Laurane Marchive gives her London Literary Round-up for April
This month I travelled far and wide across London to check out three very different events: The Riff-Raff, the launch of Ambit 236 and a new writer’s salon called Untitled.
Run by writer Amy Baker, The Riff-Raff is a monthly event where debut authors share their experience of the publishing world. The night is held in a Brixton pub with old-school carpets and chandeliers; when I go the room is packed and buzzing with unintimidated excitement. One by one, debut writers give us -mostly- unedited accounts of their journeys towards getting published. The result is as funny as it is refreshing, showing how difficult, weird and isolating a writer’s journey can be, whether it’s to find an agent, a publisher, or to cope with the results once the book is out.
Gytha Lodge, author of She Lies in Wait, speaks first and recalls how she had to write her first book in five days after she pitched it to an agent a bit too early (the book didn’t exist by then, which she’d failed to mention to them). “The only thing writers have in common’, she declares, ‘is that they finish their book.” Claire Handscombe gives us an insight into her experience of publishing her book Unscripted with Unbound, a crowdfunding platform, after her first agent ended up ghosting her. Carolyn Kirby tells us about writing her historical novel The Conviction of Cora Burns and how it was shaped by her experience of becoming a parent. Ben Smith admits that his process to write Doggerland was mostly to sit alone, for five years, thinking about wind turbines without ever seeing them.
Finally, Caoilinn Hughes, author of Orchid and The Wasp, takes the stage and warns us about writers reverse-narrativising their journey. The insights she shares from her own experience are some of the most refreshing and honest I have heard to date, ranging from what happens to writers once their book is out, to how to handle the marketing demands that follow publication and the ruthless pressure social media adds to the process. That night, Hughe’s account is brilliant and passionate, her frank pep-talk alone making the event worth attending.
Fast forward two weeks, and I find myself at the launch of Ambit 236 at the Tate Modern Terrace Bar. Ambit is a London-based, 96-page, literary and art magazine featuring poetry, prose and art. It aims to publish fresh new voices alongside some of the most established writers on the scene (on their website, Ambit boasts the discovery of, among others, JG Ballard and William Burroughs; it probably doesn’t get much more established than that). But the competition to get into the magazine is fierce: to give you an idea, every year only twenty to thirty stories are chosen out of the thousand submitted.
On the night, we hear Walking to the End of the World by Regi Claire. Taher Adel, a spoken-word artist, shares his poem ‘I don’t know what language I dream in.’ Will Burns reads poetry, Dan Bradley reads flash fiction. Jade Cuttle reads ‘Moulin Rouge’ and ‘Destined for the freezer,’ and her line ‘until all that’s left is a string of holes where only the wind blows through’ stays with me till the end of the event. Last but not least to read is Hugo Williams, who won the TS Eliot Prize in 1999.
The event is also punctuated and framed by screenings of the work of Stephen Sheehan. The first clip we are shown features the artist standing next to a brick wall from which a small, window-sized curtain hangs. Several times, he opens the curtain to reveal the brick wall underneath, then closes it again; eventually, the curtain falls off the wall. In another video, he lets a child play with a picnic table for a long time before diving into it like a delighted salmon. Sheehan’s work is bizarre and striking: ‘I am surprised people don’t make more work about being alive and the impending inevitable that awaits,’ he says in an interview featured in the print magazine. ‘For me, it is a fascinatingly absurd concept: being alive and trying to happily function while waiting to die.’
Last on my list is the launch of Untitled, a new writer’s salon and platform for underrepresented writers who want to share their work with a live audience. The aim of the event, as its creators Ollie Charles and Nicola Lampard explain, is to create a positive and safe space for writers who are “BAME, LGBTQ+, working class, physically disabled, have mental health issues and anyone else who isn’t afforded opportunities because of who they are or their situation.” The night is held at the Curtain, in Shoreditch, a hotel that also regularly hosts cabaret and drag nights; designed to feel relaxed and welcoming, the event feels like a safe space.
The night’s compere is Shiri Shah, a writer whose stage presence is the human equivalent of a Mentos in a bottle of coke: explosive, untamed and extremely entertaining. Throughout the event, various authors read about London solitude, about being shouted to “Go back to fucking China” in their native Californian hometown, about fashion and futureless relationships. Shiri Shah ends the first half of the evening by reading from her surrealist novel whose name she doesn’t quite know yet, but which features the unforgettable line: ‘I feel like a borderline rapist at weddings.’
In the second half of the night, we hear about lesbians and posh flowers, about narco-aesthetics and addiction, about saviour complexes, dystopian communities and the gentrification of seaside towns. Finally, Tash Collie from Soft Punch takes the stage with a dishevelling, verbally-exuberant performance; her stories contain lines about being such a good person you would go completely green because you would love your great great grandchildren more than you love Amazon Prime, or the vulnerability of wearing dungarees to a smear test.
Untitled will run again in July, and after that, every three months. If you are interested in sharing your work at this lovely event, you can get in touch with the organisers on the Untitled website.
For more information, follow the link: