I’ve spent most of the weekend recording some of my stories, digitally, with an old Sony Handycam – I’m nothing if not, not quite up to date!

OK, so it’s a little self centred. OK! It’s a lot self centred. But I wanted to get down into some sort of record how I think the stories should be read. It’s been an instructive exercise. It sprang out of some frustrations I experienced while working through the editing process for a collection of stories due out from Pewter Rose later this year.

A comment from my editor at Pewter Rose, Anne McDonnell, that some of the stories might work better as they were at a reading, rather than they would on the page – to get them to work better on the page, we would need to make some changes.

The page has always seemed secondary to me, to the voice; the eye secondary to the ear. I’m in defensive company here. Since the invention of the printing press, the page has been dominant. One reason for this, is that you can’t access the page without learning how to read, and learning to read can, to a large extent be controlled. Being controlled, it can be offered, as a privilege, or a reward, or as a bribe, or as an entrance to a brotherhood (or sisterhood). [Did you know, by the way, that the most common hotel name in Britain, from cursory research, appears to be the ‘Hotel Entrance’?]

My editor’s comment sparked a light bulb moment – If I think the page secondary, why am I not putting more effort into putting more stories down on voice? Liars league have been good to me in that respect. In London, Leeds, and now in New York, they have been taking my stories every now and then, for the last few years, and I have to confess to getting a belt of pure enjoyment off that, that equals any I have got from on the page appearances…. The prize money from ‘the page’ has been helpful though –

And, there is no doubt, that as a means of recording words, the page is a wonderful invention. I’ve worked as a book seller. Believe me, I came across far more books from the seventeen hundreds, and the sixteen hundreds too, that were in good, and page-wise even perfect condition, than I did sound recordings of the same period.

But I do tend to see the page of text, as similar to the page of music score – accomplished musicians can read music just as we lesser mortals, who have benefited from an education, can read text. They can imagine the sound of the instruments, just as we imagine the sound of the words; but they don’t, so far as I know, believe in quite the same way, that the music belongs on the page, and that to turn it into sounds is a lesser thing to do than to stick to imagining it. In my less savoury moments I have been known to think that the dominance of the page is in a large part down to the fact that ‘we have it, and they do not!’ [you’ll have to work the ‘we’s and ‘they’s out for yourself – and the quotation is from a jingle about the maxim gun – not a lot of people – who haven’t been military booksellers – know that!]

 

Back to that recording exercise…. I thought I should read a handful of my stories, maybe a hundred would be a nice round figure, just so I had some record of how I thought they should be read. Liars League get actors in, who, as musicians with music, create a performance of the piece, and one which often shows up flaws, and good qualities too, that had got in there quite accidentally, or as we prefer to say, sub-consciously. I think of my readings as a sort of director’s cut of the stories; with the publisher’s and other versions, being a sort of producer’s version.

The interesting thing, to me, was that as I worked through the process, I found – perhaps not surprisingly – that the read version, is often not quite the same as the written version, even when you’re working from what you might think of as the ‘official’ text.

I like to tell myself that this is the true, and ephemeral, story re-asserting itself: the pre-sound recorded, pre-printed, version, that pops into your head, one word ahead of your eyes on the page, to knock a conjunction out here, put a preposition in there, just to remind you that language is a slippery, fast moving number, that you may have pinned down with a slash of ink, but which you haven’t, and probably never will have, entirely subdued! Am I right in thinking that the idea of a story being word perfect, whether digitally or inkily recorded, is itself only a side effect of the invention of printing?

 

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