Mon and I drove down to Manchester on Wednesday night for the live final of the Flashtag writing competition. Flashtag Writers are a five-strong collective of flash fiction devotees, organising and performing their work across Manchester, the northwest and beyond. This writing contest was part of Chorlton Arts Festival. Downstairs at the Nook & Cranny pub was the perfect place for my first reading in three years – small, close, and dark. It reminded me a little of Twin Peaks. I think the brightest thing in there was my shirt.
With eight writers on the shortlist, four Flashtaggers (plus a few of Benjamin Judge‘s excellent ‘Very Short Stories About Very Good Writers‘ read out in his absence – check out the blog – they’re brilliant. My favourite so far is Haruki Murakami…) and headlined by yer actual flash fiction titan David Gaffney, there was an astounding breadth and depth of storytelling on offer. I’m consistently delighted with the sensations and stories that can be conveyed in remarkably few words: Allie Rodgers gave us a dystopia without printed books; Dale Lately perfectly captured the melancholy of an empty nightclub after hours; Sarah Butler told the tale of a girl who lived on a bus stop. Michael Conley read my favourite story – ‘Looking for an Astrolabe’ was perfect flash fiction, bundling the profound into the darkly comic. David Gaffney’s piece conjured an infestation of acoustic singer-songrwriters, and blamed it all on Badly Drawn Boy. I also loved the work of Flashtaggers Sarah Clare Conlon, Fat Roland, Tom Mason and David Hartley.
I was the last of the shortlisted writers to perform, and – as ever – I was terrified. But the reading went quite well, the audience were very generous and it left me craving more live events. Despite the fear, I always end up enjoying myself. I’d like to think that a few more readings might settle my nerves, but maybe they’re there to stay. Ach weel.
Up against consistently strong competition, I was genuinely blown away to be awarded second place for ‘This Kitten I Knew‘. That was really humbling. I was delighted that Michael’s ‘Astrolabe’ won first prize – it was easily my favourite on the night, and I feel honoured to come second against such a great story.
More than anything else, it was truly uplifting to have some social contact centred around writing. Facing a late drive back to Kendal, we couldn’t stay very long, but it was a real thrill to stop and chat with the audience, the Flashtaggers, the shortlistees and Mr Gaffney. It’s strange, sometimes, to live in relative isolation halfway between the vibrant literary scenes of Manchester and Glasgow. Nights like Wednesday help me remember that other people are excited by stories – by writing and reading.