By Jamie Stewart
The launch of the Manchester Writing series highlighted the importance of humour in Literature. From guest author Magnus Mills, to current MA Creative Writing students at the Manchester Writing School – they each brought a variety of wit and wisdom to the inaugural event.
The beauty of the Manchester Writing series lies in its conception. It is first and foremost a space to listen to great Literature, and as Joe Stretch, Senior Lecturer in English told me, “With Manchester Writing, I hope that people will come along and feel a part of something; feel a part of a society based on the love of great Literature.”
But to me, a relatively novice writer, the Manchester Writing series offers so much more. The series explores and offers insight into how established authors deploy certain techniques in their writing. Mills agreed on the importance of events like Manchester Writing, saying, “I enjoy the chance to share my work, as well as the adulation, if I get it.”
“Lambert flows through Dublin,” Stephen Hargadon begins as he kicked off the night with the equally hilarious and gruesome story of a “faded, rather hairy pop-star from the 1960s, who hides himself away in the West of Ireland.” It’s hard to listen to Hargadon’s prose without feeling Dublin around you, hearing the river and the voices curl nearby. “Lambert is observing, listening, walking.” Hargadon’s ear for city sounds is both disarming and utterly charming. Hargadon has previously had his work published in Black Static and Popshot.
Amy Magnone performed a short story from a series of “colourscapes”. Her performance was haunting and confident. “There is a fire over there,” she says, and you feel it. You feel the colours; you see them. Amy’s performance takes you away from your seat and shows you a kaleidoscope of bright colours on the stage.
After the performance, I asked if Magnone could expand on the difference between colourscapes and synaesthesia. “Colours for me coalesce with emotions, it’s abstract. Nostalgia for example is a grey cloud, with yellow sunshine breaking through,” she told me.
Following on from Hargadon and Magnone, Magnus Mills took to the stage and read his favourite parts of his previous novels. From A Cruel Bird Came to Nest and Looked In, he read, “Outside the sun was gradually sinking, as it did, the light appeared to refract through the colourful jars so the whole shop was immersed in a soft reddish gleam.”
Mills’ prose is artfully simple, and he admits to cross-referencing his own work in his latest novel, The Field of Cloth and Gold.
Asked about the influences and inspirations behind his work, Mills noted Tony Hancock, Harold Pinter, T. E. Lawrence and fittingly, Anthony Burgess himself among his influences. Mills also references observations from his day-to-day life and the general public as a source of inspiration. “The opening scene in The Field of Cloth and Gold is based on a memory that’s been stuck in my head for years.”
Mills offered his advice to up and coming writers. He said, “You just have to keep going, you have to think about the book [that] you want to write no matter what you’re doing.” On how to know when a novel is finished, Mills said with confidence, “I just know when it’s done. I usually have a vague ending in mind and I stop when I reach that point. I also test it on my wife.”
The Manchester Writing series offers a variety of literature to cater for all tastes, but one thing that seemed to connect the three writers was observation. Whether the Irish Sea, emotional connections with colour, or a lazy shopkeeper – these writers have good ears and good eyes for detail.
The next event in the Manchester Writing series features Kerry Hadley-Price at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. Her debut novel The Black Country was published in 2015, and she is currently working on her second novel, Broken Dolls.