As blasphemous as it may sound as the editor of the books section, I have never attended a book launch. As such, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the launch of the newest edition of the Centre for New Writing anthology. Suffice to say, I will be going to more.
The setting alone was awe-inspiring. Held in the bright building in Manchester’s science park (just behind the Main Library), a massive light sculpture greets you as you walk through the doors. Equally awe-inspiring is the smorgasbord of free drinks and food that greeted my housemate. As well as a selection of soft and non-alcoholic drinks, there was a selection of beer, white wine and red wine all provided for the price of the free ticket.
Just as we thought that couldn’t be topped, we cast a hungry glance over the selection of snacks provided; vegetarian antipasti, red pepper and parmesan tart, rice paper rolls and beautiful, ruby red falafel made up my evening’s diet. Furthermore, everything was vegetarian, meaning none of the usual awkward asking of a caterer whether that really is beef in the summer rolls.
Following the initial food and drinks, we sat down to settle into the bulk of the evening’s content; the reading of the anthology. Of the 17 writers that contributed to the anthology, twelve were present on the night, six of whom would read, followed by an interval, followed by another six.
Having had no real clue what the anthology was, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was the final works of students of The Manchester University Centre for New Writing’s programme. This game the evening a distinct relatability, especially as an English literature student myself.
The readings were introduced by Professor Ian McGuire, co-director and lecturer at the Centre for New Writing, and author of North Water. It’s fair to say that McGuire his talk in the boldest way possible, citing, “Getting an erection in public is, at best, impractical.”
Each of the pieces was read by their own author, and each brought a very different element to the evening. Starting off with an embarrassing tale of pre-pubescent discovery, to teenage loving, to a genuinely harrowing story of an ectopic pregnancy. All these topics were just within the first six readings, and the writings were incredibly varied.
However, what struck me most about the pieces was not their variety, but just how personal they were. Not necessarily that they were biographical in any way (I’m not sure if any were or not), but that each of the authors had put themselves onto the page.
When reading their own work, their eyes lit up and their voices spoke loudly and clearly and it was obvious to tell the pride that each had in their work. The stories, tales and poems were given an extra level of resonance and, to someone who had no ties to any of the authors, they affected me far more than I ever could have imagined.
As aforementioned, the book was not just comprised of short stories but of a selection of poetry. One that particularly stood out to me was Jennifer Nuttall’s poem, Here’s You. Intertwining the microscopic aspects of the body with sweeping images of the universe, the poem oscillates between the big and the small, leaving the listener caught between the two, marvelling at the connections between these two seemingly opposite ideas. On the page the poem took the shape of a human body, as the content of the poem is reflected in the form.
Although I have singled out this one poem, every piece of work was exemplary. When the evening had begun I thought it was going to take a lot to outdo a glass of red wine and a parmesan and red pepper tart but with the standard of work on display, I couldn’t have been more wrong.