Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Comma Press Reading: Sean O'Brien and Jane Rogers

Two world exclusives; a writer who argues that the short story is a machine and every word a working part; a poet forced to rebuild his home to house his ceiling-sagging collection of books; and a comedy mobile phone ringtone: these were the ingredients for the Comma Press reading at the Midland Hotel last night.

The exclusives came courtesy of two new books (The Silence Room and the as-yet-unpublished The New Uncanny), the comedy ringtone via Ra Page's mobile (which interrupted his own welcome speech – as he said at the time, 'you couldn't make it up'). And the readings were expertly delivered by award-winning poet Sean O'Brien and the novelist, Jane Rogers.

First up was Rogers' beautifully crafted tale of a mother forced to leave her baby at home while she attends a conference on the other side of the world. Rogers is a master of description – we hear of a crying baby that was 'red hot with distress' - but also adroitly fuses emotional angst and black humour. The protagonist of the tale, for example, is a woman who somehow manages to get trapped in an airport foot massaging machine. Surrounded by 'helpful' travellers who in turn suggest that she a) pulls the plug and b) pulls her feet out, both of which she's already tried, the woman's thoughts turn to her bullying ex. 'Didn't it take a victim to make a bully?' she asks, neatly summing up what so many women are sadly so good at: blaming themselves for the actions of others.

Next came a reading by the acclaimed poet Sean O'Brien, whose short story collection, The Silence Room, was launched by Comma last night. 'The collection has every kind of writing – every good kind of writing – you can imagine,' said Comma's Ra Page as he introduced the writer, 'but the thread that runs through it is the Lit & Phil library in Newcastle.' O'Brien's gothic story centred on the fate of two quarrelling poets who mysteriously disappear while working inside a locked room in the library's basement. Like Rogers, O'Brien liberally douses his piece with humour (such as a stiff-upper-lip poet who reckons, 'he may have been a poet but he didn't like to let things run away with him'), all the while weaving a tale that is as chilling as it is entertaining.

According to Ra Page, it's down to Comma Press that O'Brien was first persuaded to try his hand at short fiction – if that's the case, lovers of the genre should give thanks to Comma (and maybe head to its online shop to get their hands on a hot-off-the-press copy of The Silence Room).

Sean O'Brien and Jane Rogers read at the Midland Hotel on Monday 20 October at 8pm.


Susie Stubbs is a writer and editor based in Manchester. Her blog,, has just been nominated for a Manchester Blog Award.

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