Short Shrift – A presentation of work
Litfest’s contribution to July’s First Friday was months in the making. Earlier this year a group of writers set out on a short story writing course commissioned by Litfest and directed by Jenn Ashworth. Jenn is a brilliant writer and former tutor of mine, she has a strong publishing record in the short story genre and her latest novel The Friday Gospels got rave reviews. Under her guidance these emerging writers thrived and the work they have produced is of a very high standard. ‘Short Shift – A presentation of work’ was to be the finale of the course: a public reading of the work that the participants had created and developed over many weeks.
On the night we had a large, lively audience of forty people and the evening opened with Jenn explaining a bit about the course and what she herself had learnt from the process. She talked about the different explanations that they had come up with to explain what a short story did: giant turtle eggs that only occasionally bore fruit being one of the most memorable. But my favourite – Jenn’s also – was an image that had been suggested by another writer, Kirsty Logan, at a previous Litfest event in May. Kirsty is an established writer herself; her entrancing collection of short stories – The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales – and her debut novel The Gracekeepers have both been very well received. Kirsty described short stories as being like a keyhole, they only occupy a small space but through them you can see so much of the world beyond.
This was definitely the case for the wide ranging body of work presented that Friday Night. Spanning the adventures of sentient clothing, complex migrant relationships depicted through football, childhood jealousies gone terribly wrong, bizarre instances of magical realism and the beginning of an intriguing Sci-Fi piece. Not all of the pieces were complete, indeed many were part of larger works and left us desperately wanting more.
The event was the culmination of months of work for the course participants and, of course, for Jenn herself. I’m pleased to say that all that work showed. The readings were incredibly assured, I don’t think there was one stumble in all of the pieces. Unfortunately two of the participants were unable to attend, but one had work read in absentia and the course members who were present acquitted themselves admirably.
By the end of the evening the audience had been enraptured, amused and moved by each piece. We laughed out loud at the wry wit and canny eye for detail whilst also being profoundly disturbed by the darker subject mater. One thing is for certain, Karen Featherstone, Fat Roland, Paul Pavli, Karen Burns, Shirley Osborn and Mark Perry are certainly names to watch out for in the future.