Manchester Literature Festival Event: Adam Marek & Guy Ware, Sunday 21st October, 3:00pm, International Anthony Burgess Foundation
I arrive early at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. I grab a coffee at the entrance cafe and head through to the small brick-walled adjoining room, taking a seat on one of the red velvet chairs in the third row. By three o’clock there are only a handful of people here. At the back of the room a small trestle table is set up and piled with copies of each anthology for sale. A family eagerly take the front row, and are immediately recognisable as Guy Ware’s wife, son and daughter. The wife takes photos of the image of her husband’s book on the projector screen on the stage, while the son puts his headphones in his ears. As Ware discusses the turnout with his wife – ‘it is a sunny Sunday afternoon after all’ – an older man takes a seat in the second row, and attempts to make his stubborn dog sit down at his feet, much to my entertainment.
It begins and we are welcomed to the Manchester Literature Festival event before Ware is introduced, clambering awkwardly on to the stage. Self-proclaimed ‘recovering civil servant’, Ware’s short stories have been widely published in a variety of anthologies. His new collection of short stories, You Have 24 Hours To Love Us, is about to be published by Comma Press, a not-for-profit, independent publishing company based in Manchester. Ware launches straight into a reading of one of the short stories from his collection, ‘In Plain Sight’, which narrates the life of Stan, an apparently ‘evil’ man who is in fallout with a variety of governments who believe that he hates them. Stan has twenty four hours to surrender his lifestyle of farming chickens atop a mountain and admit that he loves them. The balance between comedy and the darker subject matter is perfect, and the audience laughs throughout, including at a rather awkward moment when Ware’s story takes a crude sexual turn and his children stare blushing at the floor.
Following the conclusion of ‘In Plain Sight’, Ware takes a seat and Adam Marek is introduced. Marek is an award-winning short story writer, with his debut collection Instruction Manual for Swallowing being long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Prize. Marek leaps on to the stage and waves at the audience before discussing the themes that prevail throughout his new collection, The Stone Thrower. Having worked with scientist Professor Bruce Whitelaw from The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, Marek’s The Stone Thrower stems from ideas surrounding genetic engineering, including advances in the process of cloning. Marek begins to read ‘An Industrial Evolution’ from his collection, which recounts the journey of two people who travel to an orang-utan reservation turned industrial oil plant plantation that enlists cloned orang-utans to harvest the trees. I begin to feel sorry for Marek; his story is captivating, remarkable and beautifully written, but the overbearing white lighting and oppressive room are beginning to take their toll on the audience. The older man next to me is fast asleep, his head hanging low on his chest. I myself stifle a yawn and start to wish I’d bought two coffees rather than one.
The following Q&A proves very insightful. Marek likes his stories to hang in the balance between reality and fantasy; he takes a far-reaching and unbelievable subject matter and grounds it through the use of heavily realistic and, what he refers to as, mundane detail in order to maintain plausibility within his short stories. He also notes the incredible levels that science is reaching today and how, more commonly than not, it is reality which has becoming more unbelievable. Marek is also questioned on the personal and parental aspects of his writing. His son, who suffers from epilepsy and learning difficulties, helped influence the strong core that links all the stories within The Stone Thrower. Marek believes that the personal aspects of a story create the powerful aspects, and that while the various stories in the collection are all different, the reader is able to discern a sense of unity within them, as they all come from the same place. Ware’s work is a lot more political; he begins with a political event or issue and digresses, politics mutating with personal aspects to create a short story. He takes influence from writers such as Javier Marias and George Saunders to create the right tone and style for his work.
As the event draws to a close, the supporting foundations and we, the audience, are thanked for our attendance, as are Ware and Marek. They take their leave from the stage and are immediately greeted by autograph requests, as I head out into the brisk Manchester air, my mind relishing the wealth of new knowledge.