It’s the Oxford Literary Festival this week. That’s the one from which Philip Pullman recently resigned as a patron over the festival’s refusal to pay its authors. But lurking in the shadows is an alternative literary festival: Not the Oxford Literary Festival, so last night I headed into Oxford, dodging the torrential rain showers, to attend a dark fiction event at the Albion Beatnik bookshop on Walton Street.
I’d not been to the Albion Beatnik before, but it’s a charmingly bohemian indie book store just a few yards down the road from the austere, neo-classical headquarters of the Oxford University Press. Everyone was made very welcome by the shop’s affable owner, Denis, who went round taking orders for drinks – they’d don’t do that at the main festival 🙂 .
The evening was hosted by Oxford poet and novelist, Dan Holloway who describes himself as a “spokesperson first for self-publishing and then for the more avant garde side of literature.”
Once the teas, coffees and wines had been served, we were treated to a sampling of dark fiction by three young female writing talents: Helen Marshall, Rosemary A Johns and Nico Reznick. Helen Marshall read a wonderfully entertaining story involving an embalmer, a dog and a circular saw – say no more! Rosemary read three contrasting pieces of arresting flash fiction and talked about how emotion is always the starting point in her writing, and Nico read the opening scene of her darkly comic novel Anhedonia which delivered an unexpected twist. Dan then led an interesting discussion about how all three writers used humour as a foil alongside the darker aspects of their work.
It was a terrific evening and I shall definitely be checking out the work of all three writers.