The independent Northumbrian publisher Red Squirrel Press is, according to one of SWC’s Directors Derek Parkes, ‘one of the finest publishers going’. Founded in 2006 by Sheila Wakefield and having published over 130 titles to date, Red Squirrel Press is a firm favourite at the Scottish Writers’ Centre, and have showcased many a talented writer at the SWC over the years. Their latest offering, ‘What Do Short Stories Look Like?’ proves to be another treat from one of our favourite independent publishers in Britain.
Postbox Press, the literary fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Press, was established last year and tonight’s readers have all been recently published. The event, which is described as ‘an extravaganza of short stories’ by director Derek Parkes, focuses particularly on the unique ‘technique, nuances and pitfalls’ which short story writers face.
Our first reader, Stephen Barnaby, is most famous for crafting 50 word short stories and, before he begins to read from his collection I Never Knew It Was As Bad As That, warns the audience that it’s his first time reading anything longer than those ubiquitous 50 words. No need to be worried: as Stephen begins his story ‘A Country Walk’, it becomes clear that he’s an engaging, humorous reader who assumes the voices of his characters well. The story, which is enhanced by its strong dialogue and interesting musings about the differences between country folk and city dwellers, follows two men of differing ages as they walk alongside a motorway, in search of a beautiful country walk. One of my favourite moments is when the elder of the two men launches into a meditation of how writing by different types of light can influence the stories and poems that result; a reflection that we’re certain will relate in some way to every writer in the room.
Colin Will, the editor of Postbox Press, takes to the floor soon after, but not before Sheila Wakefield steps in a gives a glowingly heart-warming testimonial of his work and talent. Before regaling us with his short story ‘Sparks’, he introduces himself and his twenty-one year stint in amateur theatre, an experience which he strove to capture in his stories. Colin’s passion and love for the theatre shines through in the sheer level of detail with which this vivid story is peppered – in describing the life of his protagonist, an amateur lighting technician, he gives us a convincing retrospective of a life lived within the bounds of the theatre, for better or worse.
The last reader of the evening, Diana Hendry, reads from her new collection My Father is an Ant – a collection which Sheila Wakefield confidently states has ‘everything’ in it, but most especially wisdom. Although a prolific author of children’s and young adult novels, this is Diana’s first foray into publishing short stories, and she begins with her story ‘Somebody Smith’. With one of the most intriguing first lines I’ve ever heard ‘The thing is I’ve always wanted to be rescued’, the story takes on the unlikely situation of MI5 kidnapping an old lady, and turns it into a witty and oddly relatable contemplation of life. The most enduring pearl of wisdom? ‘Take charge of your own life’ and always be the one who does the rescuing.
Did you enjoy this event? Do you have a favourite out of our featured short story writers? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @Scottish Writers.
Words by Rachel Walker
Photos by Sarah Hendry