Book events with authors normally follow the same old routine – the author’s introduced, the author reads, the author answers questions – but at the West Port Book Festival on Sunday and The Short Story Hour, featuring David Gaffney and Hannah McGill, the assembled audience of around 30 was given exactly what it said on the tin – an hour of short story reading, and I’ve got to say, it was refreshing and delicious in equal measure. Hosted in the cosy confines of Peter Bell Books, where the aroma of antiquarian books never fails to arrest the senses (in a good way) the audience was subjected to delight, thrill and shock (read on) with stories from two very different authors.
Hannah McGill, former artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Review Show regular, has had many of her short stories anthologised and is currently working on her first novel. She was up first reading her short story, Amity and Ray, and I’ve got to say, based on this story alone because I’ve never read her before, that I adore McGill’s prose. It’s packed with emotion and is very literary (not in a stuffy way); the kind of writing that has a deep down affect on the soul.
Following a round of cakes (I’m not kidding), the floor was taken over by David Gaffney. And If McGill is profoundly literary in her storytelling, then Gaffney is the complete polar opposite. He writes primarily to entertain, often with poignancy, and that much is clear both from the type of stories that he writes, and his style of delivery. A specialist in micro-fiction, Gaffney has had three collections published to date – Sawn-Off Tales (a firm favourite here at RobAroundBooks), Aromabingo and his latest The Half-Life of Songs – and a novel, Never Never. He opened his reading with the story Cica Lights, before moving on to Happy Place, Little Jan (scroll down to ‘excerpt from book’), Floydy, The Lost Language of Hairgrips (scroll), and Music Like ours Never Dies (scroll).
There was an Arrrgghhh moment when Gaffney couldn’t get his laptop to work; a somewhat disappointing moment because he was going to tell a story via Powerpoint (he created a unique story series in Powerpoint for EdFest 2009 called Destroy Powerpoint), and I was hugely intrigued to see it because I love innovation in storytelling, and partly because I wanted to find out if it was on the same lines as the Powerpoint chapter in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit to the Goon Squad. On the bright side however, it gave David the time to read a few more of his flash creations, but not before the floor was turned back over to Hannah for another of her stories.
I think Hannah in some ways regretted her story choice, Dorothy Pugh. The tale’s a little explicit and Hannah was squirming in her seat somewhat while reading it, especially when the subject turned to penises. A red-faced Hannah admitted that she had never read the story in public before but actually, I’m glad she did. It’s a thoroughly entertaining and well written tale, which comes much humour and the same underlying sense of profundity (and to honest it’s not really that rude). So bravo to Hannah for picking it.
Back over to David who finished the session with another quick fire round of micro-fiction. He started with a couple of stories – Delivered by Sharks (scroll) and The History Brush – which come from his newest collection but which were originally from a project called 23 Stops to Hull. David closed with another two from his Sawn-Off Tales collection, The Kids are Alright and The World Won’t Listen.
And so a wonderfully engaging story hour came to an end. On the face of it it looks like David had more floor time than Hannah, but that’s not the case. Almost every one of David’s tales can be devoured in under a minute. Regardless, I doubt any of the audience exited the bookshop other than completely satisfied. Everyone certainly left looking a lot happier than when they came in (including me); a testament to the storytelling prowess of two fresh and invigorating writers.
My thanks to Hannah and David for putting some colour in to a grey Edinburgh Sunday, and to the West Port Book Festival and Peter Bell Books for making the event happen.