After the excitement of staging and reading at last week’s Rattle Tales, I spent this week taking in what Brighton Fringe had to offer at a more leisurely pace. I spent a few hours wandering round the Artists Open Houses near my home, particularly on the Dyke Road Arts Trail. Two of the houses View at 42 and The Gloobah House have been kind enough to stock copies of my book. The work in these houses is amazing, jewellery, sculpture, painting, prints and cards. I particularly like the Lolli Cards made from eclectic record labels, Sarah Hughes’ recycled videotape accessories and of course Robert Mettler’s astonishingly good photographs! All the houses on the trail are extremely welcoming; there was a real party atmosphere on Sunday at the Gloobah as one of the artists sold an enormous painting!
I caught up with fellow authors Susannah Quinn and Laura Wilkinson to do a reading at View at 42 on Saturday and though there weren’t many people to read to we chatted and practised reading from our novels to each other. Such generous and talented women, can’t wait for Su’s book Glass Geishas which is out very soon (I think it’s gonna be huge!) and immediately bought Laura’s book Bloodmining for my kindle because the bit she read out was amazing.
I needed the practice because on Saturday night I went to the Ultimate Story Slam at Hendrick’s Library of Delightfully Peculiar Writings. This is one of my favourite events at the Fringe and not just because men in suits give you free gin. There are those that think you shouldn’t enter such things if you have been published, at least that’s the way some of the conversation went afterwards, but this is complete rot. I might have a book out but I need the practice AND I’m still impoverished damn it – you don’t get rich by selling 1,000 copies of a paperback! This event is utterly terrifying, from the rugby scrum to get your name in the hat before it starts (entry is free if you bring a story) to the announcement of the winner. I was trying to work out why it’s so scary, I mean I’m an old hand at spoken word events now and read pages out to Su and Laura without feeling sick or having a heart-attack. I think it’s the whole slightly surreal ambiance, the carnival orchestra while you queue up to get in, the writers checking out the competition, the badly stuffed animals at the door. Then you don’t know if you are going to read until they pull your name out of the hat, and you have to be quick, just three minutes to win over the crowd. It’s timed! Will they laugh when you want them to? Or, the horror, when you don’t? Will the timer run out? Will you faint from fear? The theme of the night was The Door. I’d brought a piece about a Jim Morrison in a Doors tribute band. There were readings, from the host Damian Barr and judges Niven Govinden and Vanessa Gebbie, to get us in the mood and then we were off.The wonderful Felstead and Waddell performed a trio of physical comedy stories including one about how The Doors got their name (penises/noses shaped like doors!). All hope of originality gone, my name was pulled from the hat and I actually did think fainting was a possibility. The paper shook in my hand, my heart raced but then people started to laugh, in all the right places, even Damian was chuckling away behind me. I didn’t go over time and there was applause, enthusiastic applause. On the way back to my table a lady said ‘well done’. It takes at least two more stories to stop shaking after I’d read and the rest of my gin didn’t hit the sides. I particularly liked the story about the vengeful hamster, and my friend Stephanie Lamb writes and reads so beautifully it makes me jealous! There was also a story about an advent calendar from a man with pink cheeks and a fluffy white beard. I thought he might win because clearly this was actually Santa on holiday at Brighton Fringe! In the end the winner was a delightfully inventive story about the birds at the Booth’s Museum. Well done Ally.
Four strangers came up at the end and told me how much they liked my story, including a lovely American lady who gripped my hand and said she was right there, and Felstead (or was it Waddell) assured me I didn’t sound nervous at all. Nights like this make me feel like I can do anything.
The next day I had a ticket for And No Birds Sing at The Booths Museum (it’s a very inspirational place). It was at 9.30 and I was a bit tired so was going to pass but my husband Rob told me to go, it’s only a 5 minute walk away, so I did and I am so glad I made the effort. I’d seen a couple of uncomplimentary reviews for this show (one rather cruelly compared it to The Crystal Maze) all I can say is that they must have gone to a different event. The show is a promenade around the museum in the dark led by a William Booth character with a torch. The Booth’s Museum at night? With Victorian ghosts, stuffed animals and skeletons, projected images, orchestral music and actors running around the upstairs balcony reciting Romantic poetry? What’s not to like? It was a beautiful and challenging use of a unique space, but then I am a bit of an old Goth, one of my favourite books is Dracula, I still regularly listen to the Cocteau Twins, Keats makes me cry and I have a strange fascination for taxidermy. There‘s a chapter in Starlings (the Victorian Way With Death) about the ghost of a Victorian lady haunting the Booth’s Museum, watching this show it was as if Agatha was real and walking the museum corridors. It sent a shiver of delight down my spine.
This was the last performance of And No Birds Sing but Strange Beast Productions specialise in performances in unusual venues – go to their Facebook page for details.
Yesterday morning I spent an hour at the Patrick Hamilton installation at the University of Brighton Gallery. Devised by Cinecity and designer Anne Deamer, this is an amazingly accurate recreation of two of the rooms from Hamilton’s cult novel Hangover Square. Every detail is present from the glass of whisky by the bed to the hotel soap on the sink and the ‘mauve morning light’ steeping through the window. They even have the closed door to room number nine where George Bone’s unrequited love, Netta, is ensconced with the young man she has picked up. As the chapter is piped into the room (brilliantly read) you experience all of Bone’s angst and frustration and when you leave you want to force of the door to room number 9 and barge in. This paves the way for the second exhibit, Netta’s flat and the scene of her murder – made all the more poignant by the signs of life just extinguished, washing on the dryer, sandwich crusts, lipstick-smeared glasses and the tantalising glimpse in the mirror of Netta’s red forbidden bedroom. The whole thing is like being trapped inside the grubby, whisky-soaked pages of the book. A must see for Hamilton fans but hurry – it ends Sunday.