Short fiction or the short story form – whichever term you prefer – continues to enjoy a resurgence in popularity – among writers as well as readers. It is, as Kevin Barry writes in his introduction to Town and Country – New Irish Short Stories, “a very interesting moment … when the story is being considered anew and is being pulled in many strange and unexpected new directions”.
Speaking at Word Factory on the 29th of June he said, “writers always respond to forums for their work and there are a lot more places for stories now.” Word Factory is such a forum: it is a literary salon dedicated to short fiction which meets on the last Saturday of every month in the heart of Soho, and an online magazine featuring interviews, essays and reviews. It is the creation of Cathy Galvin, journalist, writer and editor who also founded The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award and was a judge in this year’s Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.
June’s Word Factory was a celebration of the modern Irish short story. It was hosted by Cathy Galvin and featured readings of their stories by contributors to Town and Country, Mary Costello and Keith Ridgway as well as a story by Kevin Barry who, as editor, unfortunately does not feature in the collection.
The event was a tremendous success on a hot and sticky evening where attendees had to fight their way through the party fallout from the London Pride Parade which thronged Old Compton Street in order to squeeze into the Society Club. The tiny room was packed to a point well beyond ‘standing room only’ and Kevin Barry and Keith Ridgway took turns standing out on the street with the latecomers.
Cathy Galvin introduced editor, Kevin Barry, author of two short story collections himself as well as City of Bohane, his debut novel, for which he won the last IMPAC prize in 2013. If he owed money to anyone in the audience, now was the time to hit him, he announced.
Although Town and Country, published by Faber is a collection of New Irish Short Stories, Kevin Barry makes a distinction between short stories and short fiction – he prefers the latter term – and while examples of the former, traditionally “well made with an epiphany in the second last paragraph” are represented in the collection he sought to widen his search, looking for writers who “are up to all sorts…riffs and rants, too, and stories that employ documentary techniques, or delve into the mystics of psychogeography”. To this end, he approached bloggers and broadcasters to contribute as well as those best known as short story specialists.
There are no priests in this collection of Irish short stories, we were told – perhaps a first – and the geographic spread of locations takes us far beyond Ireland’s borders (though not across the border, I notice – no Northern Irish writers are represented in the collection) to Berlin, Cadiz, Zagreb.
What Barry looks for as a reader as well as an editor is “intensity” – comic or otherwise – and of the stories in the collection he said, “they’re seriously fucking intense pieces of work”. He gives new writers only three pages to get to him before he “throws the book across the floor”.
He introduced Keith Ridgway who came in from the street to read 'Godigums', a suitably intense tale of a man who returns home to Dublin after years away – a self-perceived failure with his tail between his legs. He is covered in tattoos, one of which is the word Godigums, Latvian for honesty, a quality he does not seem to possess as he spins and twists the details of his life until he no longer knows what is true himself – inside or out. His most recent novel is the genre-defying Hawthorn & Child.
Mary Costello's first collection of stories, The China Factory was published last year and was nominated for the Guardian's First Book Award. She read 'Barcelona', which has an unhappy wife gradually sabotage her wedding anniversary trip to Barcelona with a husband who either doesn’t know her at all or knows her all too well.
After a break, Kevin Barry read, or rather performed, 'Ox Mountain Death Song', an epic tale in 17 chapters of the battle of wills between a country police sergeant and Canavan, local Casanova and ferret-faced criminal, ending in summary justice.
All three readings and more besides are available on the Word Factory’s website.
If you do check their website, you will also find that, as part of their on-going commitment to short fiction, Word Factory are setting up an Apprenticeship scheme and inviting applications from emerging short story writers. Two successful applicants will be mentored over six months by established authors and will get to participate in, and be supported by, Word Factory. The first two mentors will be Stella Duffy and Alex Preston and the two ‘apprentices’ will be announced at Word Factory’s 28 September salon.
If you wish to apply for this wonderful opportunity, send a short story of 4,000 words or less to firstname.lastname@example.org along with a maximum of 500 words stating why you want to apply and what you can bring to the Word Factory. The deadline is 1 September 2013. Check out the website for more details.
Word Factory’s next salon will be held on 27 July between 6 and 8pm at 12 Ingestre Place, W1F 0JF and will feature Owen Sheers, Sophie Hampton and Paul McVeigh. There will be no August salon.