Short Stories Aloud

Blackwell’s Oxford

I don’t think I squeal about it enough. I love my life. Particularly when last night’s happiness lingers this long.

In case you have forgotten, I have a savage crush on Tessa Hadley and before I burst out with it, I knew that a story of hers was to be read last night at an event in Oxford, so giving parental responsibility mid GCSEs the two feathers, I grabbed the youngest but not so smallest member of Team Family and we sped off down to Blackwell’s to hear it.

And oh my golly, maybe I didn’t understand the set-up or failed to comprehend the very simple details, but there she was – Tessa Hadley AND Tracy Chevalier – about to take their seats.  Suppressing the urge to scream and fan-chant, we too took ours and from story one I was hooked and thinking well maybe it’s about time I read Jane Eyre.

That probably sounds seriously left field specifically at this point of my rantings…so to bring you up to speed.  The three stories read out, by three talented actors, are part of a collection edited by Tracy Chevalier and include twenty one tales penned by the Who’s Who of the literary world, inspired by Jane Eyre.

Reader, I Married Him’ is what you should be reading now…or at least purchasing to read, close to now.

We had the pleasure of hearing:
Reader, She Married Me by Salley Vickers
My Mother’s Wedding by Tessa Hadley
& Dorset Gap by Tracy Chevalier

So though I can’t give you the complete lowdown (be sure I will later), I can offer up this…you can have a super night when short stories are involved. Either you reading them or having someone do it for you, there is something so satisfying about a tale being told in under 4,000 words.  It’s like having a meal (with dessert), when it’s complete you feel satiated and content and know where to return for future servings of pleasure.

What’s further good news, events like the one I attended last night occur monthly, so why not place the 21 June in your diary now, under the heading Short Stories Aloud, and then try and restrain yourself from wishing the days go faster.

Two more grand things before I go.

  1. So I actually meet Tessa, in addition to her signing my copy of the collection after, for my friend Kate (thank you Kate, thank you Kate), introduced her to me after the first reading. Naturally, I couldn’t speak, but I smiled LOTS and wished that moment would last forever.
  2. And Sarah Franklin whom organises/leads/hosts/chairs the session was also fabulous, not just at her job, but it appears at pretty much everything. She’s really fun, interesting, lively and gets the best from her speakers and crowd. The kind of person you want at your party, actually all parties.


By Nadine Nightingale


So it’s not often I find myself sitting down to read books about hot witches and hot hunters and now I ask WHY NOT?  I couldn’t read this book fast enough. It was as if the pages turned themselves. I’ve just surfaced from a four hour session on the sofa, not sleeping, but absorbed in the adventure.  And the undercurrent of sexual desire is so good, it’s like an episode of Moonlighting, where you really want them to, but you know it might change the dynamic.

Nadine Nightingale is on fire. This is non-stop boom which can’t be left waiting for next read o’clock, for the dialogue is feisty and amusing and characters so assured. And the author’s choice of images super up-to-date, with ‘Coco Austin’s’ posterior providing excellent google search fodder.

In terms of the story, it’s like a great action, slightly scary, detective thriller, which you could easily see HBO picking up on and making a mint from. You’re not left thinking thank goodness that’s over, rather I wish I had the box-set to gorge on.

And did I mention there’s something very steaming in the telling, a distinctive touch of raunch, which when middle-aged is always a pleasant surprise. When you meet Bay on page 37 you’ll know what I’m talking about.

If there is anything I could beg of Ms Nightingale is bring on Book Two.

The Last Hundred Days

by Patrick McGuinness

The Last Hundred Days

Sometimes I feel incredibly upbeat and believe that one day I’ll be a writer too…then I come across someone like Patrick McGuinness and I think again. It’s not that I’m terrifically bad, it’s just that he is phenomenally good.

He makes the unreal, real. You aren’t experiencing what the narrator’s experiencing directly, but you know. You sense the danger, the destruction, the craziness of Romanian society leading up to the fall of Ceausescu. You are repulsed, outraged but also learning, drawn-in, and in a strange way enjoying from your safe spot over the narrator’s shoulder.

The narration is so frank and genuine that it feels like non-fiction. You trust this scarred young man and understand why he stays and behaves the way he does. This is not your experience but in way you can mix your experience and see exactly what you’re being told.

McGuinness creates atmosphere. Sometimes with tension or sensuality or amusement or with empathy – however always with poetry. And I feel it’s the latter that strikes him apart from so many writers. The images are so perfectly crafted, that by page 19 I knew that it would be sin not to share this work with my husband, so later that evening it became our new Book at Bedtime.

I invite you now to read through just a tiny sample of his work and not be blown away. McGuinness is really, as Blackwell’s described, a Rising Star.

‘Plants hung from balconies where people sat in the dark, backlit by the blue of their televisions’ p16

‘The three sets of doors between the modest entrance and the resplendent dining were like the decompression chambers of a submarine’ p17.

‘Wintersmith talked and munched peanuts at the same time, so that the contents of his mouth resembled the churn of the weekly rubbish as the jaws of the bin lorry closed on it. After years of cocktail parties, his fingers had set into a kind of tapered simian scoop with which he shovelled up bowls of snacks. Beside him was Franklin Shrapnel, his opposite number at the US embassy…’ p109

‘…light lapping at the cobbles…’p 135

And the characters – you’ll no doubt collate your own opinions but I defy you not to feel something every time Cilea hits the page.

Golly I could go on and on – but it’s best I leave it to you to discover and enjoy.