In the first of a new strand, the editor of Litro takes a look at an unusual book event.
This Friday sees January’s dose of Tales of the DeCongested (Foyles bookshop), and if previous events are anything to go by it’s certainly worth curtailing your after-work drinks for, whether or not you are a writer.
Before the advent of Jade Goody et al., people amused themselves of an evening by sitting around drinking wine and telling stories. And that’s essentially what is involved in Tales. At each session, selected writers get a chance to read their work to an audience. They have short and long stuff (up to 20 minutes, usually around six pieces in the two hour period) in any genre, and going along is a good way to keep in touch with original fiction and its originators, as well as being a useful experience for the authors themselves:
When you read a story at Tales, you get a feel for which parts of your story work well and which need work. The moment the audience starts to twitch, cross their legs or fiddle with their watches, you know that part of your story needs attention. Having said that, audiences are generally supportive and help writers overcome any performance nerves.
It takes place on the last Friday of every month at Foyles bookshop on the Charing Cross Road and everyone is welcome (they even go to the pub afterwards). To find out more about how to submit your work, check out the website.
Click below to continue reading an interview with the organisers.
You can download and print a story by Margot Stedman, who will be reading at this week's event, in issue 39 of LITRO here.
An interview with Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone and Paul Blaney, the organisers:
Why should people come along to Tales of the DeCongested?
You get to sit back, relax with a glass of wine, and be entertained with wonderful storytelling from great writers. By coming to Tales people support new writers as well as the short story form, so you get to have fun and feel good about it at the same time. Plus it keeps you out of the pub one Friday of the month, for a couple of hours at least!
How did you come up with the idea, and what do you enjoy about running it?
We came up with the idea after a night out at Wimbledon dogs. Rattling back towards Waterloo we got talking about the lack of support for new writing, and the short story in particular. Writers need a platform to share their work, somewhere where they can try out new stories and polish their reading skills in a supportive environment. That was the birth of Tales. What we most enjoy is when we open up our Inbox to find a wonderful new story or writer waiting to be read. The atmosphere of the events themselves is great fun too.
Obviously the stories you choose are destined to be read out loud – how far do you have to bear this in mind when selecting material?
To our minds, a good story should work both on the page and aloud. Of course, we do have a word limit, which is largely a matter of attention span (it takes about 20 minutes to read, and listen to, a 3,000-word story), and it's true that some stories do work better on the page. Comedy works well, while an author who introduces six characters in the first paragraph is likely to lose a live audience. Occasionally, when we have to make a choice between two stories, we do consider which will work better aloud. At the same time, however, we don't underestimate our audience; most of those who attend regularly are serious story-lovers. Over the course of an evening we try to achieve a balance between lighter and more complex stories, as well as in the lengths of individual stories. (Our word limit is 3,000 but that doesn't mean we don't want to see stories of 500 or 1,000 words.) Finally, with author permission, we do put stories on our website (www.decongested.com) for anyone who missed the event or who wants to read the text for themselves.
What do you think writers take from the experience of reading at Tales?
When you read a story at Tales, you get a feel for which parts of your story work well and which need work. The moment the audience starts to twitch, cross their legs or fiddle with their watches, you know that part of your story needs attention. Having said that, audiences are generally supportive and help writers overcome any performance nerves. A large part of our audience consists of people who write themselves, so authors also get to meet a network of people keen to discuss writing. Agents and publishers often come along to Tales and, as our reputation has grown, reading at the event has become something worth adding to a writer's CV.
Why do you think there aren't more nights like yours in London ?
Since we started out in 2004 more live literary events have cropped up, but ours is still the only one solely focused on the short story. The appeal of live literature is growing and other events are combining music, poetry, light shows and literature. We like to think we've been part of this renaissance of the spoken word, but our dedication to story telling reflects a belief in the power of the story to transport the listener without the aid of other creative media.
If you had to give one piece of advice to someone thinking of submitting a story to Tales, what would it be?
We receive too many first and second drafts, stories that have terrific potential but aren't fully developed as yet. Rather than finishing a story and sending it, it's often best to set it aside for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes and insights. Proofreading is another issue; there's nothing like a typo to make a story look careless.