Tabitha Potts Rounds-up MIRLive with Toby Litt
The last MIRLive of the year had an open theme and an unprecedented number of submissions. We were very excited by the quality of the work and disappointed we could not feature everything. The basement room at the Harrison was standing room only as our writers took to the stage to create an evening of mystery and magic.
George (ina) Parker was our first reader with Ashes Too. She is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck and works as Head of Content for an international animal charity in charge of all written and visual storytelling. Her story was told from two points of view, an older woman suffering from dementia and her younger female carer. The use of language was particularly innovative in this short story as the character suffering from dementia struggles to find the right words for what is happening to her.
Daniel Jeffreys was our second reader with his dark short story Wolf Pack. Daniel Jeffreys is a natural dystopian whose poetry and reviews have appeared in The London Magazine, The Lampeter Review, Litro, AMBIT, Esquire, The Tablet and TLS. He is currently studying at Essex University for a PhD. Wolf Pack created a menacing world where wolves begin to live alongside human beings, enacting their worse desires. Or were the wolves really there?
Marienna Pope-Weidemann read next from her exquisite short story Goodbye, Lighthouse. Pope-Weidemann is a writer and campaigner from Purbeck. As a journalist, she has written extensively on forced migration, social justice and climate change for the Guardian, Red Pepper and others, and currently works for the IWGB trade union. Goodbye, Lighthouse was an elegiac portrait of a much-loved grandfather and the precious legacy passed on to his children and grandchildren, one of several stories exploring ageing and death in this MIRLive.
Lawrence Illsley read an extract from his long poem A Brief History of Trees, a blank verse meditation on the death of his mother and the natural world which got a distinction in his MA in creative writing at Birkbeck University. Illsley is a Cornish poet, now based in the Welsh Valleys, whose poems have featured in MIR, Shooter and Atlanta Review and have been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. His poem conveyed the shattering experience of grief with moments of comedy and of pathos delivered in a poetic form which was at once highly literary and deceptively conversational.
Laurane Marchive is a French writer and director living in London. Her work has recently appeared in The London Magazine, TheMechanics’ Institute Review, Review 31, and the TLS. Marchive is a past winner of the French Escales des Lettres. She was recently shortlisted for the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize and will soon graduate from the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. She treated us to an extract of her short story, Puppy Shower, which subverted the conventions of the baby shower with sly wit to highlight their strangeness and the way women are forced to conform to stereotypes. Just as she puts her feet into the ‘cute’ kitten heels she does not feel at home in, the protagonist contorts herself into a role that makes her uncomfortable in order to be socially acceptable to others.
After the interval, we were treated to a reading of A Stream Runs through us by Jess Sturman-Coombs, who is in her final year of the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. She’s also a content writer, has self-published a number of novels, is a qualified teacher, and creates and runs writing projects in schools. A Stream Runs Through Us is an atmospheric story with a strong sense of place and an element of folk horror. A young couple move to a remote rural area and start to feel as though they are under attack from something – or someone – in their home. The audience listened intently as Sturman-Coombs read the last words of the story, ‘Du dum, du dum’, echoing the sound of a heart-beat.
Line Langebek read next from her short story What we don’t talk about, exploring the difficulties of communication. The protagonist is a young boy, Martin, who is hard of hearing. His maternal grandfather dies, and Martin is left with his distant grandmother, who doesn’t understand sign language as well. When he learns that his mother lost her brother long ago, Martin starts to understand his family better. London-based Line Langebek is a writer, translator and lecturer. She writes for film and TV and is currently working on a commissioned feature based on a true crime story, a children’s TV series, plus her first novel. She’s a co-founder of Library of Change and Raising Films, campaigning for change.
Happy Ending, read with a great deal of humour and energy by writer Adam Zmith, tells the story of a Yorkshire woman giving a certain celebrity a massage in New York while thinking about how she could punish him for his past acts of sexual harassment against her son Jim, an ambitious young actor. The story combined deft comic timing with a great ear for how real people express themselves in language. Adam is a London Writers Awardee and is working on a novel set in a time with a different set of sexual morals than ours.
The Bee Man by Theresa Giffard was our final poem of the night. Giffard describes herself as a magpie collector of stories and words, writer of lists and poems. She is currently studying for her Creative writing BA at Birkbeck. Her poem, set in the apparently mundane surroundings of a South London allotment, explored the nature of bees and the strangeness of everyday life through a series of brilliantly evoked, fleeting vignettes.
Finally, we listened to an extract from Patience, the critically acclaimed novel by Toby Litt. Toby has published novels, short story collections and comics. He runs the Creative Writing MFA at Birkbeck College, and blogs at www.tobylitt.com. Patience tells the story of a young boy, Elliott, who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. The extract we listened to was a very beautiful meditation on the nature of Christmas. Elliott, whose life is outwardly so limited, responds with exquisite sensitivity to the beauty of music and the other joys of the festive season. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful evening celebrating the written and spoken word.