In fact, so far 2016 seems to be The Year of the Old Stories - with The Boatman (originally written in 2012 for a ghost story competition in The Times) finding a home at 101 Words, Last of the Sand Dragons (the first draft of which was completed in, I think, 2010) winning second place in the HE Bates Competition, and then One Street Corner Too Soon (published in The Guardian in 2009) getting another go in the spotlight courtesy of the Berko Speakeasy.
The secret life of stories fascinates me. Once something's published, it's entirely out of your hands, and although you can help raise its profile for a little while, all too soon it tends to sink out of sight. But it's never entirely gone and, occasionally, a story will unexpectedly bob back up again, and this was the case with One Street Corner Too Soon.
One of the organisers of the Berko Speakeasy, the novelist and performer Julie Mayhew, contacted me on Twitter at the start of the year, asking whether I would give permission for the story to be read out at their next event, which was to be "a short story antidote to the schmaltz of Valentine's Day". I'd never heard of the Berko Speakeasy, so I wasn't sure what to make of it at first, but it didn't seem like a huge risk. So I said yes. As soon as I saw the other authors on the list - Graham Greene, Lucia Berlin, Lorrie Moore, Mark Haddon - I thought there'd been some dreadful mistake and I'd been mixed up with a properly famous writer. But no, it really was my story they wanted. Needless to say, I was honoured to be lining up alongside such well respected writers, and slightly terrified that One Street Corner would end up looking very much like the runt of the litter.
|Inside the Greene Room, ready for some short fiction
I was surprised at how busy it was - the Speakeasy has been going a while and has a dedicated following. In fact, the tickets for this one had sold out before the promotional posters had even been printed. It's not hard to see why. The actors who do the readings are excellent, the stories are very well curated, the venue is ideal, and the attention to detail with the decorations and other touches really make it a special event.
One Street Corner was in the capable hands of the actor Alex Wingfield. He did a great job with the story, despite some of the awkwardly constructed sentences that I'd edit out if I needed to read it aloud. I deliberately didn't read it again before going along to the Speakeasy, to experience it as close to "fresh" as possible. I was pleased with how well it was received (lots of credit to Alex for his timing and the clarity of his reading) - the bits that were meant to be funny got laughs, the bits that weren't didn't, and it didn't stick out like a sore thumb amongst the other stories, much to my relief.
What struck me was that the story seemed quite dated. It's always been set in the late 1990s, i.e. my student days, which when I first wrote it didn't seem all that long ago. Now, with its references to mix tapes and import singles, and not even a passing mention of social media, it really seems like something from another age. It made me feel old but, still, I enjoyed the sense of nostalgia it left me with.
The next Berko Speakeasy will run on 8th June 2016.