Monday, May 14, 2012

Claire Massey, Prestwich Book Fest and Drinking in the Northern Quarter

Claire Massey is one of my favourite Manchester-area writers. Her stories are smooth and lean and pleasantly uncomfortable, modern fairy tales that make you feel a bit strange. So I was very happy to hear that Manchester's own Nightjar Press was publishing two of her stories as single story chapbooks. I love the idea of single story books, and Nightjar's are always carefully chosen and beautifully designed... just the thing for a commute or an after-dinner read. Massey's Into the Penny Arcade is a creepy tale of a girl who happens into a strange place on her way home from school, with a nicely ambiguous ending. There's nothing ambigious about the way Marionettes ends, but this story about a couple holidaying in Prague does that difficult thing of making magic seem inevitable and unquestionably real. I should also mention that the two predecessors in the Nightjar chapbook series are winners too; Christopher Kenworthy's Sullom Hill explores good and evil among children in Garstang, and anyone who's read Ga Pickin's beautifully written Remains won't be venturing out on the moors after dark anytime soon. Collect them all!

Claire Massey will be reading at the first-ever Prestwich Book Festival, along with a host of other folk like Ben Judge, Aaron Gow, Sarah-Clare Conlon at the emerging writers night this Thursday the 17th May. And also, me! I'll be going all meta and reading an essay I wrote about a bar, in a bar (well, okay, a pub. The Church Inn, which I've never been to but have heard very encouraging things about.) The writerly action all kicks off at 8pm. And there's plenty else on; lots of good events helpfully spread out over several weeks rather than crammed into a few days. I'd especially like to get to Tony Walsh's Vocabaret on 14 June.

 And speaking of writing in bars: The Complete History of Drinking in the Northern Quarter is a fascinating transmedia arts project that uses collective storytelling and social history to get at what makes this place special to so many people. It's an endeavour that is pretty close to my heart. I still remember the first time I turned onto Tib Street in 2004 following promising reports on t'internet to the likes of Cord, Afflecks and the late, great Love Saves the Day and breathed a sigh of relief that there was a place with some art and soul in this strange city. The Northern Quarter quickly became my workplace and hanging out place and if anywhere feels like home to me in Manchester, this small network of streets and alleys is it. If you also have a history with this neighboorhood and its many fine drinking establishments, there are lots of different ways to get involved: you can record/submit a story with Audioboo (or the Complete History gang will come record you); you can share a written story, a video, photographs or memorabilia. They've got some very interesting things planned for the coming months, so keep up with them on Facebook and Twitter to stay in the loop.

Claire Massey photo Jonathan Bean.