Elinor Johns rounds up MIRLive.

Images © Peter Coles


There was a buzz of creativity in the basement bar of The Harrison on Monday 1st October. A packed audience eagerly awaited readings from the Mechanics Institute Review edition 15. We were treated to extracts from eight authors, several of whom have read for us before and all were consummate performers.

Lou Kramskoy read the first half of her story, “The Front Line,” which presented the inner fantasies of the narrator, revealing the “Tiny Fighter” that perhaps lurks in all of us, but whom we repress daily. The story tells us what Tiny Fighter would like to do to colleagues at work in a humorous, yet brutal, graphic fashion. The story tapped into the dark side, perhaps always bubbling under the surface of the more passive, introverts in our communities! It was a highly entertaining piece to kick off the evening.

The next reader was the aptly named Judy Birkbeck, a published novelist, whose story “Gomorrah” evoked the experiences of naive, likeable Rainer, a German soldier, only fifteen years old and in love. The authentic details and rich description, together with touches of humour and irony made this tragic story compelling and engaging to listen to.

Kate Ellis read an extract from her short story called “At Sea,” which, it became clear, is both a literal and metaphorical title. Florence, whose girlfriend Grace returned her to hospital the last time she absconded, hears voices calling her to the sea, and is compelled to escape again. The story gave us two perspectives and two contrasting characters, introducing Derek, who is clearly too old to be motoring his boat at dusk. Kate’s original descriptions created a tenderness for both vulnerable characters which was very effective.

Anxiety and old age were the subject of Mykola Moss’ story “Between Fire and Coal” which was written in convincing dialect, perfect for performance. Briony and her dog are pursuing her grandfather who is lost up the Welsh mountains. His dementia combined with a guilty conscience have led him to believe that he must stop a dragon from burning all of Wales. The story was read energetically and the tension built dramatically as we became affected by Briony’s increasing panic.

After the break, we were treated to an extract from “The Hole.” Ian Critchley drew us into a well-crafted, surreal story about recently widowed Henry, who wakes up to discover there is a sink hole in his back garden. Out of it emerges a Troglodyte called Frank. The incipient friendship was delightfully conveyed through amusing dialogue but the light touch was deceptive. The story as a whole has darker undertones, linking it to themes of lost identity, loneliness and grief which gives it a disturbing ending.

Valentine Carter’s story “Causeway” is presented as a memory in which the protagonist moves from reflecting on events to re-telling them. The extract focussed on the first kiss between the two teenage girls which was sensitively and authentically described. Valentine’s treatment of time shifts in her story was expertly done so that the audience was never confused. The story develops in unexpected ways but it was clear from the extract that this was a key moment in the narrator’s adolescence which was being pieced together anew.

Amal Adam changed the tone to one of irritation and indignation in her story, “No, Where Are You, Like, Really From?” which gave us insight into what the narrator was really feeling beneath her smiles. Amal used humour to explore the inadequate responses of white westerners to the narrator, Noura, an FGM survivor and campaigner. She calls into question the helpfulness of the “do-gooder” who pays lip service to a cause and whose comments may be woefully misguided or patronising. We laughed with Amal, but the extract was also successfully thought-provoking and the themes extremely relevant. Noura’s character and her stance become more complex as the story evolves and we see the price she has to pay for speaking up against her cultural practices.

Arhondia ended the evening with a dramatic reading of her story “Tom Corrigan” which created a vivid picture of a small, Irish community. The story focusses on the relationship between Tom and his abusive, drunk father. It dealt with issues of class and education and the pressure of an adolescent to do what is morally right. Arhondia’s dialogue was effortlessly effective and her performance held us captivated.

The whole evening presented intriguing stories, often seething with anger or anxiety, yet delivered with a bite of humour. Clearly, the latest anthology covers a vast range of diverse styles, and ideas, which Julia Bell calls “jagged experiences” of how we live now, and it promises to be well worth reading!

Get your copy of the anthology here.

October 18, 2018

MIRLive: The Mechanics Institute Review special!

Elinor Johns rounds up MIRLive.
October 15, 2018

Reconciliation by Ben O’Hara

Short Fiction by Ben O’Hara
October 12, 2018

The Lobster Boat by Tamar Hodes

Short fiction by Tamar Hodes
October 10, 2018

Poetry by Anthony Caleshu

  I AM THIRSTY   and because I am thirsty I need to drink before I can continue blowing your mind. The knowledge you once had about your own imagination required an alarm system with a direct line to the police. The peach you’re eating is so sweet, no wonder […]
October 8, 2018
Sheet-music Piano Stool Piano Oak Flooring

When the Universe Listens by Alison Theresa Gibson

Short Fiction by Alison Theresa Gibson
October 5, 2018

The Last Lunch by Jude Cook

Short Fiction by Jude Cook
October 1, 2018

Dream Clips of the Archons by Paul Green

Opening sequences from an evolving narrative by  Paul Green
September 28, 2018

Patient X and Patient Y by John O’Donoghue

A Case Study by  John O’Donoghue
September 26, 2018

MIR15 Launch Party Photos

MIR15 is out in the world! Buy your copy here! We had a great time at the launch and hope you did too.
September 24, 2018

The Head of the End of the World by Melaina Barnes

Short Fiction by Melaina Barnes. The Head of the End of the World was shortlisted for MIR15.
September 21, 2018

The Murder of Andreas Baader by Steve Finbow

Short Fiction by Steve Finbow
September 17, 2018

Pitmatic by Helen Cryer

Short Fiction by Helen Cryer. Pitmatic was shortlisted for MIR15.
September 14, 2018

Follow the Blind by Jake Kendall

Short Fiction by  Jake Kendall
September 10, 2018

Llyn Dwfn by Liz Kay

Short Fiction by Elizabeth Kay. Llyn Dwfn was shortlisted for MIR15.
September 3, 2018

Pencilled In by Eleanor Capaldi

Short Fiction by Eleanor Capaldi. Pencilled In was shortlisted for MIR15.
August 27, 2018

With a Small Bomb in Her Chest by Anne Goodwin

Short Fiction by Anne Goodwin
August 20, 2018

Crow Mama by Lisa Blackwell

Short Fiction by Lisa Blackwell
August 13, 2018

Auction Days by Chris Lewis

Short Fiction by Chris Lewis
August 6, 2018

The Gardener by Andrew Dicker

Short Fiction by Andrew Dicker
July 30, 2018

Coming to Town by Alex Clark

Short Fiction by Alex Clark Coming to Town was shortlisted for The Mechanics’ Institute Review Issue 15