Myself and Ed Fortune sat in front of a TARDIS. Picture taken by Frances Hardinge
World Book Night happens annually on the same day as Shakespeare’s Death, the 23rd April. On this day, volunteers give out free books in order to encourage reading in those who do not read much. Being a World Book Night giver I was of course giving out books on that night…
Except I wasn’t. Because I was giving them away on the 24th April. A day late… Damned temporal distortions again.
That was the base concept behind the Fashionably Late World Book Night party at the Fab Café in the city centre of Manchester. To be fashionably late in giving away our books. So, I turned up at a Geek themed basement bar with a bag full of books and author Frances Hardinge in tow for a night of poetry, prose and free books.
And there were a lot of free books:
Not only were there the 18 copies of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London and the 36 copies of Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral provided to our givers by the World Book Night charity but also a large collection of ex review copies of books that had been sent to the Starburst offices and which were now no longer needed. This meant that any SF or fantasy fan could walk out with quite a haul if they so chose and the murder mystery fans were not ignored either. The books proved very popular with the crowd in the venue. Some of them had come here just for the books, some of them had been drawn by the promise of readings by local writers and poets and the chance to hob nob with them. Many more had come because it was a Thursday night and they always went to Fab on a Thursday.
The readings and guest writers were also popular. Everywhere you went there were conversations between writers, poets and their fans in topics ranging from their latest books to why it is not possible to do a decent film version of Lovecraftian horror. The bar was doing a roaring trade and the atmosphere was friendly and open. The SF theme decorations added to the unique nature of the venue and had at least one contributor (who shall remain nameless) running around gleefully with a camera taking shots of Daleks, Cybermen and TARDIS’s left right and centre. I was also taking photos, of course, but in my case it was, um, for professional reasons.
Even the presence of some of TVs most intimidating and scary villains did little to dampen the mood.
There was only one critic present at the event but he was notoriously brutal…
Though they did seem to lurk menacingly off stage whenever a writer was up doing their reading…
However, the presence of the resident critic from the Skaro evening Chronicle (tagline ‘News to exterminate to’) did little to deter the performers. We opened with R.A Smith who read an extract from his debut novel, Oblivion Storm. It went down well, he got applause and was not exterminated.
This was followed by, um, me… reading an extract from Transitions. This was my first ever public reading and I was petrified. Yeah, I know, I’m a teacher as well as a writer and yes speaking in public (sometimes in front of very hostile audiences) is part of the job. It’s practically all the job (well, apart from the planning, marking, admin and occasional public appearances for publicity) so I shouldn’t have been so scared. Shouldn’t but I was. You see, there is a difference between standing there and talking freely about a topic you know a lot about and reading something out loud. With the former there is room for improvisation and the chance to have discussions and take questions from the audience – to get them involved and active in the process. Reading aloud is more static and you have to stick to the script. It is not the time to start subconsciously editing your own work and reading out this new edited version instead of the published one (which I may have done a little bit). Also, the lack of light made reading difficult (thankfully the representative of Flapjack Press was able to supply a reading light to those who came after me to solve this problem). Despite all these issues I managed to struggle through the section where Gaius Lucius meets the mad old man in the cave and got my own round of applause and absence of extermination.
The poets and writers of Flapjack Press then took the stage in turns and wowed the audience with their poetry and prose. They included Tony Curry who read out poems relating to what it was like to be a man and Sarah Grace Logan whose poetry contrasted nicely with its more feminist vibe and her works based on the objects she sees daily in her work at the Manchester Museum.
This was followed by Frances Hardinge who read out a chilling extract from her latest and as yet unreleased novel, Cuckoo Song. It was unfortunate that due to a postal service snafu there were no copies of this book available for sale or signing. If the expected parcel from her publisher had actually arrived that night would have been the first time and place that book would have been on sale in the world – a true exclusive.
There was then a short break before the second half of the evening, this compered by another local poet, Anna Percy who also performed her own poetry. She was joined by Dermot Glennon, Zach Roddis and the wonderfully anarchic comedy poetry of Jackie O’Hagan making this night a truly North Western literary occasion. All performers were well received by the audience and did sterling sets that ended in applause. More importantly, none of them were exterminated by the resident critic, for which I am sure they were all grateful.
Unfortunately we had to leave before the end, though I hear that the evening ended with dancing to nineties classics which I am sorry we missed. On the free book table as we left there were no more copies of Rivers of London and only a handful of copies of After the Funeral. The Starburst review copies were also much reduced, presumably meaning that there is now much more room in their offices for future ARCs. I grabbed a handful of the Agatha Christies as we said our final goodbyes to Anna Percy and the other contributors. Those copies were offered to students at my college the next morning and one was gifted to the college library.
Shown here are only a handful of the photographs I took that evening. I’d try to cram more in but I fear this blog post would be an endless sea of photography. If you want to seem more of them, you can go and look at my Flickr account. If any of the poets or writers who were there wish to make use of any of these for their own web pages or blogs you may feel free. Contact me and I can send you the original copies. I’d appreciate an acknowledgement in return.
With such a successful night I am not sure how we can beat it next year but I am sure we will have a damn good try. There may have to be ballet dancing elephants.