You’ve heard of microfiction. How about a microsociety? A work of fiction that serves up a slice of subculture?
On Friday, First Flight was a window into the publication journey of several exciting new authors, Eli Glasman, Holly Childs and Melinda Houston. As well as covering relationships with editors and publishers, the anxiety to achieve and the process of producing bad work before good work, the session highlighted all the novel’s firm groundings in specific small societies.
Quiet! It’s time for the authors to read. Close your eyes and let their words wash over you. Let their words find their way inside.
Childs is first. The editor of Crazy in Love magazine, she reads from her debut novella No Limit (Hologram). Her voice mimics the cadence of a high school student. Her experimental fiction, however, is far from amateur: under the backdrop of a steaming volcano is urban chaos. Cartoon-like in its vibrant imagery, the scene is filled with helicopters and base jumpers on the melted frame of a ferris wheel. With hacking and QR codes and tumblr and iphone photos, this is the novel of a digital native.
Glasman is the author of The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Jew (Sleepers), and has a soft, gravelly voice with an undertone of kindness. His reading lulls the audience into a safe place (‘Wow, Eli,’ said chair Sam Twyford-Moore, ‘I could listen to you read all day!’)
The excerpt sees protagonist Yossi going to a synagogue before school, and details intricate prayer rituals. ‘I always felt purged after prayers. I had given it my all.’ Glasman allows us an insight into an Orthodox family, and reveals the superstition, tradition and beauty of the Jewish community.
While Childs’ strength is her bizarre detail, and Glasman’s is introspection, Melinda Houston’s novel Kat Jumps the Shark (Text) is all about the action. We follow the location scout of a production company, and the story of Kat Kelly looks to be a behind the scenes look into the current media environment media. After a disaster near the set, the cameras keep rolling, and take footage of a body bag being zipped up. ‘When something like that happens, the last thing you do is turn the camera off…It was powerful. Unethical, maybe. In bad taste, definitely. But it was powerful.’
All of these artists are informed by their background. Glasman has grown up in an orthodox Jewish community: ‘John Safran went to my school… and he became a sort of beacon of hope to what I could be.’ Although he didn’t share every experience of his protagonist. ‘I have to come out as a straight man,’ Glasman says with his gentle humour.
Houston has spent years in the television industry, from writer to critic, and many people suspect her fictional depictions to be based upon real life characters. Similarly, Childs is a self-confessed digital native, and she logically peppers her texts with references to living a life online.
There is no sure-fire secret to publication (although our desire for the magical elixir may be one of the reasons Hannah Kent draws a huge crowd). But all of the new, published authors at First Flight have something in common: they are tearing the curtain on a world they inhabit. A glamorous industry, a religion, the digital world – all of these are microsocieties that become accessible in their fictionalisation.