By Shona Jackson
It’s Friday evening, dusk has settled and the North West Literary Salon is humming with conversation and the lilting acoustics of local musician Noni. As our writers take their seats, an evening of fantastical worlds and candid realities unfolds.
Writer and journalist Kirsty Logan begins the evening with a reading of the title short story from her award-winning collection The Rental Heart. She effortlessly marries an urban, contemporary landscape with fairy-tale whimsy. As the ebb and flow of lovers passes through the narrator’s life, they rent and subsequently return clockwork hearts. It’s poignant, enchanting, but also strikingly raw. Kirsty quips about being twenty-four and melodramatic when she wrote the piece following a break-up, of wanting to take out her heart and buy a new one. The second piece she shares is ‘The Elephant Dance’ from her short story collection The Portable Shelter. In it, she invokes a familiar trope, that of running away with the circus. But rather than escaping past wrongs, the protagonist embraces her mistakes, gleeful to see them bound in tight ropes and glittering. Logan uses fairy-tales and the fantastical as a lens through which to examine human realities, framing the familiar in an enchanting new light.
Next, acclaimed novelist Charles Lambert reads excerpts from his book, With a Zero at its Heart, a collection of prose fragments. Twenty-four chapters, with ten paragraphs, each 120 words. There’s something inherently satisfying about the exactness. The sections frame fleeting memories like photographs, they’re ephemeral, but intense, vivid. Charles was half way through writing the book when his mother died. The knowledge adds a certain urgency to his words, a necessity to pin down and preserve memories. As he reads, we fall through playful childhood recollections, spelling sex in wooden blocks while his mother watched Emergency Ward 10, drifting into meditations on words: some are silky smooth like blancmange. The most striking section draws on Lambert’s expatriate life in Italy. It depicts a nightmare of waking up in the country he was born to find he can no longer speak the language, reduced instead to babyish murmurs. The collection is exquisite, resonant; delving into the capacities of memory and imagination.
Both of our writers blur the line between fiction and reality. Kirsty’s stories are otherworldly, yet at their core lies raw human experience, and while Charles’s writings seem biographically rooted, narrating memory feels an awful lot like creating fiction too. Join us next month for more literary wonder.