This is a guest post from one of our regular storytellers, Mel.
The first time I read a short story aloud the paper was shaking, the edges softening in my sweaty hands, and I was clenching so hard trying not to crap myself.
A few years before, I’d stumbled into a storytelling night, which I later realised was the first ever Let Me Tell You a Story, Jack. An enthusiastic Belgian guy was telling a story about giving out free hugs in Iran. He’d only been in Bristol for a few days – he was there to be with a girl he met whilst travelling. That enthusiastic guy is Sven, and I went to his wedding last year. I still remember how I felt hearing his story: excitement, apprehension, fear. I’ve done a fair bit of travelling and know what it’s like to feel that mixture of liberation and terror when you pack your backpack. It’s the fear of running out of money. That you’ll get lost or stranded. That you’ll miss home. All those things happened to me, but I didn’t go home – I stayed regardless of my fear. Being out there was scary but being home was boring, and I’d rather be scared than bored. We never get to experience anything new unless we do something scary.
I’d been journaling for years but started writing short stories too whilst I was away travelling. The first story I wrote was about a talking alien cockroach who abducted a young woman. I said it was going to be a novel but then I stopped after about two pages. The second one started out as a short story, turned into a novella and then went back to a short story, then turned into a different short story. It was inspired by a place I’d been in northern Laos and was about a backpacker held hostage in the jungle. It’s fair to say that’s how I was processing some of my fears at the time. I knew at that point I would never – could never – stop writing.
I returned to the UK and co-founded Stokes Croft Writers, an eclectic group of fiction writers with dreams of world domination… or at least a bit of money and recognition for the stuff we write.
I wrote a story about an alien invasion via Facebook. It was called Poked by an Alien (but doesn’t it feel like about 50 years since we used to poke people on Facebook?) I found it hard enough sharing my work with people in writing groups at the start, but the thought of reading it aloud made my stomach churn. I hadn’t been back to Let Me Tell You a Story, Jack as I was often working evenings. But, my writing group had started attending storytelling events so I knew I had to keep up. If they were performing stories aloud, then I had to as well. I decided that Let Me Tell You a Story, Jack was the place to do it. They had a friendly audience and I would have my writing group and my boyfriend there to support me.
I read the alien story over and over and over again in preparation. I wasn’t just nervous as I arrived at Crofters, I’d been nervous the whole day. My rational self tried to kid my panicking self by pretending I wasn’t going to be reading anything. But that didn’t work. I can’t kid my own body. I questioned what could actually go wrong. I could stumble on my words, which would be no big deal really. But I could fall over on the way to the stage. Or I could wee myself. Or poo myself. Or projectile vomit over the audience… I pushed the thoughts out of my head and bought myself a large glass of wine.
The moment came and I walked up to the microphone instantly feeling ALL the eyes on me. All of them. I started reading from my shaking pieces of paper and I didn’t look up once. As I’d practiced so much, I went on autopilot – the words were coming out of my mouth hopefully in the right order. Though all I was thinking was…
I shouldn’t have worn this dress – I’m sweating – can they see I’m sweating – I bet they think I’m a big fat sweaty mess – they can probably see me shaking – oh God the paper is shaking so much – please don’t poo – just don’t poo – are the words still coming out? – oh yes they are – oh no, I’m not even halfway through – what if there’s pizza on my face – is something on my face? – or my hair – what if there’s cheese in my hair – Oh God, what if I didn’t put a bra on and they can see my nipples – okay good I think I did put a bra on – just don’t poo – just don’t poo…
And I didn’t poo.
I’ve read lots of times at storytelling night since then and you know what? I’ve never pooed myself. The more times I do something scary and don’t shit myself, the more I think… I’ve got this.
I must’ve read all the words in the right order because I won a prestigious Let Me Tell You a Story, Jack medal that night. I’m now the proud owner of two of these medals. Sven has a lifetime achievement award and an actual crown, though I haven’t seen it as he probably keeps it in an alarmed glass cabinet. Since my first reading, my writing group and I set up our own storytelling night called Talking Tales which I’ve read at numerous times. I’ve even been the compere and still didn’t poo myself. I entered Poked by an Alien into a the Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and came third. The fame went to my head and I bought a yacht… which cost only slightly more than my £25 prize winnings.
So the moral of this story is quite simple – if you have a story to tell then JUST DO IT. You probably won’t poo yourself, but if you do it’ll make for a really great story.
Thank you so much to Shonette and Will for facilitating such a friendly, supportive event. Here’s to lots more stories!
Mel Ciavucco is a Bristol-based fiction writer, blogger, screenwriter and content writer. She has been published online and in print, and has appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC2 and Radio 5 Live. She was recently called ‘the Liam Gallagher of flash’ for downing half a bottle of wine and swearing a lot during a story performance in the Bristol Festival of Literature Flash Slam.
Mel is just in the process of setting up her own freelance writing and editing business called Write Kerfuffle. She currently spends more on coffee and cake than she earns.