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Guest Blog Post – Flashtag Writers Short Short Story Slam

July 1, 2013

We’d like to say a very big thank you to Didsbury’s Izzy Bowen, who popped along to The Albert Club on Friday evening, for the Flashtag Writers Short Short Story Slam – a Didsbury Arts Festival competition – and who the penned the following…

Now here’s something a little bit different. A performance short story competition, with the audience voting for their winners, set in The Albert Club. Nestled in a nook underneath thestairs and bathed in rosy light, a group of competitors stepped up to the microphone clutching small pieces of paper, charged with the task of entertaining the waiting crowd with a story of less than 100 words. With a series of amusing compères keeping the whole thing moving (including one who is surely some relation of Peter Kay), it might best be described as a cross between stand-up comedy, karaoke and a lit fest.

It was a combination that definitely worked. The short stories – or flash fiction – that featured in the Flashtag Writers Short Short Story Slam, as part of this year’s Didsbury Arts Festival, were just the right length for a watching audience. The contest was portrayed as a set of mock boxing matches, complete with an edible belt as a prize and knock-out rounds. Pieces grew in size from 100 to 150 to 200 words with each stage. Winner Trish’s story was called ‘The Tourists’; other contestants’ topics ranged from pirates to restaurants to dinosaurs. Most importantly, the quality was excellent. A number of the contestants were professional writers, but all added to their writing with confident and enticing performances, underlining the added element of public speaking involved in this kind of writing which makes it so interesting, and so genuinely suited to the entertainment setting.

Indeed two contestants I spoke to, Zach and Sian, commented on the pleasure of competing away from the usual crowd of hardcore lit-lovers, instead performing before an appreciative and open-minded group of adults and children alike. The five Flashtag writers – who staged the event – have been establishing a growing groundswell in Manchester in the performance of flash fiction, including having organised the Chorlton Arts Festival Flash Mob writing competition in 2011. This year, the show – for it ought to be described as such – included the results of the One Forty Fiction competition, a challenge to create the best short story within the length of a Twitter post (just 140 characters), suggesting the versatility of the flash fiction genre. The difficulty is not just in forming a narrative that will be effective in such a limited space, necessitating an economy of language, but also in creating short short stories which run just like jokes, building up to a punch line, whether humorous or simply lyrical; the contestants here pulled it off masterfully.

All in all, we were able to indulge in something quite special, whilst sitting in cosy surroundings. The Short Short Story Slam showcased perhaps the best of the Didsbury Arts Festival – something unique, home-grown and radical, a real stand-out event. As the contest drew to a close I was left wondering if a new type of evening entertainment had just been revealed, one which reinvents writing – usually considered exclusive – as a form appropriate for and attractive to a general audience. Perhaps The Albert could even put it on as a regular fixture? What’s certain is that a few humorous tales by the fireside on a rainy evening, given by a bunch of talented writers and performers went down  real literary treat.

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