Reading in front of an audience can be nerve-wracking and most novelists never get a chance to do it unless they’ve been published. At Novel Nights we wanted to change all that and since 2013 we’ve been inviting unpublished writers to share the stage with established names across all genres of fiction, such as Tessa Hadley, Nathan Filer, CL Taylor and Christopher Wakling. In the early days, we were based at The Lansdown & The Strawberry Thief but our current home is now The Square Club in Bristol & Burdall’s yard in Bath.
Over the years our audience at Novel Nights has listened to extracts from unpublished novelists who’ve gone on to be published or find agents – Emily Koch, Anne Corlett, Kate Simants, Harriet Kline and Jonathan Pinnock are a few examples. Many others have enjoyed the limelight.
Each month we receive far more submissions than we can use at a writers’ showcase and author talk, so we decided to try something different and on April 17th 2019 hosted our first ever open mic, a bit of a free for all. Beyond sending out our e-newsletter inviting submissions on a first come first serve basis nothing was planned so we had no idea who would want to read, or indeed, two days before the Bank Holiday if anyone would come. Luckily they did and everyone had a great time and there was more time to chat afterward.
The writers who read
Pete Birchenough, who primarily writes science fiction, read from Severance, a short story dealing with climate change and political unrest in the near future. Pete work at Foyles and normally gives us the lowdown in a bookseller’s slot at Novel Nights, so it was great to hear his writing.
Rosie Smith read an extract from the opening chapter of her novel, The Katie Experiment, in which a young woman wrestles with a life-changing decision.
Kate Dagget, a singer-songwriter wowed us with lyrical vignettes.
Michael MacMahon encouraged us to use our fear of performance when reading aloud in an extract taken from his non-fiction guide to making weddings speeches.
Lesley Gillilan shared the witty and intriguing opening of her new work in progress novel.
JM Monaco whose novel, How We Remember, published last year, shared the first draft of her latest work. and she’s finished the first draft of her latest work which is set in Bristol. Shje reads beautifully. I hope she brings out an audio version soon.
Jonathan Evans read a story extract about a dog in Queensland. Jonathan is a regular at storytelling events across Bristol and often pops up on the BBC Radio Bristol Upload programme.
Comedian, flash fiction writer, and Novel Night first-timer, Daniel Piper read from his recently published collection, Arbitrary and Unnecessary.
Louise Gethin always raises a laugh or a wry smile. I’ve often heard her read at live lit events such as North Bristol Writers anthology launches or events, Talking Tales or Bristol Lit Fest. Her novel about a society who clean up homeless people on trucks and take them away for disposal did not disappoint.
and finally, Hilary Jelbert, who has just completed an MA at Bath Spa, was prompted to read the dramatic opening of her YA novel after hearing others read.
Bravo and thanks to all of you.
These are the results of audience feedback about the evening (and how it compares to a normal Novel Nights).
‘Such a nice mix of interests and styles and approaches’
Enjoyed it though the mic was a problem in the first half.’ Duly noted!
‘I really enjoyed it, please do more. I’d love to participate as a reader next time.’
‘Great idea – more welcoming and more of a social night.’
‘It would be good to run on a regular basis.’
‘Very enjoyable – an interesting insight into the variety of writing happening in Bristol.’
‘A really great idea. We all need a welcoming supportive space in which to test out our ideas!’
Charlotte Packer and I hosted the night and yes, we’ll do it again when we have space in our schedule.