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. Bryoni 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 Bryoni’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.
July 27, 2018

Identity, inequality and chickens at our Summer MIRLive

Elinor Johns rounds up MIRLive.
May 28, 2018

MIRLive Arts Week Special 2018

Elinor Johns rounds up MIRLive.
April 10, 2018

MIRLive with Jonathan Kemp and Ailsa Cox

Join Jonathan Kemp and Ailsa Cox at The Harrison for our Arts Week Special
February 22, 2018

MIRLive Readers Warm Up a Cold February Evening

Elinor Johns rounds up MIRLive.
January 9, 2018
MIRlive 480

MIRLive with Lara Pawson

Join Lara Pawson at The Harrison.
January 1, 2018

MIRLive Winter Tales

Elinor Johns rounds up MIRLive.
November 26, 2017

MIRLive: Winter Tales with Neil Griffiths

Join Neil Griffiths at The Harrison for a Winter Tales Special. 
October 23, 2017

MIRLive: MIR14 Special

Sue Tyley rounds up our October event
July 13, 2017

MIRLive Life Stories Special

Elinor Johns rounds up MIRLive.
June 20, 2017

MIRLive Life Stories

Katherine Angel and Emma Henderson Join us for MIRLive
May 22, 2017
MIRlive 480

MIRLive Call for Submissions: Life Stories

Join us at The Harrison for our last event of the summer term. We’re looking for stories inspired by real life.
May 19, 2017
live performance poetry given by Birkbeck postgraduate students and staff

Poetry Live Arts Week Special

Elinor Johns rounds up Poetry Live.
March 30, 2017
MIRlive 480

Poetry Live!

An amazing line up of poets for our Arts Week Special
March 15, 2017
MIRlive 480

MIRLive Celebrates International Women’s Day

Sue Tyley and Stella Klein round up our MIRLive International Women’s Day Special
February 28, 2017
MIRlive 480

K J Orr Headlines MIRLive

BBC National Short Story Award Winner KJ Orr headlines our International Women’s Day event. 
February 15, 2017

Leila Segal brings Cuban Warmth To A Frozen January

Katherine Vik rounds up our January MIRLive
February 4, 2017

K J Orr To Headline Women’s Day Event

Our next MIRLive takes place on March 6th at the Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, King’s Cross, WC1H 8JF. This event will be headlined by BBC Short Story Award Winner, K J Orr, and will be an International Women’s Day Special. We will be accepting submissions from all genders but work should be […]
January 23, 2017
MIRlive 480

Leila Segal Headlines MIRLive

Leila Segal reads from her debut collection, Breathe. MIRLive’s Alison Hitchock shares work from her letter writing project, From Me To You. Leila and Alison are joined by five more wonderful women reading poetry and short stories.
December 11, 2016

Leila Segal to Headline MIRLive

Our next MIRLive takes place on January 30th at the Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, King’s Cross, WC1H 8JF. This event will be headlined by Leila Segal. The deadline for Submissions is January 15th.