27 April 2012

This week, I've been busy squirrelling away behind the scenes on National Flash-Fiction Day, which is coming up all fast and furious like - just over a fortnight (Wednesday 16 May)! Below is a facsimile of a post I've written for the NFFD blog, published today - also live today is a Q&A with me blathering on about various of my other writing projects over on the wonderful For Books' Sake.

Flashmobbing flash fiction – guest post by Sarah-Clare Conlon
I’ve been writing – and writing about – flash fiction for a while now and I love how diverse a discipline it can be. Ask me my definition and I bet it’ll be different to what you were told last time, and different again to what you’re told next. And that’s what’s so great about writing micro: it might be small in scale but it’s more than substantial in scope, from process to performance. 

And that's what the Manchester-based FlashTag writing collective (which consists of Manchester Blog Awards winners and flash fiction writers Benjamin Judge, David Hartley, Fat Roland and Tom Mason - oh, and me) were thinking about when we came up with our idea for a National Flash-Fiction Day event. We're fans of site-specific stories and of delivering our prose in unusual ways, so we've decided to treat the rainy city to some guerrilla story-telling; some flash fiction flashmobbing, if you will. We plan to travel across town, stopping off at various locations - from cultural venues to iconic spaces - where one of the group will read out a piece of short fiction to the public then move on. We're not releasing details of the itinerary until the day, when you can follow our progress - and perhaps catch us in action - via our Twitter account, @flashtagmcr.

The FlashTag collective is currently running a flash fiction writing competition as part of Chorlton Arts Festival: you have until midnight today (Friday 27 April) to enter! Full details here: http://flashmobmcr.wordpress.com/

18 April 2012

Truly, Miss Julie?

On Monday, I paid the Royal Exchange my second visit in a month, this time for the Swedish playwright August Strindberg's 1888 classic Miss Julie. When I spotted the poster outside with the quote "I can't run away, I can't stay. I can't live, I can't die. Help me", I almost turned heel and legged it, doing my best woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown impression as I have been lately. Still, a stiff gin steeled my nerves for the expected emotional onslaught of the "Naturalistic tragedy" (as my copy of the text states) and a straight-through 1 hour 45 minute performance, and in the end I was glad I made it to my seat at stage level, and stayed there.

Miss Julie tells the tale of a count's daughter falling for her father's valet - a proper upstairs-downstairs affair, emphasised here by a staircase built especially for the production from the first gallery to the ground floor. All the "action" (Strindberg loves a good discourse) takes place in the below-stairs kitchen, decked out with an authentic-looking Scandinavian farmhouse table and benches, rustic sideboards and cold store, and various bits and bobs of galvanised paraphernalia. The house is as much a character as the actual people; the one depicted being a replacement to an original manor burnt down by Miss Julie's mother and being the root cause of both women's madness - and the set design itself appears to allude to this bonkerness, including a most complicated bell with which to summon the servants and a strange enormous UFO-style lampshade with changing colours.

This personification of inanimate objects is a bit of a theme in Naturalism, along with the many examples of nature imagery (such as when Miss Julie is described as a hawk, looking down on the others). The other themes are all doom and gloom, and what struck me most was how much the audience was laughing. I'm pretty certain Strindberg isn't supposed to be comedic - this play, after all, is about unrequited love, class war, madness, sex, death, suicide, more madness, misogyny, Christianity, greed, and even more madness. Not to worry, I'm not one to spoil anyone's fun, and I needed a good chuckle myself, although mine may have been down to star-of-the-show Maxine Peake's similarity on occasion to Queenie from Blackadder and perhaps to Joe Armstrong seemingly relishing the swearwords in his lines just a tad too much. Still, their performances were heartfelt and otherwise impeccable, and the rest of the Strindberg-minimal cast were excellent too. Another strong production from the company.

Miss Julie is on until 12 May. See the Royal Exchange website for full details. Image by Jonathan Keenan.

13 April 2012

Meet Les Malheureux

Mother pointed out that I haven't blogged in a while. I haven't got round to writing a great deal in a while, either. I'm afraid I've been busy organising stuff for FlashTag's flash fiction competition (open for entries for the next two weeks) and upcoming event, and helping Calum Kerr with the promotion of National Flash-Fiction Day on 16 May. I've also been terrorising the great and the good of the Manchester literary scene - largely the poor poor people at the launch of Rodge Glass' new novel, Bring Me The Head Of Ryan Giggs, when the lovely Emma Jane Unsworth and Joe Stretch also read - although I was on my best (well, better) behaviour for last night's poetry three-hander at Blackwells, featuring Ian Duhig, Michael Symonds Roberts and Salt supremo Chris Hamilton-Emery, and compered by the inimitable Fat Roland.

I've also been busy with Les Malheureux - we're working on some new tunes and accompanying visuals, and we're lining up more gigs than you could shake a road map at (click on the Les Malheureux tab for full details). We're now on the Sounds From The Other City website, we've also signed up for a charity gig stumbling distance from my house (which is handy) and we've been asked by our Monkeys In Love pals to support them at one of their gigs in May. They featured us on their one-off show on Resonance FM recently, which you can listen to here, and we've also published one of our tracks on SoundCloud, with more to follow. The Les Mals official photo shoot was also a success - you can see the results on Facebook, but here are a couple of pics, including one with photographer Zoe Hodson in action. She's on that Flickr thingy, so check her work out there.