The finest storytellers known to humankind, as identified by the talent scouts of the Willesden Herald gathered for the launch of New Short Stories 1.
I started by dedicating the evening to Shakti Bhatt, whose story "Born Again" is in the anthology. I had the sad duty to tell the audience that Shakti, a former editor for Random House India and recently another publishing venture in New Delhi, had passed away just a few weeks ago after a sudden illness. She was only 27.
From my notes: Tonight is a celebration of the art of the storyteller, especially the short story genre. The short story is the most naturally perfect of the literary arts, consisting of a story that can be told in one sitting. We can also include self-contained chapters from novels under the same umbrella. (Some of our best friends are novelists, y'know.)
Steve Finbow, hotfoot from Japan, started the evening off with a virtuosic, almost musical recital in effect, of an excerpt from his extraordinary 'Balzac of the Badlands'. If that is not a novel in poetry, then...there is no then—it is.
Jonathan Attrill read 'Incident on a Country Road', a sinister short story that held the audience in rapt attention.
Lynsey Rose read from her disturbing unpublished novel about a self-harming office worker, which I described as like a cross between Bridget Jones' Diary and Kafka's The Trial.
After the interval, I failed miserably to create a coup de theatre by wandering on stage reading a copy of the Willesden Herald. It says here: "Willesden Library Centre: for one night only: The New Short Stories – a cross between PUNK and EMO."
Nicholas Hogg read from his long story 'Paradise'. In his introductory remarks he said that he felt the task of the writer was to bring out the good in things (I'm paraphrasing). "It's not all doom and gloom."
Jeff Achampong read from his novel-in-progress, nearly complete, which is a brilliant tale of a guy with sickle cell, torn between the ties of family and the dangerous street life of gangsterism and drug dealing. Having had the privilege to read it, in my opinion it is a brilliant novel, and could be a very big hit.
Vanessa Gebbie rounded off the evening with a reading of her BBC Guildford prize-winning story, "Naming Finbar", which had the audience in knots of laughter. A marvellous upbeat way to close.
Afterwards in Gigi's, a well-earned drink with Stratos, all the way from Brussels, whose cover art adds so much to the book.