My Village and Other Aliens: Terence Blacker's confessions of a Fringe virgin

Independent columnist Terence Blacker makes his Edinburgh Festival debut this week with a show of storytelling and songs. He reveals the pain and pleasure of creating a work for the stage rather than the page

The author is on stage, doing what authors do. He tells stories and talks about himself, with one or two knowing insights into the writing life. Then suddenly – hello, what's going on here? – he reaches down, picks up a guitar and bursts into song. It is not, frankly, what you would expect. The literary world, for all its brave talk of reaching new audiences, tends to take itself rather seriously. A discreet cordon sanitaire is maintained between it and the vulgar world of showbusiness.

This is my year of liberation from all that. Rather than sitting on a stage at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, reading gently from my latest work and answering polite questions about the writing process, I shall be on the Fringe, performing in a cabaret bar a one-man show of stories and songs called My Village and Other Aliens.

There are admittedly a few literary references in the show – Flaubert gets a look-in, as do D H Lawrence and Sir Kingsley Amis – but they are in the slightly unusual context of a modern village life. My narrator, a humble village writer – "a chronicler of the human heart", as he likes to call himself – follows the fortunes of a local character called Pervy John, mixes with expats in France, becomes messily involved in a marriage that has an unconventional online life. He is looking, with increasing desperation, for material.

When I first mentioned to friends my idea of performing a show on the Edinburgh Fringe, it's fair to say that there was a certain amount of head-shaking. To all appearances, it looked and sounded like the classic career freakout.

Yet telling stories this way feels new and interesting. Until quite recently, writing songs was therapy for me, an escape from the day job. When my most recent novel, The Twyning, was going through a tricky stage (it is part-narrated by a rat, which brings its own technical difficulties), I would take refuge in writing stories of different kind to music.

After I had delivered the book, something odd happened. The songs not only became increasingly important to me, but they seemed to have left behind them a sort of imaginative residue. I began to write short stories which were connected – sometimes directly, sometimes at a tangent – to the subjects of the song.

When, at a literary event, I read one of the stories and, halfway through the reading, sang the song which had inspired it, the audience responded well. I felt as if I was on to something: the music added a charge of emotion, a splash of colour, a joke, to the written narrative. It was an exciting moment.

I have learned as a writer to trust these unexpected turns , these urges to follow an uncharted path, however mad they may seem at the time. I began to work on a sustained story, or at least a connected series of stories, which would be a fusion of music and fiction.

It was fun to write but, unlike my usual work, it inescapably involved performance. There was really only one place to take a show that fitted no recognisable genre. The Edinburgh Fringe may be brutally competitive with almost 3,000 shows – loud, brash, young – vying for attention, but a month in front of its famously demanding audiences seemed likely to tell me whether what I was doing was as enjoyable and interesting to see as it was to create.

I had no idea how different writing for performance was from writing for the page until the brilliant Cressida Brown, artistic director of the Offstage Theatre, became involved. With Cress, I went through the script and discovered, sometimes painfully, that it was the very paragraphs which seemed to work best in written form that had to go.

Used to playing the role of a writer appearing at a literary festival – mumbling, faux-bashful, only truly at ease when behind a podium and reading – I discovered from Cress that I had to change. "I need three times the energy," she said at my first read-through. I had to "find ideas in the air", not somewhere around my feet. I had to "push to the end of the line", not taper off apologetically.

Performing the songs I found relatively easy: they are in different voices and a tune provides its own drama, but working on the narration has been an eye-opening process. With a written story, one can get away with being a bystander, telling the story. With a performance, there are unavoidable questions: why is this man telling me all this? Who is he? What's his game? There are two plots – the one that is being told, and the one that is unspoken.

I became the village writer, a name-dropping, socially inept, burnt-out case. The show, rather to my surprise, is partly about 21st-century life and partly about writing. Its previews, which have taken place this month, have been startlingly enjoyable, not to mention revealing. Audiences have been generous; it has begun to feel as if my original idea – that stories and songs can add to one another – is shared by others.

The excitement of the Edinburgh Fringe is infectious and empowering, a blast of rude energy which is startling to someone used to the genial, battered fatalism which tends to accompany the launch of a book. During this final countdown before my month of performance at the Zoo Southside cabaret bar, there's a heady sense that anything is possible.

Or is that the illusion of a Fringe virgin? I shall be reporting in these pages on how the reality turns out. After one of this month's previews, my friend and colleague Virginia Ironside, who has triumphantly performed her own show at the Edinburgh Fringe, said that she envied me the excitement and the heartache which lay ahead of me.

Heartache? What on earth was she talking about?

Terence Blacker's 'My Village and Other Aliens', Zoo Southside, Edinburgh (0131 662 6892; zoofestival.co.uk) 2 to 26 August (not 12 or 19) 5.30pm

Watch Terence Blacker performing three of his songs below:

I'd Rather Be French

 

Do you remember the evening?

 

Do you remember the evening?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on