It’s been an exciting week for many people involved with the Bristol Festival of Literature, with all sorts of local events to stir the literary juices. Writing groups of Bristol came together to battle it out with 250 word stories at the Flash Slam at The Crofters Rights on Friday 23rd October. Don’t worry, everyone survived. We were mostly unharmed and there were very few blood splatters on the walls.
Stokes Croft Writers were poised and ready to give it our best of course. We picked out our best flash fiction and four of us – me, Chris, Leah and Christie - took to the stage. There were five writing groups in total, but please don’t ask me to name them all as they have really similar names: all I know is they have ‘Bristol’ in them. So, anyway…we didn’t win. There we go, got it out of the way. I know, fans, it’s hard to accept, but we’re okay…honestly. Bristol Novel Writers won. No, you don’t need to go and beat them up for us, we’re good sports.
For those of you who don’t know Stokes Croft Writers (pff, as if you don’t know us?), we’ve been together for about two and a half years now. We formed whilst on the run from another evil group which we do not speak of, and decided that our group would be the best in the world because a) we’re cooler than the rest, and b) we drink more (I don’t know why that last one’s a reason, but hey). 2015 was going to be OUR year; the year to get recognition and possibly even money (ha!) for our writing. The year we get ourselves known as a group. The year we all take the plunge and set up a storytelling night. To summarise, world domination was our mission and still is.
As you can probably imagine, hearing we didn’t win was rather problematic. Nikesh Shukla, our wonderfully shouty compere (he actually was really awesome), announced the two writing groups who would go through to the final…North Bristol Writers and Bristol Novelists. I was about to start my high-pitched wailing when Nikesh went on to explain the twist for the final round – they would have to write a new story in the 15 minute break, with a theme of ‘Bristol’. I was suddenly rather relieved that we wouldn’t have to attempt such a difficult task. If any of the other groups were like us, they probably held a few of their best stories back for the final. Sneaky Nikesh must have guessed. Well played, Nikesh, well played. I was secretly rather pleased to see the other groups squirm at the thought of having to write a story on demand.
But they did, and they did a very good job of it. Both read their stories, then the audience split onto one side of the room or the other to vote for which they preferred. Bristol Novelists (who run Novel Nights, a wonderful monthly event for writers) emerged as the winners. They were given goody bags. GOODY BAGS. Bet they were rubbish, those goody bags. Bet there weren’t any badges in those goody bags. Or booze, or chocolate, or cake, or condoms, or anything else of great importance like that, in those goody bags. Not that I’m bitter about not getting a goody bag. I’m not 12. I don’t want a goody bag. Really, I really didn’t want a goody bag anyway.*
Anyway, I’ll stop blabbering on. Here’s what you really want to see - more pictures!
*If anyone has a goody bag they’d like to sell, I’m willing to pay good money for it.
Feel free to copy and use these pictures if you were at the event, but please do accredit me where possible – Mel Ciavucco, www.melciavucco.weebly.com
Saturday saw the closing ceremony of the Bristol Festival of Literature – the ‘speakeasy’ ie our very own Talking Tales storytelling event. Normally we do these events on a Monday night (a school night!) so it was great to have a good Saturday night knees up. The organisers could finally let their hair down with all the hard work over. We enjoyed some stories, plus a band - Long for the Coast. It was a fabulous festival, and they all did a wonderful job.
This is the soppy bit now. What? I can be sentimental at times! You can turn your sarcasm radar off. If there's one thing I've taken away from this weekend, it's the importance and strength of writing groups. Never I have I felt so proud, happy and accepted in such a supportive writing community, in my own writing group and beyond. Bristol writers are some of the best I’ve ever met, they seem to flourish in this city and I’m proud to be part of this buzzing creative scene. Thank you to my writing group who inspire, motivate and teach me new things every time we meet. Thank you to the organisers of the Bristol Festival of Literature who, despite having hardly any funding still manage to put on a wonderful festival. And finally, I’m thankful to all the wonderful writers and storytellers I’ve met in Bristol. You’re all brilliant and inspiring.
Ever wondered what short story competition judges are really thinking? I thought I'd share a few of my own experiences from being a judge for a comedy short story competition.
A year has flown by really quickly so I've just had the honour of judging Chris Fielden's 'To Hull and Back' competition again. As with last year, it was wonderful to be involved and it was great to see so much creativity and writing talent. I know this is what all judges say, but it's true. It was so hard to pick winners, but it was a lot of fun overall. As it's a comedy short story competition, I laughed my way through all twenty stories. The hard part is trying to conjure up that judgmental approach; trying not to just read and enjoy, but to think in terms of scores instead.
All the shortlisted stories will be featuring in the To Hull and Back Anthology which will be released on 31st October ('Hulloween'!) I'm already looking forward to reading them all again, and hopefully I'll get to meet some of the writers at the book launch. It's always fascinating to read a story before meeting the person who wrote it. I didn't know anything about the writers until Chris published their bio's on his website after we finished judging. I was pleasantly surprised to see some familiar names; some people who were shortlisted last year, and a Bristol local, Mark Rutterford (a wonderful regular performer at Talking Tales). Sometimes we form ideas of what the person might be like from the sort of thing they write, but the outcome can often be surprising. I was convinced that one of the stories, about a man's trip to Ikea with his nagging wife, was written by a man. It was a real eye-opener to see that it was in fact written by a woman, which I was pleased about as I'd secretly thought it was really funny despite it going against all my feminist principals!
Speaking with my fellow judges after the competition winners were announced, it seems we had very different preferences when it came to the 'best' stories. All the stories were of such a high standard that any of them could have been put in first place. That's what's so tricky about writing competitions, they just come down to personal preference. It's great that Chris runs his competition in the fairest way he can - with a range of judges all with varying tastes, preferences and opinions. In all honesty, I've often felt like some writing competitions give preference to more 'crowd pleasing' stories; often not funny or sweary or pushing boundaries or breaking rules. This is a shame because, for me, that's exactly what I'd look for in a story!
The judges stories will also be featured in the To Hull and Back Anthology so my story 'Wonder Woman's Birthday Party' will be in there. Hopefully, we'll all get to go to the book launch and drink our own body weight in booze.
In other news, it's the Bristol Festival of Literature soon! Talking Tales will be closing the week with a bang - on a Saturday night, wooooo (more drinking body weight in booze antics) - on 24th October. On the night before, there will be a 'Flash Slam', which may result in the deaths of a few Bristol writers. I'm a little bit scared. I've been writing lots of really short stories for it, less than 250 words, which is bloody hard! The writing groups of Bristol will be coming together to throw words at one another and fight it out to find out the ultimate question - which is the greatest writing group in the world? Just kidding.
Stokes Croft Writers are the best, obviously.