BLOG Alice Vernon

NWR Issue 110

Welsh Short Story Network: Herring & Komodo Dragons

On Wednesday 25 November, I went to my first Welsh Short Story Network. A regular event at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, it showcases the work of local writers in a warm and informal environment. Hosted by Professor Matthew Francis of the Department of English and Creative Writing, the evening presented a diverse range of stories from four writers. It was held in the Performance Studio, which, as I reported in my blog on Raymondo, is an excellent and intimate venue for sharing stories. I very much enjoyed it, not just for the stories themselves, but because the casual tone of the evening allowed the writers to discuss their work and receive friendly feedback.

The first reader was Kiare Ladner, a Creative Writing PhD student at the university. Her story was expertly crafted; an exploration into the relationship of an elderly couple. In an effort to retrieve her husband from the grip of dementia, a woman plans a picnic with surströmming – Swedish fermented herring notorious for its overwhelmingly disgusting smell – only to be thwarted by Aberystwyth’s villainous seagulls. They really do ruin everything. It was a poignant and witty glimpse into the endurance of old love.

Kiare was followed by Matthew Francis who read an excerpt of a story from his collection, Singing a Man to Death. Set in the Middle Ages and based on the legend of Pope Joan, Francis uses multiple narrators and transitions with ease between these different voices. His story, both in writing and delivery, has a great sense of humour that complemented the bittersweet nature of Kiare Ladner’s piece.

We then had a quick break, which provided an opportunity for lots of interesting conversations about the construction and performance of short stories, talking in particular about the pros and cons of publishing work in fiction magazines [what on earth could the cons be? ED]. I think I was expecting it to be a bit more formal, and so it was wonderful to see just how friendly an atmosphere the network creates.

Nic Herriot took to the microphone next, and read a story inspired by a conversation with residents at the care home where she works. Both darkly funny and sinister, there was something quite Neil Gaiman-esque about this story. It involved jealousy and komodo dragons, and worked incredibly well as a performance piece. I’ve seen Nic Herriot read before – at what was known as Chin Wag a few years ago – and she proved again that night her powers of reading her stories aloud.

The final reader of the evening was Helen Sandler, co-programmer of Aberystwyth’s Aberration events. She read three short pieces which presented a diverse spectrum of women’s voices. From business partners to the woman visiting the flat of her recently deceased relative to the extroverted new mother living in a Welsh chalet park, Sandler showed skill in her variety of tone and subject matter. She linked an experience of grief with a monologue of new life, of women’s relationships and emotional strengths. Her stories provided an excellent end to the event.

This was a casual, cosy and engaging evening that presented some very imaginative ideas. I would have liked to have seen more students in the audience, however. Particularly for those studying modules on short stories, these regular evenings show the dynamism of storytelling, not just in construction but also in performance. Not only is it another excellent part of Aberystwyth’s arts scene, but it offers a chance to experience short stories outside of the seminar, to meet with local writers, and to socialise. The Welsh Short Story Network takes place every six months, and I highly encourage more students to attend future events.

Alice Vernon is a PhD student at Aberystwyth University and is in the second year of a blogging residency at New Welsh Review.


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