My Village and Other Aliens: Terence Blacker's confessions of a Fringe virgin - Features - Theatre & Dance - The Independent

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
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week