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Manchester Writing series returns to Manchester Met.
By Benjamin Francis Cassidy
The popular Manchester Writing series returned to Manchester last week to see Gregory Norminton launch his latest book, The Ghost Who Bled.
The event, as part of the Manchester Writing Series, was hosted by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation and Comma Press and also welcomed special guest Lara Williams, alongside current Writing School students.
Writing School students Caimh McDonnell and H opened the evening with a series of readings. There were buzzes of excitement amongst the chattering audience, who enjoyed a drinks reception as they eagerly awaited Gregory and Lara’s performances.
Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing Joe Stretch, the evening’s compere, picked up on the atmosphere with his trade-mark dry wit. “That was quite a tense beginning. Everyone must be very excited, no pressure,” while turning to the guests.
Joe went on to warmly introduce Lara Williams, who read the short story ‘Penguin’, a first person account about the ways excitement often turns to apathy in relationships. There was a maturity to the delivery of her punchy, staccato sentences, which matched her spare writing style, reflecting the themes in her story of mundanity and staleness. As she read, Lara seemed to stand outside of herself, embracing her creation and reading the narrative as her character. She demonstrated with deftness how well she knows that character, giving her depth.
Lara Williams writes fiction, essays, reviews, arts journalism and is a social media and digital professional. She is a graduate of the Manchester Writing School’s MA programme, and her debut short story collection Treats was published in spring 2016 by Freight Books. She has also written for The Guardian, G2, The Independent, NME, Grazia, The Skinny and Manchester Evening News.
Next, Joe introduced writer and Lecturer in Creative Writing at Manchester Writing School Gregory Norminton, “a wonderful colleague, writer and a very well-dressed man”. Gregory read ‘Confessions of a Tyrant’s Double’, expertly switching between narrator and characters, immersing and engaging his crowd. The story explored themes of duality and the ways in which we construct identities. Gregory’s skill as a prose stylist shone, in particular his ability to develop character through dialogue. He left the stage to rapturous appreciation.
Gregory’s previous novels include The Ship of Fools, Arts and Wonders, Ghost Portrait and Serious Things. His new collection was published by Comma Press in September 2016.
Next, it was time for the authors to answer a wide range of questions from the audience, offering insight into their work and lives as working writers. Lara was asked about the perseverance required to see your name in print. She stated that there is, for most authors, a great deal of rejection involved, for many reasons, and not always the quality of your work. She explained that the topic or idea may simply not be marketable. Surprising the audience, she also said, “I find rejection quite exhilarating. Does anyone else feel that way?”
In discussing Treats, she explained that it was written during a nine-month period in which she was feeling “naturally melancholic”, before revealing it was the work which she submitted for her MA, which Gregory Norminton supervised.
Humanity Hallows asked Gregory about his thoughts on the art of writing a short story. He said, “The short story can be much more ambitious than conventions normally followed in novels. They demand you to learn the rules each time, and are read and digested in one sitting, meaning they can very quickly have an impact.”
The last question of the night asked how changing as a person can affect your writing. Gregory said, “So many young writers produce these literary works that show their skill off, but that lack energy and any realism. My very first publisher said that a lot of writers need confidence through living. I have gone through a crisis of confidence, and understand exactly what he meant.”
Joe brought the evening to an end, thanking all attendees. There was a definite sense of shared experience and belonging to something, which Joe highlighted by inviting everyone back next month, for another evening of learning, entertainment and culture.