Sunday, November 24, 2013

Know where your venue is

Last night we had a lovely Red Room evening at the Portico Library with its original Victorian shelves of leather-backed 'Polite Literature' and founded if I remember correctly by Elizabeth Gaskell's husband William - so apt for readings from a book of stories inspired by the Brontes. Our editor, A (Andrea) J Ashworth, whose brilliant idea the book was, introduced the five contributors who read: Bill Broady, Felicity Skelton, Rowena Macdonald, Vanessa Gebbie and me. A fair crowd turned up to listen, including another contributor to the collection, Sarah Dobbs, and the library staff  hosted us all handsomely, putting on a welcome spread of nibbles.



Only one blip, beforehand: I couldn't find the place! No-one would think that I'd been numerous times to the Portico for other readings, and that once I even went there regularly for meetings when I was a judge of the Portico Prize: walking along Moseley Street from Piccadilly I went straight past it and was almost at St Peter's Square before I realised. Worse: poor Vanessa was dragged along with me: we'd met three hours earlier only just up the road in Piccadilly Gardens, to chat and catch up, so expected to be at the venue in plenty of time. In the end, because of my error, we were hardly early at all! Partly this is because we were still chatting so hard I wasn't concentrating, and partly because the entrance is round the corner in Charlotte Street - and pretty modest, too: it really is like going through a secret door and up a tunnelling staircase which then opens out onto a magic world, the glowing lamplit library. Anyway, all was well in the end, and it was a great evening.

Photography was quite hard with my (by current standards) rather rudimentary camera, since, rather than creating an overall brightness, the library has retained the cosy, peaceful Victorian mode of spots of light for reading by, but John (who joined us) managed to take some pics with it.

First Bill Broady read his story 'Heathcliff versus Sherlock Holmes' which features a couple on a first date arguing comically about the merits of those two characters.



Next up was Felicity Skelton, whose story 'The Curate's Wife - a Fantasy' is about an imagined meeting on the lonely darkening moor between Charlotte Bronte and a famous figure from history (I won't reveal who!):





Then Rowena Macdonald read extracts from her longer 'A Child of Pleasure,' a story of two modern characters based on two from Charlotte Bronte's Villette. I followed with an extract from 'That Turbulent Stillness', my story of a girl who models herself too closely on Bronte heroines, and finally Vanessa read her hilarious feminist re-writing of the famous chapter in Jane Eyre, which begins, 'Reader, I married him.' Here are  Sarah Dobbs (left), me (centre) and Vanessa talking afterwards.


Thanks so much to the Portico Library staff, to Andrea and to the other contributors for their great readings, and to everyone who came to listen.

On Wednesday I'll be taking part in another reading for the book at Blackburn Library (7 pm), along with Sarah Dobbs and Carys Davies. (No advance booking: just turn up.) I don't actually know Blackburn, so if I fail at first to find the venue, at least this time it won't be through overconfidence that I know where it is!

Red Room is available from Amazon, The Book Depository, etc, and direct from the publisher, Unthank Books.
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