Sunday, November 01, 2009

Literary Manchester

There's been so much literary happening recently, but I've been so busy with my own stuff I haven't had time to blog about much of it. First there was the Manchester Literature Festival, of which I only managed to blog the Fay Weldon event (briefly, and without reference to what she actually said). I put up some pics of Northern Salt which I took part in myself, but haven't even managed to blog it before now. Fortunately you can read detailed accounts of most of the events on the Manchester Festival blog.

Northern Salt was great fun. Not only was I reading with three other Salt authors - John Siddique, Mark Illis, and Robert Graham - but several other Salt authors came to the event: Steve Waling, Andrew Philip, Paul Magrs and Tony Williams, though Tony's train didn't get him there for the reading and he arrived as we were leaving the Whitworth, just in time not to miss us altogether, so he was able to come for coffee with us afterwards. Looking at that list I see I was the only girl amongst the boys (I didn't notice at the time: see, I just think of myself as one of the boys!), but then our lovely publisher Jen had come all the way up from Cambridge for the event, with a bag full of books for us all to sign, and Tony's brand-new copies. Also some of my female friends came to listen: among them my actor friend Mary-Ann Coburn, my erstwhile co-editor and short-story writer Ailsa Cox, and Ann French from the reading group - a real sacrifice from Ann, I'd say, since she surely spends enough time at the Whitworth as its textile conservator! Not that I even realized they were there until the end, as the audience was amazingly big for a Sunday afternoon. As we readers sat on the front row waiting for the start, Robert wanted to know which of us it was who had so many friends! MLF's Cathy Bolton gave us glowing introductions (as Robert said, it made you think: Is she talking about me?) and I loved the readings the others gave. The questions took us a little by surprise: I guess it's hard not to ask general questions of a largish group of writers, and we ended up talking about teaching creative writing and being published by a small independent, and even the somewhat academic question of the difference between poetry and prose! Here we are on the left wondering about the audience behind us:

What else besides MLF? Well, I went to a packed final evening of JB Shorts - the evening of short plays by TV writers at the Joshua Brooks pub - or rather, correction, I went to the second part of the final evening, having attended Michael Schmidt's memorable darkened launch at the Epinay champagne bar first. (Below is my pic of Michael reading by mobile phone flashlight), missing Trevor Suthers' play which I'd been particularly keen to see, not only because I'd promised him I'd go but because I'd been told it was brilliant. I was especially disappointed when, arriving, I found that actor Arthur Bostrom had been in it. The second half, which included a black comedy by Dave Simpson and a startling take on Brief Encounter by Peter Kerry, was excellent, and I'm not surprised that the whole enterprise has been nominated for a Manchester Evening News award. (There are also 12 24:7 nominations for this award, including several from three of the plays I put forward after initial reading because I loved them, and so I'm really chuffed).

Then on Thursday there was the first in this year's MMU series of readings, the launch of books from Carcanet by the innovative Matt Welton and Jeremy Over who was new to me. Adrian Slatcher offers his take on the evening over at The Art of Fiction. And last night John and I managed - just in time - to see Punk Rock by Simon Stephens at The Royal Exchange, which I expected much of but was rather disappointed in. About a group of students in a Stockport private-school library, it seemed to me a play which couldn't decide on its own focus and theme, and the Columbine-school-style ending struck me as lazy and gratuitous, inadequate as a pay-off for the various issues the play had raised. Plus, the loud music between scenes not only added nothing but was almost enough to make us throw ourselves off the top gallery where we were sitting.

Maybe I'll stay in a bit now...

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