Live Writing: Where Writing Meets Performance


Posted filed under Experience.

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Last year David Varela wrote for 100 hours straight to raise money for the Arvon Foundation. Readers could watch every keystroke David made as he composed the commissions that people pledged for.

Now he has teamed up with writer, Gemma Seltzer, to produce a new Live Writing Series. Seven writers will be live writing at seven London venues between 25th October and 4th December. Visitors to the venue will be able to interact with the writers and once again readers will be able to watch them crafting the stories keystroke by keystroke.

We caught up with David and Gemma about the Live Writing Series and what it means for writers and readers.

Can you tell us a bit about how Live Writing works. What will the writers be doing and how will visitors and readers be able to interact with them?

David Varela: We’ve built a website – well, the wonderful Riccardo Cambiassi, Alex Heaton and Spela Strukelj have built a website – that shows every keystroke the writer makes, instantaneously, both online and on a big screen in the venue. Each writer is figuring out a slightly different way of deciding what to write. I’m going to be in a crowded gallery, so I’ll be asking people to write ideas down on paper and hand them to me, so I don’t get too overwhelmed. Sarah Butler is writing in a bookshop, so she’s asking visitors to hand her a book as a form of stimulus. We’ll also be inviting ideas online through the website and via Twitter (we’re @LiveWritingSrs).

Gemma Seltzer:  Members of the public  – in the venue and online – can ‘commission’ a short literary work or influence the writing in some way. They could write down an idea, a word or a provocation. It would then be up to the writer to choose how to respond: a continuous narrative or individual pieces that somehow incorporated the suggestions.

What inspired you to launch the Live Writing Series?

DV: After my 100 Hours experience, I was buzzing and ready for more. That sense of improv and having a live audience is a serious thrill – and I thought other writers would enjoy it too. I was struck by how much people enjoyed watching a story unfold as it is crafted, so I’m confident that there’s an audience for this new form of work. We’ll see.

GS: David and I put our heads together and came up with a plan that we hoped would bring live writing to a bigger audience, challenge authors and poets, and encourage venues to think differently about how writers can work within their buildings.

You’ve got a fantastic line-up of writers and venues. It’s a pretty new, not to mention nerve-wracking concept, did you have to do much convincing?

GS: We’ve scared off a few writers with the very idea of sharing their work in front of readers, but mainly we’ve had a great response from everyone. Venues are interested in how to programme literary activity in their spaces in new ways, and writing can be a form of entertainment for their audiences. We’re exploring the impact of technology on how writers write and the new possibilities of bringing writing into real life.

DV: It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. The writers who’ve chosen to take part are very open about their process already or have some element of performance in their work, but this is still a new experience for all of them. I think no less of those writers who demured…

Gemma, you’re off Live Writing around London on 7th November, what are you most looking forward to? What’s your biggest fear?

GS:  We wanted to find a way of making the project genuinely London-wide, bringing together iconic buildings, the red buses and the night foxes. Our venues cover north to south London, so I’m travelling east to west and writing in places I find along the way. I had a go at live writing at Jewish Book Week in 2013, producing a series of stories for audiences. I watched how people interacted, and the scenes that unfolded in front of me, as a stimulus for my work. It was great fun, and I can’t wait to have another go … but this time I’ll be on the move! I always like writing in real time, from real life. My only fear is unreliable wifi.

What’s next for Live Writing?

GS: We’re so excited to see how writers and readers respond to the project, and have high hopes for the next phase. For me, this project is about the fleeting nature of words, how moments come and then they go – a writer can capture in words, but still the instant has passed. We’re not intending to publish the writing – once it’s written it’s gone – showcasing a selection of work on the website instead. In the future, we might consider how to share the writing in print. That’s phase two…

DV: Each of the events in the Series is something of an experiment to see what format, style, venue and audience works best and in which combination. We’re going to learn a lot, and that will influence our planning. But there are definitely plans. Oh yes.

The Live Writing Series is taking place at venues all over London between 25th October and 4th December 2013.

You can watch the stories unfold online here. Or visit the writers in situ at the following locations:

25th October: David Varela at the National Portrait Gallery

1st November: Sarah Butler at Woolfson and Tay bookshop

7th November: Gemma Seltzer around London (spot her out and about or watch online)

13th November: writer tbc at The Jewish Museum

20th November: Jacob Sam-La Rose at the Deptford Lounge

30th November: Molly Naylor at the Roundhouse

4th December: writer tbc at the Clore Ballroom at the South Bank Centre


David Varela is a writer and producer working in a huge range of media, including theatre, radio, film, games and interactive drama. He started writing live online in 2012, when he spent 100 hours taking commissions in Ted Hughes’ old house for a fundraising project called 100 Hours of Solitude. The tech for that project – developed by Riccardo Cambiassi and Alex Heeton – now forms the basis of the Live Writing Series site.

Gemma Seltzer is a writer working online, live and in print. Her digital writing projects include The View from Here , original stories produced live; 5am London , a fictional blog; and. Look up at the Sky, which charted the peaceful parts of the city through walking and writing. Gemma is the author of blog-to-book Speak to Strangers, 100 stories of a hundred words about random conversations with Londoners (Penned in the Margins, 2011). She has presented her work on BBC radio, at Latitude festival and the Venice Biennale. Gemma was writer in residence for the Olympic torch relay in

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