Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Best British Short Stories 2014 event at Edge Hill

Last night we had a most enjoyable event for Best British Short Stories 2014, organised at Edge Hill University by fellow contributor Ailsa Cox. Also reading were Claire Dean, Vicki Jarrett and Richard Knight (Richard arriving by the skin of his teeth after getting stuck in the rush hour on the M58!) It was very interesting to hear about the journey of the others' stories into this anthology, and great to hear them read aloud. I'm afraid the photos aren't so hot - I made John use my phone which he'd never used before and didn't get the hang of in time - but I thought I'd stick them in just to give some sense of it all.

Vicki (above) told us that her story, 'Ladies' Day',  first appeared in an anthology from enterprising Scottish independent publisher Freight before being picked up for BBSS by series editor Nicholas Royle. It's an account of a group of housebound young mums attempting with a day at the races to escape the inevitable sense of being sidelined (and stereotyped) in their role - amusing yet also very touching.


It turned out that Claire's story, 'Glass, Bricks, Dust', had its first outing in an academic publication: she had been asked to write a modern fairy story (this is her specialty) along with an essay explaining her process and rationale. The story, concerning a young boy playing on a pile of demolition rubble and a mysterious lamppost on which a host of black birds perch, is indeed a fairytale, yet, as we discussed in the brief Q and A at the end, there's also something very concrete about it, and a strong sense of the reality of place - an affecting combination that characterises her work generally.


Ailsa's haunting 'Hope Fades for the Hostages' was originally commissioned for an anthology accompanying an exhibition at the Bluecoat Gallery in Liverpool on the theme of night-time. It's an impressive orchestration of the viewpoints of three separate people awake at the same time in the night and caught with the thoughts that 3 am brings - very tense, and very moving.


Richard's story, 'The Incalculable Weight of Water' brings to vivid life a reservoir on Saddleworth Moor as the lone protagonist thinks of his wife in the cafe below waiting tensely for important news, and comes upon something unexpected in the water. It was first published online as a result of being shortlisted in the Manchester Writing Competition.


My story, 'Tides, or How Stories Do or Don't get Told', was first published online in The View From Here (now sadly discontinued). I'd been at Edge Hill last week for a reading by the brilliant Kevin Barry, winner of the 2013 Edge Hill Prize for the short story, and he said at one point during the Q & A that he isn't so keen on the well-rounded story with a satisfying ending, since life just isn't like that. As I said last night, I tend to agree, and the more I write the more strongly I hold that view. This particular story, which begins with the narrator struggling to tell a story based on a single memorised moment - a moment when she and her partner stand watching the tide come in - is actually about that idea.

There was a brief Q & A when we discussed the importance of place in stories. There was general acknowledgement that naming a setting can help readers imagine and identify, but Vicki and I both said that we tend not to if we can help it, because of the danger of, on the one hand, readers bringing ready-made connotations that are not necessarily useful to a story, and, on the other, of creating a sense of exclusion for readers who aren't familiar in life with a place. We were all agreed, however, that atmosphere was important, and a strong sense of place (named or unnamed) creates it.

Here are some of us milling in the interval:


Thanks so much to Ailsa, to our editor Nicholas Royle, and of course to our publishers Salt. And last, but not least, to the audience.
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