Sharon Duggal read first from her story, Seep. Her story of girls doing something maybe they shouldn’t, but maybe not so bad now, in 1960s Handsworth, to a soundtrack of American Soul music. Oh it just put me exactly in the room with her fish out of water protagonists, it was beautiful and stunning and intimate and beyond it foretold of the thrills and spills ahead which I can only contemplate from afar now. I was actually excitedly transported far into her world. I loved it …
In the Conservatoire. With a Lectern. Anthology Authors.
The readers are brought to the stage. The writers, that’s the entire audience, only wishing they’d had the chance to regret turning down a spot on the sofa on a stage set designed like a CBBC/Playschool room that doesn’t exist in real life. Or in anyone’s imagination.
Khavita Bhanot edited The Book of Birmingham – A City in Short Fiction and she is totally innocent here. Clad in glam black, great slightly sci-fi ankle boots with zippers – probably required to wade through the shit she was immersed in for the four years I’d heard this project took to come to fruition – She looks like the future of the city. Everything is awesome.
Khavita is generous to the talent onstage and right on point. Exculpating excerpts from their contributions to The Book of Birmingham, she is joined on stage by authors CD Rose (New Balance), Sharon Duggal (Puma), Jendella Benson (All-Stars) and Malachi McIntosh (generic skate shoe). There are introductions, there are warnings to not expect to see Caitlin Moran this season – scalpers take note for next year, and there are softball questions for the panellists – which they hit for the fences and I felt a thrill of anticipation – I liked these guys.
Sharon Duggal read first from her story, Seep. Her story of girls doing something maybe they shouldn’t, but maybe not so bad now, in 1960s Handsworth, to a soundtrack of American Soul music. Oh it just put me exactly in the room with her fish out of water protagonists, it was beautiful and stunning and intimate and beyond it foretold of the thrills and spills ahead which I can only contemplate from afar now. I was actually excitedly transported far into her world. I loved it.
Malachi McIntosh read from his, A Game of Chess and at times his lost in Birmingham drifting was so uncannily accurate I got to thinking maybe he’s been staring in through my windows. High on self-analysis and writerly technique. You get a strong feeling that Malachi knows himself pretty well and could probably write a story on any subject on demand. And it would be entertaining. As Khavita noted his short excerpt ended with a cliff-hanger… That made me buy the book. With my friend’s money, admittedly, but…
CD Rose we have adored for a while at outsideleft. (just look here) His shoes are tantamount to a surreptitious northern resistance and we never believe anything happens by mere chance. We’re all fans of his cerebral creativity and his story from the Book of Birmingham, Necessary Bandages, centered on the city’s nascent surrealist movement of the 30s. There were names and places and well I don’t know since hearing CD read for the first time was a singular lyrical experience, the lilt of his voice mesmerised me and I have to snap out of that reminiscence even now to let you know that if you do nothing else today, start googling Emmy Bridgwater and the Birmingham surrealists. Do, because something about CD’s incredible wit and creativity made me doubt they exist anywhere outside of his head…
It’s impossible not to love Jendella Benson. She introduced us to her unborn baby, her dhuku was just about the only vibrant item in the room and she read pitch perfect voices from her Handsworth based story, Kindling. Jendella gets how the city smells. Kindling is a nitty-gritty tale of girls not getting to the bottom of possible truths and possible falsehoods following on from a still unexplained incident in Lozells in 2005 that led to an outbreak of violence. Who knows what the cause of violence is one day and not another. After Rodney King’s attackers were acquitted there was an uprising some say, or a riot, but whatever you call it, it left around 50 people dead in back alleys as some say an opportunity presented itself for old scores to be settled – I’ve read. And maybe a dozen more dead from law enforcement bullets. Jendella Benson’s girls are survivors though and you kinda hope to meet them again and again in many more stories. Jendella, Just Do It.
Afterwards a creative writing instructor mentions the explosion of students signing up for courses. The X-Factor factor I guess. Maybe they didn’t see their dad come back from the factory with his pools coupon every week. I’m forever dubious. But if a fraction of them have a fraction of the wonderful talent assembled by Comma Press for The Book of Birmingham, then this is a City of Hope. I just hope they truly dare to get the city’s smells right.
Comma Press website