Sunday, 21st October 2012, International Anthony Burgess Foundation

I’m going to watch a talk given by Adam Mark and Guy Ware, two up and coming short story writers who are releasing new collections as part of the Rising Stars section of this year’s Manchester Literature Festival. I confess that I had never even heard of either of these writers before I was given my ticket. So, not knowing quite what to expect, I find myself in a small room lined with red chairs in the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, a little enclave in the great scaffold-covered façade of Chorlton Mill, devoted to one of Manchester’s most famous literary sons. I notice that the old wood panelled furniture that lines one side of the room sits rather incongruously against the redbrick of the walls and the polished metal of the air ventilator overhead, but these thoughts are soon disturbed as the introductory speaker takes the stage before me.

Despite my ignorance, as the introductory speech makes clear, these are two esteemed and decorated writers. Adam Marek has had stories published in a number of editorials, including Prospect and The Sunday Times, he is also the winner of the 2011 Arts Foundation Fellowship in Short Story Writing and has been shortlisted for the 2010 Sunday Times EFG Award. Guy Ware has published stories in anthologies from Apis Books, Comma Press, Earlyworks, Route and Leaf.

The event unfolds in straightforward fashion with either author taking turns to read. Guy Ware is first with a story from his debut collection, You Have Twenty Four Hours To Love Us. Ware reads ‘In Plain Sight’, the story of a man named Stan who finds himself in conflict with an unnamed foreign power, which accuses him of hating its people and having no respect for their way of life.  The rather passive, unassuming Stan, who lives on a mountain and keep chickens, soon finds himself subject to a blockade, biological warfare and eventually psychological torture as John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and William Shatner’s version of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ play day and night from behind the walls of the blockade. This combination of the personal and political makes for a story with genuine satiric intent, while the obscure narrative voice and Ware’s restrained reading style, combined with the escalating absurdity of the situation results in some genuinely very humorous moments.

Adam Marek follows with ‘An Industrial Evolution’, a story from his new collection, The Stone Thrower. Marek prefaces his reading with a discussion of how the idea for the story came about. He spent the day with Bruce Whitelaw, a genetic engineer from the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, who is conducting research into the possibility of one species being able to give birth to another. The relevance of this soon becomes apparent, as Marek’s story deals with a protagonist who revisits an orangutan plantation, where the native orangutans have become strangely human like and domesticated; no longer inclined to climb, dwelling en masse in a uniform ‘ape town’, and utilising quite complex machinery to harvest palm oil.

After the readings the event progresses to a question and answer session with the two writers, and despite the rather small attendance the audience readily wades in. A number of issues are discussed ranging from the degree to which considerations of the political form a conscious part of Ware’s writing process, to Marek’s digression about cows that have been given human immune systems, and then infected with diseases, in order to harvest their blood for antibodies. After this the talk boils down to influences. Guy Ware identifies George Saunders for his tone and humour and also expresses an admiration for Javier Marias and Jose Saramago, talking of their long run-on sentences that attempt to hold the possibilities and tensions of the narrative open for as long as possible as a model for his own approach. Likewise, Marek expresses his fondness for Haruki Murakami, for the way in which he grounds and disguises often quite surreal elements within a framework of specific, even mundane detail, a technique that has clear parallels in Marek’s own story, where the odd, almost behaviour of the orangutans is offset and made more plausible by a good deal of more prosaic information about the plantation and its history. This concludes a thoroughly interesting talk from two writers with whom I was previously unfamiliar but whose individual styles and unusual subject matter have convinced me that their collections would be well worth a look.

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Jaisal Marmion is a student at The University of Manchester.

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