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.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Station Stories roll into town

by Sarah-Clare Conlon

Site-specific literary and drama events are all the rage. There’s the Library Theatre perambulatory production of Charles Dickens’ gritty novel Hard Times taking place in Murrays Mills in Ancoats next month. There’s Lavinia Greenlaw’s Audio Obscura story-based sound installation at Piccadilly Station as part of July’s Manchester International Festival. Then there’s Station Stories, which starts next week and is also located at Manchester Piccadilly.

The brainchild of novelist and flash fiction author David Gaffney – whose Edgehill Prize-longlisted collection The Half-life Of Songs recently came out on Salt – this promenade literary event sees six local writers surreptitiously and not so surreptitiously reading specially commissioned tales of trains and tracks and other things beginning with “tr”. Actually, as the project’s manager Diana Hamilton explains, the stories are about “murder, love, conspiracy: a real mix”. They’re inspired by the particular idiosyncrasies of Manchester’s busiest concourse and, says David, whose contribution is called Hidden Obvious Typical, “are all unique to the station setting”.

He continues: “Stations are weird places, where you have maybe illicit meetings... where anything can happen and often does. You’re in between different worlds, and that’s kind of what inspired us to go there.

“Station Stories will take people on a literary journey. It will explore the day-to-day life of the station – its platforms, its workers, the journeys people take, the waiting, the encounters, the thrill, the loneliness, the joy, and it will express the peculiar, unique qualities of the station – a marginal, in-between world.”

To reflect the changing mood of the station over the three different performance times – midday, afternoon and evening – project participant Peter Wild (co-author of Before The Rain and editor of various collections, including Paint A Vulgar Picture, plus the Bookmunch review site) has written three versions of his story The People Spotter.

Audience members will be led around various locations within Piccadilly Station, stopping at points near each of the six storytellers and listening to them one by one broadcast live via headphones. It may be obvious where the writers are: one, the Station Stories website reveals, is at the end of Platform 5 with a notebook and a Thermos flask; another, Jenn Ashworth, is in a photo booth. Jenn says members of the public, unaware the project is going on, may even interact with the writers (one of whom, David tells me, is going to be dropping litter, perhaps provoking a reaction), adding an extra element to the live aspect. “The unpredictability of it is something I found really attractive,” she says. “Each performance is going to be quite different.”

Jenn Ashworth – author of A Kind Of Intimacy, which saw her shortlisted in the Culture Show Special New Novelists: 12 Of The Best, and Cold Light, which has just been published – has penned a story called Soulless for the project. As Diana explains, this explores “the idea that every time your photograph is taken, part of your soul is taken. And there’s a reason why she doesn’t need her soul any more...”

The performances will involve props and effects, and the stories are backlaid with a unique improvised soundtrack played live by Daniel Hopkins, aka Landcrash. This provides another layer to the experience and ebbs and flows with the spaces and pauses in each of the pieces. David says: “The stories and the music by Landcrash weave together wonderfully, and listening to a live performer in a public place in this way is like being linked directly into someone’s head. It will be uniquely intimate and public.”

Adding further variety and depth to each of the three daily hour-long Station Stories slots are the contributors’ disparate styles, ranging from flash fiction to thrillers. There’s also horror writer Tom Fletcher (whose debut The Leaping came out to critical acclaim in 2010 and whose second novel The Thing On The Shore was published last month by Quercus), with Marble, and experimental poet Tom Jenks of The Other Room project, with Terminus.

Nicholas Royle – Manchester-based Nightjar Press founder, Salt Publishing commissioning editor, creative writing lecturer and author of a number of stories and novels including Antwerp and The Director’s Cut – will be telling the tale of The Lancashire Fusilier. Nick says: “I love short stories and I love site-specific theatre/performance, especially if there’s an immersive/promenade angle, so I was thrilled when David Gaffney asked me to take part in Station Stories. It was a dream commission for me.”

Station Stories is a collaboration between Manchester Literature Festival, The Hamilton Project and Bury Text Festival. Performances are at noon, 3pm and 7pm on Thursday 19, Friday 20 and Saturday 21 May. Tickets cost £11 each. A photography exhibition inspired by the stories runs at Manchester Piccadilly Metrolink until 16 July. For more information and ticket bookings, visit the event’s official website:

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