Zoë Norton Lodge on storytelling and performance
Zoë Norton Lodge is the author of Almost Sincerely. Here she tells us about how she came to write her book, and her love of storytelling.
My book is a series of short stories about me, my family and the place I grew up – a suburb in Sydney called Annandale. Taking the maxim ‘write what you know’ to uncomfortable extremes, I have literally just written about people I know and stuff that happened to me. In that sense it’s a very petty book.
I wanted to find different ways to tell these stories, playing with language, voice and style, to hopefully give each each of them a character befitting of their nature. This was definitely one of my challenges. As was trying not to swear too much. There are still a few artfully placed swears, but they don’t form the foundation of the manuscript as they would have if I didn’t have an editor.
My favourite reaction to my book will always be my family’s. Like lambs to the slaughter those guys just can’t get enough of reading about themselves, even if it’s largely terrible and slanderous. I guess they live by the ‘all publicity is good publicity’ code.
A lot of people have told me that they have genuinely laugh out loud while reading it. Maybe they’re just being nice, who can say. But they’re probably telling the truth, right? I choose to respond to criticism in the same way I read my star sign. When it’s good, I believe it unquestioningly. When it’s bad it’s a load of shit.
A lot of my stories had their origins in performance – in cruder, far swearier forms. There are some big differences between reading aloud and writing it down. Firstly, you get away with a lot when you perform – a story riddled with plot-holes and lacking a discernable ending can be a triumph if you sell it properly and ply your audience with wine in advance. Whereas the page demands a certain amount of attention to detail and taking your time with things.
Another big difference is that on the stage you know immediately if you’ve done a good job because people laugh or they don’t. Also, people will come up to you afterwards and tell you what they think. Everything’s a bit more delayed and uncertain on the page. Also, one thing I’m just coming to terms with is that it’s permanent. A performance sparkles and fades into memory but this book will hang around. At least until the excess stock gets pulped.
At the end of the day, my book is an exercise in my favourite thing, storytelling. What I’ve learned from six years of doing Story Club (Sydney’s premier storytelling night that I co-founded) is that if you tell a personal and revealing story, where you give a little piece of yourself away, there’s no limit to who your audience can be. Because at the end of the day, we’re all a bit awful, and we all love to peek and prod at other people’s dark insides.