Monthly Archives: October 2014

Giving Good Reading

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I’m reading at an event tonight in Dublin city centre, and I thought I might share some advice about the art of reading, from what I’ve learned so far. I’m always nervous beforehand and it takes me a little while to warm up into it, so I try to come prepared.

A reading is a performance. Think of it as you being on TV and trying to get people from channel hopping. The only way they’re going to stay with you is if you keep them entertained. So, it’s good to find a passage or chapter in your book that includes a few laughs, if there are any. If you can find a passage that combines a bit of comedy with pathos, all the better.

Rehearse your reading beforehand, a few times. Try out voices for your characters, but don’t make them caricatures. If a character has an accent, give him or her just a flavour of that accent in your reading. Only gently differentiate between who is talking with the voices you try out.

Try to inject drama into dialogue. Imagine you are in a room by yourself, writing the dialogue. Speak it the way you hear it.

The one big mistake first time readers make is going too fast. The urge is to read at a gallop, getting it all out there and getting off the podium as fast as you can. Take breaths between paragraphs. Let the audience settle with little beats between the scenes, or between pieces of dialogue. But don’t make it too long! Choose a chapter or passage that’s no more than 1,000 words.

When it comes to doing the actual reading, if you have actually had a book published in print form, do not read from a kindle or tablet device. Show the people what you are reading from. Readers of books get excited by authors – the proof that you are one helps generate that excitement.

And lastly, always end on a note that makes the listeners want more. Don’t read a chapter from the end, or even near the end of your book. Make them care about the story, then leave it hanging.

They might even buy the book then!

Zero Tolerance On Homophobic Language

Brendan Courtney

On a recent Sunday I was in a shop in a suburb of Dublin buying my newspaper, when Ryan Tubridy walked in. Two young men were ahead of me in the queue, and one turned around to tell The Late Late Show presenter that he was “only a piece of shite”.

Such is the lot of the celebrity in this small country, where it’s nigh on impossible to hide from public view. People form adverse opinions, whether you like it or not, and they feel the freedom to voice them if you happen to appear in actual flesh and blood in their path.

If you are a gay celebrity, as Brendan Courtney has reported, people who have adverse feelings about homosexuality will make you a public target for their prejudices. By your very visibility, you instantly become a whipping boy, or girl, for the overt homophobes.

Courtney (pictured above) was one of the first proper gay celebrities on Irish TV, courageously out and proud from the very start of his career. I’m sure he made a conscious choice not to hide his sexuality from the limelight, but he probably didn’t fully anticipate the consequences of that choice. On the streets of Dublin and every other Irish city, town or village, where gay couples don’t hold hands for fear of being verbally abused, or worse, what chance does an unapologetic gay man who regularly graces our television screens have of escaping unscathed?

Of course it’s not you, dear Herald reader, who is out on the streets shouting ‘faggot’ at Brendan Courtney, or ‘dyke’ at Anna Nolan, or ‘queer’ at Alan Hughes. It’s not you I have to fear if I feel the urge to lean over and kiss my partner of twelve years in a communal space. The people venting their ignorance in this fashion are a tiny element, and they don’t represent the vast majority of Irish people, who do not harbour homophobic thoughts or feelings.

But think for a minute about where the permission for this minority to behave in such a way might come from.

My nephew is seven. He goes to a school on an idyllic country road that has four teachers and a headmistress. A few weeks ago he came home and said something about a boy in his class being gay. The other kids were laughing at this boy, and my nephew couldn’t understand why.

My friend’s son is 13. He’s in a large secondary school in Dublin. He’s just getting into girls, and all the regular teenage stuff. But lately another boy has started calling him a ‘faggot’. This has begun causing him sleepless nights. He doesn’t know how to respond without making things worse.

We live in a country where tacit permission is given to people to shout homophobic abuse at Brendan Courtney on the street. We live in a country where the kids who bully other kids, using the ‘gay’ word and making lives a misery, are somehow empowered and condoned.

The only way to deny that permission and empowerment is to have zero tolerance for terms of homophobic abuse, and zero tolerance for the equation of the word ‘gay’ with anything negative.

Some of the many babies born in Ireland this week might be gay. Does it seem right that they enter an educational system at the age of five that denies who they are, or quietly deems them as less deserving of respect? We have to start at the very beginning. Children in our national schools should be taught that gay and lesbian people are deserving of love and equal respect, from day one. At home, they should be told that being gay is a normal part of life, and that gay children and straight children are just the same as each other. No differentiation should be made for them between families where there are same-sex parents, or opposite-sex parents. They should be told they are loved unconditionally not despite of who they are, but because of who they are.

Only then will they grow up in a world where the likes of Brendan Courtney can walk down a street without fear of abuse. Only then will they grow up in a world where they can one day hold their partner’s hand, with love, without even thinking about it.

Published in The Herald, Ireland, October 9, 2015