Sunday, 1 November 2015

The First Rule of Sanctum Club

The first rule of Sanctum Club is not that you don't talk about Sanctum Club — you're encouraged to promote and publicise as much as possible — but that you don't talk about the schedule.

Sanctum is an arts project that has landed in the heart of Bristol, in the grounds and structure of the bombed-out Temple Church. It kicked off on Thursday 29th October and continues for 24 days, 24 hours a day. At any time of day or night you can walk in and see someone performing — poetry, music and more. And, if you're (un)lucky, that someone might be me. Performers are asked not to reveal when they are on via social media, but can do so privately (so if you want to know when I'm on next, get in touch).

I was aware of Sanctum months ago, but so focused on other things, including the Bristol Festival of Literature (which is overdue a blog post...), that I didn't do anything about it. So, my thanks to Cheryl Morgan for suggesting me to the organisers.

What a great challenge! When I normally do readings, it is to people who have specifically come to an event to hear readings — and who may even specifically be interested in what I have to read. But to read to an audience of people (or an empty room) who have no idea who you are or that they're going to hear a fiction reading... if that doesn't give you a new perspective, what will?

My first slot was late morning on Friday 30th. The performances take place in a structure assembled from found materials, constructed especially for the event. The space is superb, atmospheric and, reflecting the shell it is nestled within, church-like. When we arrived (yup, whole family in tow), Marie France, a harpist, was playing — initially accompanying a cellist and then on her own — and most of the few seats available were taken.

For my slot, 15 minutes long, I chose to read four flash fictions, starting with a drabble ("Lost Love's Labours") and working up to ("A Higher Calling") something around the 1000-word mark ("Ashes to Ashes") before ending with something short ("Authenticity").

A photo posted by @stella277 on

Appearing in the first 24 hours of the event meant my readings received a mention in a write-up in Bristol 24/7:
Our cellist returns before making way for our first storyteller at 11.20am. I am very pleased Kevlin Henney popped in and introduced me to the genre of flash fiction. His stories, told in just 250 words, are short and sweet and very well delivered. By the time our cellist returns for the third time Sanctum is nearly full again.
Not only a favourable write-up, but a great tweet from the reporter as well:

I loved the experience and am looking forward to appearing at more unusual times of day. I'm scheduled to appear three more times on my own and once with the North Bristol Writers. My goal is to read something different at each reading, including a couple of my longer stories. See you there.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Bristol Festival of Literature

And so it begins.

Last night the Bristol Festival of Literature kicked off at Smoke and Mirrors with An Evening at the Fear Institute, radio play adaptations of some of Jonathan L Howard's Johannes Cabal short stories. I wasn't able to make it, but I've heard that it was (at least) as brilliant and enjoyable as I was hoping it would be.

The next week and a half will take in a number of venues and a variety of events across the city. I could give a blow by blow account of what you can expect, but you're better of looking at the events listing on the site, or stalking the festival on Twitter or Facebook, or listening to Cheryl Morgan's show on Ujima from Wednesday, on which I appeared with Amy Morse and Pete Sutton to talk about the festival.

I've been involved in the organisation of the festival, with a particular focus on the Flash Slam on Friday 23rd October, hosted by Nikesh Shukla. Unfortunately, at the last minute, we had to change venue for the slam. Printed material still lists the slam happening at PRSC Space, but it has moved to Crofters Rights round the corner on Stokes Croft — although in making the change we also managed to reduce the costs so that it's now a donation-based event (free if you want, tip if you want).

I'm also involved in the front line as well as behind the scenes: I'll be in the North Bristol Writers team fielded at the slam and I'm reading at Written from Art at Carol Peace's studio. I'll also be turning up at the Book Bazaar and launch party on Saturday, BristolCon Fringe on Monday and the Speakeasy on the final Saturday. I may make it to one or two other events, but travel means I can't make any guarantees.

If you can make it, I hope to see you at an event or two over the coming week!

Thursday, 1 October 2015


It was a con. Books, art and identity theftsharing. Yup, that — and more — was the BristolCon that was. So here are a couple of personal highlights...

The first session I went to was the Guest of Honour interview of Chris Moore by Jim Burns. Along with Peter Elson and Chris Foss, both interviewer and interviewee were among the SF artists whose imagery and style I most connected with — and was inspired by — in the late 1970s and 1980s. The interview was filled with anecdotes, history and backstory, as well as a slideshow of Chris Moore's better and lesser known work. I later cornered him to sign an old book of mine that featured both his and Peter Elson's art.

BristolCon was the launch site of Joanne Hall's much anticipated Spark and Carousel, a launch complete with rockstar entrance, lighting and cake. Much cake. And wine. It provided a second centre of social gravity away from the usual location of the bar. A more first-person report of the experience (and more behind the scenes of BristolCon) can be found here.

As for first person, this is me — and not Stark Holborn — on the "How Green Is Your Future?" panel:

To better understand this case of apparent identity theft, you have to go back to a sampling of Twitter the night before:

When I went to pick up my name printout I noticed Stark Holborn's — whose panels were done — was unclaimed. I claimed it.

In honour of the speculative fiction theme, I also scheduled some tweets for the day, covering the range from ghost stories and urban fantasy to augmentation and time travel: "#KrakenEvent""Remembrance of Things Past", "The Woodcutter's Stepdaughter", "S3xD0ll", "Milk Teeth and Chocolate Eggs", "Promises You Can Keep", "Ashes to Ashes", "AutoKnowMe", "In the Garden of Uncertainty, and What Alice Found There" and "Starfall". These picked up some favourites and retweets as the day wore on.

One story that's not online but did get well received was the one I read for my reading. The reading followed the panel I was on and I presume people either forgot to leave or arrived early for the next panel. There is always the outside chance some people came to hear me read. For whatever reason, there was a very good turnout. Given the time constraint, I gave the audience a choice of either half a story ("Ragdolls", which appeared in the We Can Improve You anthology) or a whole one ("The Jar over the Edge", which was shortlisted in a comp a couple of years back). Perhaps unsurprisingly, people prefer wholes to halves, so I read out "The Jar over the Edge" for the first time. It works surprisingly well read aloud and seemed to be well received, so it's one I hope to read again in future.

Of course, more happened in the day than I've listed here, but it was mostly matters of conversation — AI, linguistics, time travel, fanzines, colds, Doctor Who, flash fiction — and if you want to know more about that, well, there's always next year, right?

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Literally Beyond the Edge

With BristolCon just around the corner — the corner being Friday — it might be a good idea to catch up with the one-day con I attended in July...

Back when summer was actually a thing that was happening, I headed over to Derby for Edge-Lit, a one-day SF/Fantasy/Horror con. My main reason for going was the launch of the We Can Improve You anthology, featuring my story "Ragdolls", and introduce myself to Alex Davis, who runs Boo Books, the publisher of both We Can Improve You and Haunted (which features my story "Promises You Can Keep").

Like BristolCon, it's a moderate-sized single-day event, but with quite a different emphasis and style. There were two tracks of workshop sessions with a strong writer focus. I attended one led by Alex Davis on the teaching of writing where I picked up a couple of ideas I might use in future workshops. As well as attending panels, launches, etc., I bumped into a couple of authors I knew from BristolCon, another who I saw this year at CrimeFest and I also got the chance to meet Joanne Harris. Although my original motivation was the anthology launch, there's enough there that I plan to return next year.

As for BristolCon, there's lots to look forward. I'm going with Stefan, so I'll be interested to see if and what he blogs, especially as I went with him to the somewhat larger Loncon last year. There's panels and interviews and more that I want to see, but I'll be missing Ian Stewart's "Time Travel and Real Physics" (if you asked me the one panel I wanted to go to...) because I'm on the "How Green Is Your Future?" panel. For my reading straight after I think I've figured out what I'm going to read... I think.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Readings Past, Present and Future

Way back in June I read "Star Signs" at Talking Tales. The podcast of the event is now available to fill the commutes, walks and other states of in-betweenness we might find in our lives. In July I read the same story out at Science Showoff, a year on from when I first performed there.

Tonight I'm off to Novel Nights, which is having a short story special with Tania Hershman. Tania is on in the second half, while the first half features a number of local short story authors, including me, Harriet Kline, Helen McClory, Grace Palmer and Pete Sutton. I plan to read "Like Giants", my story from North by Southwest.

I've been very much looking forward to Novel Nights since I discovered that the dice of my September schedule — which rarely brooks any midweek opportunities — had fallen to allow me to both attend and — with the coincidence of it being short story rather than novel focused — read.

In two weekends it's BristolCon, where I'm on the "How green is your future?" panel in the afternoon with a reading straight after. I haven't yet decided what to read, but I know that time is always of the essence because readings are interstitial between one main session and the next.

In October it's the Bristol Festival of Literature — more on that in another post — and I'll be reading at Written from Art on Wednesday 21st October.

There's a couple of other things in the pipeline, which I hope to write about before they happen rather than when they're receding in the rear-view mirror.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Good Things Come in Threes (and Get Blogged Late)

In the wake of tragic events "Too soon?" is often used to punctuate (and emphasise) humour that may be considered somewhere dark and distasteful. But in the slipstream of successful and uplifting events there is no such thing as too soon.

Rambling. What am I going on about? Flash Fiction Day, 27th June, for which I helped organise events in Bristol, that's what. And have — until now — completely failed to blog about. That's what.

And what a day it was! It started with some seemingly dodgy exchanges in a car park in the centre of Bristol, two blokes moving boxes from the back of one car to another in a deserted and slightly overgrown concrete space. In truth, it was nothing more sinister than me taking delivery of books from Calum Kerr to drop off at the library and Foyles. Not particularly dodgy, but perhaps a bit geeky: I was going to accuse Calum of nerdiness for wearing a Doctor Who T-shirt, when I realised I was wearing a Nostromo T-shirt and thought better of it. Yes, these are the people who helped bring you a high-quality, high-brow lit event!

In some of the boxes were to be found Landmarks, the rather fetching and freshly minted NFFD anthology featuring some of the readers on the day, as well as other well-known flash authors, and opening with "Hilary Is the Winters of Keith's Discontent", a story of mine that helps get into the geography theme of the anthology — as well as being a perfect opportunity to put some of the airport codes I tweet when I travel to some good use.

The afternoon kicked off at the Central Library with Ken Elkes's workshop on openings. No matter how short a work fiction is, it still has an opening, something that marks the reader's transition from being outside the story to being in its heart. The opening is engagement, introduction, scene setting, mood setting and, hopefully, hook.

There were some great insights and good discussion during the workshop, concluding with a prompt-based exercise that lead to a more complete story than I'd imagined. Using a prompt or two — images, words, quotes, the room around you, etc. — is common for flash fiction, but Ken encouraged all the workshop participants to find multiple prompts from around the library. I ended up with nine and a story I hope to do something with.

Calum followed up with a discussion of the pros and cons of clichés in writing, whether clichéd phrases, clichéd characters or recurring plot structures. You normally want to identify clichés in order to avoid them, but they can be used constructively. Certain cultural clichés, especially in speech or a first-person point of view, allow you to convey things about you characters without having to say them explicitly. In flash fiction, clichés can offer you a shorthand that lets you communicate buckets without kicking the word limit. Clichés also set expectation, which can be subverted to surprise the reader.

Much as I like readings in bars and conventional stage settings, there is something quite special about readings in a bookshop. Stories coming to life in a place of stories, words written and words spoken. But that might just be me.

The readers on the day were Calum Kerr, Judy Darley, Diane Simmons, Grace Palmer, Ken Elkes, Freya Morris, Susan Howe, Jonathan Pinnock, Sarah Hilary, John Holland, Adam Marek, Jane Roberts, Zoe Gilbert and me.

And I know I'm (not) supposed to say this, but I'm going to anyway: of the three BristolFlash NFFD reading events to date, I probably enjoyed the this year the most. Was it the readers, the stories, the location...?

That said, we were pushed for time and ran right up against Foyles' closing time. But that was not the end! Oh no, like a modern Hollywood studio, we had planned for a trilogy. The third and final (and drawn out) event was at Horts. Early indications were that a few people — maybe fifteen — would turn up. In the end it was twice that — so much for polls and estimates, eh? Horts is fortunately not your usual Saturday-night-in-the-centre pub, so there was space and food and drink for all.

Photographic evidence of all (well, some of) this can be found here.

Next year? Again!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

From Talking on the Radio to Talking Tales

I was on Ujima Radio a couple of weeks back, being interviewed by Cheryl Morgan about flash fiction, Flash Fiction Day and various events in Bristol on the day and leading up to it. I read out a couple of stories — "In Love and Debt" and "AutoKnowMe" — and we talked about the flash edition of BristolCon Fringe (Monday 22nd June) and the workshop, readings and drinks on Flash Fiction Day (Saturday 27th June). You can find a recording of the programme via Cheryl's blog. You can also read more about the forthcoming Flash at the Fringe on Joanne Hall's blog.

Speaking of workshops, I had the good fortune to attend Clare Reddaway's Writing for Performance workshop last Saturday. I hope to blog about this in more detail at some point.

And, to wrap things up, on Monday this week I read "Star Signs" at the second Talking Tales. That was great fun, with some other excellent readings.

The next post? Either very soon and I'll be writing about a workshop I gave or attended, or not so soon and I'll be looking back on Flash Fiction Day.