Have you ever had one of those moments when it suddenly becomes clear to you that you’re a very fortunate person? Not with any degree of smuggery or self-satisfaction, but just, in an instant, understanding that there are a lot of things you take for granted, and that you should really spend far more time than you do saying thank you to whatever deity you believe in – or, for the atheists in the audience, at least reflecting on your good fortune?
I had one of those moments this week when I attended an evening of short story readings hosted by Faber Social, an arm of Faber & Faber. For the princely ticket price of £5.95, I was treated to a line-up of six, very different writers, less than an hour from my front door.
The star turn was Booker Prize-winning author, DBC Pierre. Yes, DBC Pierre! It was when he took to the stage that I had my moment of pure gratitude for living in this great city. (I can’t decide whether I’m thrilled that it’s possible to see someone at the very top of their field of art for less than six quid, or depressed at what this suggests about the earnings of even the most feted authors.)
Have you ever heard DBC Pierre read? He has a wonderful voice – deep, sleepy, knowing, as though he’s telling you something secret and a bit dirty. He read some pieces from his collection of short stories, Petit Mal, and they were brilliant – original, thought-provoking and very funny. That was almost incidental; with that voice I could have listened to him reading the telephone directory for hours.
As you’ll have gathered, his reading was the highlight of my evening, but I thought I’d just give you my quick take on the other writers. Take it as read that I realise how presumptuous it is for me to comment on people who are about a million times more skillful than I am – but hey, this is my blog…
Peter Hobbs – on first. Pleasant, unassuming sort of chap who read from a WIP about death. Poignant, with moments of almost painfully sharp insight. Surprisingly cheerful, all things considered.
Will Burns – poet-in-residence somewhere I’d never heard of and as yet unpublished. I saw him as I was going in – there was a queue to get to the downstairs room where the readings were held and he was, very politely and nervously, trying to edge around the outside to go and prepare. He seemed a touch overawed by being in such august company – who can blame him? – and I wanted very much to like his piece, but truthfully it was my least favourite of the evening. It was the story of a man who’d had an ill-starred relationship with a French woman – arty, beautiful, and enigmatic, naturally – involving him moving to Paris and the pair of them spending far too much time staring into the middle distance in sulky silence at pavement cafés. After five minutes I was wishing he’d just split up with the moody cow and find someone he could talk to.
Emma Jane Unsworth – who read what she said was a ghost story. Clearly a very talented writer, there were some beautiful turns of phrase. I’m not keen, though, on narrators using coarse words en passant, as though assuming we all go around talking about taking a p*ss, etc. – I always get a slight jolt of offence that detracts me from the story. And I’m sure this makes me painfully traditional, but I prefer my ghost stories to actually feature A Ghost. All beautifully written, but I’d rather have an E. F. Benson.
Brian Kimberling – just brilliant. Also very tall. So engaging I almost didn’t notice the fight he was having with the overhead lights and microphone stand. I shall be going out to buy Snapper forthwith. And it turns out he blogs too: http://briankimberling.com/
John Niven – a pornographic George Galloway who read from his
novel, Straight White Male. I suspect I’m not his demographic but laughed like a drain all the same. (Before anyone reports me to #everydaysexism c.f. Ms Unsworth, I have no problem with exclamatory swearing – that’s what it’s there for.)
By the time I emerged into the darkening streets near Oxford Circus, I’d been moved, intrigued, amused and inspired. Oh, and I’d had my wrist stamped. Stamped! Made me feel like a teenager again.
I love London.