Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My September

September started as it meant to go on, with a reading at Bristol's Thunderbolt pub on Sept 1st, sharing the bill with musician Richard Burley, as part of the monthly Word of Mouth event run by the inimitable Bertel Martin - thanks Bertel for the fantastic (and perhaps fantastical!) introduction! That was my first event in our new home town, which felt great. No pics of that event, but news to report is that it was divided into two sets, and in the first set I read some pieces from my book. In the interval I realised that I didn't really want to do that any more, after 2 years it's hard to read those stories fresh - fresh for me and for an audience. So in the 2nd half I read newer stories and a few I'd never read out before, and that really gave me an energy boost, showed me that I need to read something different each time I read, take risks, walk that short story writer's tightrope!

Event No 2 was ShedFest, on Sept 11th, in this glorious structure above! Bristol's - and perhaps the UK's - first lit fest in a shed, we all had 5 minutes to read, which for me meant reading 3 flash stories including Drizzling, my shed story, which is fairly unfathomable on paper so who knows how it went down?! Thank you to Mike Manson for a wonderful evening, not just of great writing but of great food and socializing in between.

Then I headed out of the city to Birmingham on September 15th for the "There's Science in My Fiction... and Poetry" open mic night I'd organised at the British Science Festival, with my co-judges, science-loving writers and bloggers Sue Guiney and Brian Clegg. The event was free, no tickets needed, and held at the amazingly-gorgeous Old Joint Stock Pub function room, so we really had no idea who would show up. We had prizes at the ready:

(photo credit: B. Clegg)
and we waited... 

Wonderful to meet Alan Beard and get a copy of his brand-new short story collection, You Don't Have to Say, from Tindal Street Press, being launched this Thursday (more about Alan soon). And then the science-inspired writers flocked in! Well, ok, it was a small and intimate crowd, but that lend itself really well to discussions about using science in different ways, and to great readings. All those who came read poems - from the tale of the first forensic scientist to a quark love story, and poetry explaining the origins of the moon. They were all wonderful, many were magical, such a variety, we were delighted! I was a little sad that there were no other short story writers, so next time we'll get you out of the woodwork! Congrats to our winner, Heather Wastie, and to everyone who came, readers and audience, and my esteemed fellow judges, it was a really fun event!

The White Road and Other Stories in the Frank O'Connor Fest window display in the wonderful Cork Waterstone's, who were so welcoming when I went in and signed a couple.
 The next day I flew to Cork to one of the biggest annual treats for a short story writer: The Frank O'Connor Festival. I had last been here 2 years ago, the week after The White Road and Other Stories was published, so had been in a state of mild hysteria the whole time. It was like short story summer camp that year, I met so many writers who have become great friends, from Alison McLeod and Adam Marek to Wena Poon and Nuala Ní Chonchúir. This year, it was the American contingent, as 5 of the 6 shortlistees for the 35,000 euro Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award were Americans: Belle Boggs, Robin Black, Laura van den Berg, Ron Rash and TC Boyle (who didn't come due to injury), alongside David Constantine from the UK. 

Robin Black and I had been online friends, it was lovely to finally meet her, and to meet Laura van den Berg, whose collection we'd recently reviewed on the Short Review. I read on the Thursday night with Belle Boggs, whose stories I hadn't read and whose writing enchanted me! She read the first half of her story, Jonas, from her collection, Mattaponi Queen. Here we both are, relieved, after the reading.

(Photo: C Hershman)

As well as that event, I took part in a flash fiction reading in downtown Cork in support of Irish support of the arts, and in a panel discussion about the short story and new media, which both excited and terrified me! I have no pictures from the rest of the 4-day extravaganza, but the festival's photographer, the legendary John Minihan, will have done a far better job anyway, will link to those when they're online. Suffice it to say, it was non-stop readings, so many excellent writers, including Karen Russell, author of St Lucy's School for Girls Raised by Wolves, and Nyk de Vries, a writer from Holland whose ultra-short stories and prose poems and ultra-dry delivery just delighted us all. Every night the festivities moved to the local tapas bar where writers and readers mingled, ate and listened to more readings. Read Nuala's blog post about Tess Gallagher and Belle Boggs' blog here.Madeline D'Arcy reading her short story with props was a wonderful experience!

The highlight for me was listening to Nikita Nelin read his story, Eddie, I had chosen from 849 stories as the winner of 2010 Sean O'Faolain short story prize (full list of winners here). His story has a unique rhythm and poetry and I wanted to hear him read it. It brought tears to my eyes again and I heard things I'd never heard before, the mark of a great story. It will be published in Southword shortly, and Nikita wrote about his festival experiences on the Electric Literature blog. And huge congratulations to Ron Rash, winner of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award! 

Bleary-eyed and exhausted, I flew back to Bristol on Monday (was that just over a week ago? Really?) to rest up for the last few events. Then on Thursday, heavily medicated to decongest, I ran a workshop on research-inspired fiction at Bristol University's Engage conference on public engagement. I was pretty nervous, I'd never done anything like this before, but it was just talking about what I am passionate about so I hoped it would be ok. 13 of us - mostly scientists - discussed examples of fiction which uses science in different ways (see my web page here for examples) and then, after a tea break, we picked prompts from a recent copy of New Scientist and did some writing ourselves. The energy in the room was palpable, a flash-writing session always creates a wonderful buzz, and then most people read out what they'd written, a great variety of short shorts! I will write more about this in a guest blog post I've been asked to write for the Wellcome Collection blog shortly. 

If you're feeling exhausted by all this then perhaps stop here and don't read about how the next morning, sneezing and coughing, I headed off to Lewes, Sussex, to the Small Wonder festival! It's held in Charleston, the glorious house that was home to Virginia Woolf's sister, Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant:

(photo: Axel Hesslenberg)

If you are anywhere near, you must go and visit, it's as if they just stepped out and might be back any minute, a house whose air is filled with creativity and experimentation.
After attending the Small Wonder short story festival for several years as an audience member, I felt incredibly lucky to be invited to do a session on Flash Fiction, with my great friend and writing colleague Vanessa Gebbie. V and I met through flash fiction in 2006 and so it was lovely to be up there on stage with her, talking about what flash fiction is and might be and reading 10 short short stories between us. Here we are in full flow:

(photo: Axel Hesslenberg)

We did a book signing afterwards and then repaired back to the very special Authors' "Green Room", which is the main house's kitchen, for dinner before the Short Story Slam. What a fantastic evening it was, and the whole weekend's events were a continuation of the literary delights from Cork, more talk of short stories and writing, more amazing writers... Here are Adam Marek and David Vann talking about their Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award shortlisted stories:

It was wonderful to see Robin Black, Karen Russell and David Constantine again, as well as so many other familiar faces. Enormous thanks to Small Wonder artistic director Diana Reich and her fantastic team, and to Colin McKenzie, Charleston Trust Director, for a wonderful introduction and summing up, running with my metaphor about flash fiction and very short flights ("the Easyjet of the short story world")!

I'm sure I've missed some people out here, my brain still isn't working properly, apologies if I've made any omissions. I came back home on Sunday night, missing my train in London due to appalling traffic, but even that couldn't diminish my elation at the weekend's events. Yes, I'm still sneezing and coughing, but would I have missed any of it? Most certainly not! Vanessa and I already have another invite to do our Flash Double Act next year, more on that nearer the time... I'm going to eat a load of oranges now and wend my way back to doing some writing, slowly slowly.


Sue Guiney said...

Why does everything always happen at once. September really has been madness, and it's not done yet. Looks like you had a fantastic month, though. I'm glad I was a part of it!

Sarah Hilary said...

What an amazing month you had! I'm exhausted just reading about it. And great to see so much happening around and about the short story and flash.

Tania Hershman said...

Sue - I didn't even mention your book launch which is still in September, sorry! Will write about that afterwards... head spinning.

Sarah, it is exciting that there's so much short story activity, although a bit much for one week!

Lauri said...

What a fantastic month you had. I sort of prefer everything in a pile and then a pile of silence.
The photos are lovely too.


OMG! Bet you're glad you made the big move, girl. All sounds fun and it was great to re-connect with you in Cork. Hope to see you soemwhere else soon. Nu x

Vanessa Gebbie said...

It was smashing to share the stage at Small Wonder with you - and reading this post, Im just delighted you didnt collapse from exhaustion before we climbed the steps!


kate said...

Gosh, the Frank O'Connor Festival sounds brilliant - I never heard of it and I live there! If I had I would definitely have come! Does it happen every year and where do I get advance notice so I can book and put it in the diary and all that? I assume it's open to the public? So many writers I admire, like Karen Russell, Laura Van den Berg, Adam Marek and of course, yourself.

annie clarkson said...


Tania Hershman said...

Lauri, I am far better with small bursts of excitement with long silences between but I wouldn't have missed any of this for the world!

N - definitely, let's get together somewhere slightly less public next time :)

V - me too!

Kate - do go next time, it does happen ever year, as long as the budget isn't cut. Check out the link to the festival in my blog post, there might be a mailing list.

Annie - yup. Resting now. Oh yes, resting.