Alchemy Labs is far more modest project for English-speaking writers in Prague, aimed at honing their work and preparing it for public performance. The idea was launched at the ten-year anniversary of the Alchemy Readings and Performances Series in September, 2012. That anniversary evening celebrated the publishing of my husband’s books and it felt quite fitting to come up with a new concept (no offense, Jim).

Reading for People

Being a good writer and a good performance-reader are two very different skills. I know this particularly well, because I’ve been a notoriously poor reader ever since childhood. I don’t mind lecturing to a crowd, as long as I’m not required to read something to them. When I let other people read my work, it sounds like proper literature, when I read it, everyone yawns as I fight my way through. Yet, sooner or later, most writers end up facing the challenge of delivering a public-reading and most have very little practice.

This is not to be confused with stage-fright, which might play a minor role as well. Reading fiction or reciting poetry are particular skills that are best delivered by actors. Thus writers simply must train themselves to present their work in style. The best way to hone these skills is, of course, in a safe environment, among friends. This was the primary reason for the Alchemy Labs – to create a safe and comfortable environment.

Its other general aims were to create a weekly get-together, where people can bring their work-in-progress, ask questions, provide each other with feedback, help one another edit their work and discuss ideas. Regularity is key, because the public Alchemy readings take place only once a month, our weekly Alchemy Lab keeps the motivation between events.

The Group

The group that quickly formed has some regulars (a handful of people devoted to writing every single week) and a wider list of occasional writers, who stop by when they have something to share. We try to keep it as informal and comfortable as possible. We currently meet in our living-room, someone brings cookies, I make a pot of tea, someone else may open a bottle of wine and we get to work. Whoever doesn’t fit in our small space sits on big pillows on the floor. Our cat gets an extra dose of petting and it all works somehow.

What really surprised me, though, was the unique composition of people and styles of work. One evening, I looked around our living room and there were an Israeli poet and painter, a young Lebanese writer and singer, a British writer and war correspondent, a Philippine writer and actress, a British writer and musician, a couple of American writers, a British professor of literature, myself, and another Czech girl, who writes of her travels in South America.

Wait! Didn’t the Lebanese and Israelis shoot at each other a few decades ago? And what about America and the Philippines? All these people are outstanding writers and half of them not even native English-speakers? This is globalization in practice. These people didn’t come together in a cultural exchange symposium, a youth summer camp or college dormitory, they live and work in Prague and came together independently – to work together and support one another’s talent! After twenty years in this community, it shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but it did.

Alchemy Labs was my brainchild, coming as a response to complaints that the Alchemy Readings were too far apart. But, like Alchemy Readings, it’s intended as a communal effort and I’m fine with someone else taking over organization of it one day. Writers’ groups tend to be short-lived, so it’s nice to see that this one has some vigor to it. For now, my living room fills with stories, poems, laughter, and interesting discussions every Sunday evening and, of course, it’s still open to newcomers 🙂