Sue Tyley rounds up our October event.
The second MIRLive, on 24 October 2016, was a special to celebrate the publication of the latest issue of The Mechanics’ Institute Review. All the readers were authors featured in MIR13, reading extracts from their MIR13 stories.Warmed up and kept simmering by MC Jamie West, who was one of the MIR13 editors, the audience packed the Harrison to standing-room-only bursting point, with the healthy book sales on the night testifying to their piqued interest and desire to know what happened next.
MIROnline’s own Melanie Jones opened the programme with an extract from One for Luck, a story about a suburban community with an unusual but scarcely unfortunate addiction. We learned that the idyll enjoyed by mother of two Rose and her neighbour Mr Collins – who memorably hates poached and scrambled eggs for being too wobbly – may not be as permanently perfect as appearances might suggest.
John Forde was up next, reading from Thinking About Sleep, in which the narrator, sleepless in bed in the early morning, recounts to the partner lying next to him the story of how they met, and their shared life together. (For the record, it was in a bed – a different one – complete with mirror ball, the Cocteau Twins, vodka and a K-holed Louise Brooks lookalike.)
Aliyah Kim Keshani then read an extract from Black Box, where Mei returns to work for the first time since the disappearance of the Malaysian plane on which her uncle was a passenger. Still suspended in the limbo of uncertainty and distress, she is constantly reminded of him, and recalls childhood holidays filled with kung fu ninjas, mangoes prodded to ant-crawling pulpiness, and stinking durians.
Melody Razak brought the first part of the evening to a close with an extract from The Girl Who Turned into a Jug. We heard how, out on the Bosphorus, an old fisherman and his young son net a curious sweet-smelling catch instead of the fat spring mackerel they’re hoping for, and how, six months earlier, in the palace, the sultan’s mother rages over a missing knock-kneed, moon-faced girl and trades colourful insults with her ballooningly pregnant daughter-in-law.
After the break, Chris Lilly introduced us to The Tea Dress, and to Kevin (happy to be called Kev), the stage manager caught up in a scheme to buy the eponymous dress for awesome, beautiful, inexhaustible fellow stage manager Antoinette (who insisted on Antoinette, the whole thing, always, every time). The story’s distinctive narrative voice Brian Blessedly delivered ensured the audience’s full attention and enjoyment as the second part of the evening got underway.
Claire Montell then took us to 1980s Moscow with The Travails of Uncle Vanya, where Chekhov-admiring Vanya is following Western diplomat’s wife Julia, and trying to convince his younger, undeservedly promoted boss that Julia’s is taking Russian lessons for nefarious rather than linguistic purposes. Shiny black Volgas, Gorky Park, a luxurious – and bugged – apartment building and double imperfect verbs were among the local touches that set a vivid scene.
Acclaimed Birkbeck alumna Elizabeth Fremantle closed the programme with passages from the first chapter of her new novel, The Girl in the Glass Tower, transporting us back to Chatsworth in the sixteenth century, where the nine-year-old Arbella Stuart, already curious, independent and freedom-loving, cannot resist the opportunity to meet the closely guarded, out-of-favour Queen of Scots, even though, or perhaps because, it is forbidden. The Girl in the Glass Tower is Elizabeth’s fourth novel, proof of MIR’s proud claim that many of the authors first published in its pages go on to achieve literary success.
There are no photos of the evening – unfortunately we were all too caught up in the readings to remember to take them – but if you’d like to share in the stories, you can buy a copy of MIR13 here.