Friday, May 20, 2011

All aboard for Station Stories!

by Sarah-Clare Conlon

Station Stories has arrived on Platform 5, and 10, and in fact the whole of Manchester Piccadilly, and the service is running three times a day over three days. The eagerly awaited site-specific literary project sees six North West-based writers (David Gaffney, Jenn Ashworth, Peter Wild, Tom Fletcher, Tom Jenks, pictured below, and Nicholas Royle, pictured above) each reading their self-penned tales of trainspotting and trauma in different locations around the concourse, trailed by a group of audience members in headphones.

“Station Stories will take people on a literary journey,” project creator David Gaffney had told me before the project got underway – and he’s not wrong. As you follow the lovely Diana or Mark around the transport hub to particular points to listen in live to the storyteller and soundscape, you do almost feel as much a traveller as the suited businessman dashing past you for a cab or the student dragging a wheelie case into the back of your ankle. The experience is very fluid and, even when you’re standing still for a story, the sense of movement continues as you track the performer wandering through the crowd, find yourself watching the passengers milling about or gaze at the trains rolling past.

I was privy to some of the project details in advance, but even for me there were surprises! David had hinted at littering, and one man almost confronted him about dropping cards on the floor, but was distracted by a phone call. Jenn Ashworth had mentioned to me that she had something special up her sleeve, and the minxy outfit she wears as her character certainly is something... All six writers use props and interact with people or place to create a performance and this, along with six vastly different writing styles and an ever-changing live soundtrack, results in a multi-layered event that is so much more than a standard reading.

The station building itself plays a huge part, and you notice architecture and structure from unusual angles and explore what are ordinarily non-spaces. Even the audience becomes inadvertently involved, and we were waved at, pointed at, stared at, even shrieked at. But despite drawing attention, the headphones make you feel cocooned somehow, as if you’re in a secret world with the writer, despite the other audience members. David was quite right when he told me: “Listening to a live performer in a public place in this way is like being linked directly into someone’s head. It is uniquely intimate and public.”

Remaining performances are at 3pm and 7pm on Friday 20 May and noon, 3pm and 7pm on Saturday 21 May. Tickets cost £11. For more information and bookings, log on to:

Sarah-Clare Conlon is a freelance writer, editor and press officer. Her award-winning blog, Words & Fixtures, is about language, literature, arts and culture.

Thanks to
Conrad Williams for the images. Conrad is one of the authors at A Super SF/Fantasy Weekender! at Waterstone’s Deansgate on Saturday 21 May 2-5pm.

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