That was last night, and it went fairly well, considering the kind of day I had (the kind of day which found me spending most of it crying in my office trying vainly to work on The Briefing and not succeeding in getting much done [I wasn't crying about The Briefing though]. And since little acts of kindness should be remembered, let the world note that Elsie came and had lunch with me, and gave me a hug.)

I was expecting a full complement of 10 last night but the fates conspired against me (i.e. God was in sovereign control) so , in the end, Jo, Andrew and Guan could not make it. That left me, Ben, George, Larissa (a first-timer!), Matt, Little Rachel and Seamus. (Hang on, how did I get 10 out of that??? I forget. I can't count. Anyway ...) Quite a bloggers' gathering. I made poached ginger chicken again and got some nice comments from people who had thought it a bit silly to make those same nice comments on my blog. And we ordered takeaway Thai food—pad thai, pad pak, red curry, khee mao noodles and so on, and we drank punch with dinner.

The evening kicked off with me reading possibly my favourite Haruki Murakami short story of all time, “The Second Bakery Attack”. (You can find it in The Elephant Vanishes.) I love how the title just begs the question “What was the first bakery attack?” It's about a husband and wife who, after only two weeks of marriage, wake up in the middle of the night with terrible hunger pains (hence Little Rache's post). Well, I shouldn't tell you any more about it in case it spoils it for you but it's such a great story and I love telling it to people.

The other Word by Word-ers were very patient and let me read through all 14 pages of it, and then we started the readings—first Matt, then Little Rachel, then Seamus and then me. I read more of Bridget James's Diary (yes, I have been writing some more) which was well-received, even by some of the males among us.

Then I read out the chapter on “The Story Circle” from Writing Down the Bones (a story circle is when you gather a bunch of friends together, you sit around in a circle with a candle in the middle [candle is optional of course] and you tell stories—e.g. “Tell us a story you love to tell” or “Tell us about a time when you were really happy”). I got everyone to do it (and yes, we lit a candle) and I asked them all to tell me their favourite story. That was a little hard so the rules were sort of amended. Anyway, I ended up telling the story of Brooke, Ben's imaginary friend, and the days (which unfortunately don't appear in the Bencyclopedia) and I also told the story of how I went to see Into the Woods at the drama theatre at the Opera House, and went badly in a trivial maths exam the following day, and Little Rachel told the story of fooling their year advisor and how they used to play cards in the roof of the staff toilets, and George told us about the time she broke both her arms (which sounded awfully but at the same time was hilarious—George tells great stories and you can just tell she's a writer just waiting to happen).

And then it got to 10 pm and I kicked everyone (but Matt who was staying over) out of the house. Ben and I cleaned up while I chatted to Matt about all sorts of stuff and it was great because I don't think I've chatted to Matt for a very long time.

Next time I shall have to put in an addendum to my invitation that you are still allowed to come, even if you have nothing to read, because I heard through the grapevine that some regular Word by Word-ers (like Duncan) didn't come because they hadn't written anything. Shame on you!

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Hooray for more Bridget James! =D

Posted by sandra on 26 January, 2007 8:43 PM

Hey Karen, I had a fantastic time on Thursday night.  Your poached ginger chicken was excellent!  I’m looking forward to the next Word by Word meeting.  And I’ve been inspired to start writing some stories down - starting with the one about my dad as a 4-year old throwing sand at his brother through the school fence, and moving quickly on to how he hit his little friend Elizabeth over the head with a hammer (after she bit him) and how she stole his teddy bear.

Ah me, I am woefully sorry to have missed it :( especially as my grad calls aren’t going that well!

And I missed out on the ginger chicken!



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