Student blog: Grit

Maja McGill is a final year german and politics student and We Are Sheffield Students blogger at the University of Sheffield.

Interested in trying something different, I spotted the book launch of Grit amongst the various Off the Shelf events. It’s an anthology of short stories and aroused my curiosity because it features exclusively local writers, all from Yorkshire. The event itself saw about half of the fourteen contributors reading aloud excerpts from their own stories – without the ending though, to keep the audience guessing – and was located in a cosy space in DINA. Compered by Michael Yates, the man who collated this collection, his warm manner created a relaxed, personal atmosphere.

It opened with an eerie tale of family murder by Steven B Williams. This probably stood out most for me because it cleverly switched between different narratives and timeframes in order to make it confusing, but not so confusing that we switched off. In fact, it had the opposite effect: It sucked us in and were all hanging onto every word with anticipation. Following this intense thriller the mood shifted and we listened to some light-hearted accounts from other writers. Not all of them were set in Yorkshire but a stubborn Yorkshireman who became lost in the snow did make an appearance. The relatable nature of this character drew plenty of knowing chuckles from the audience.

Another highlight came from Neil Fieldhouse, former political editor for The Star, Sheffield. He wrote a gripping story exploring the distress of a man wrestling with his emotions. What made this particularly stick in my mind was the powerful way in which Neil recited it, his speech pattern instantly conjuring up the image of a man confined in a dark, tight space. He made reference to this man being on the end of a rope and initially I took this to be literal, that he was waiting to be hanged and these were the last thoughts racing through his brain. However it later became evident that the dark space wasn’t based in physical reality, but the man’s own mind. Skilful writing about post-combat trauma.

The final story came from Michael himself who gave an especially energetic reading about a man who had committed adultery – I’d go as far as to say that he put on a performance! Understandable when he has written many plays, including the award-winning Life Sentence. The back and forth between the man and wife was intensified by the change in voices and we got an even better feel for their personalities through Michael’s alternating body language. When he finished we were jolted back to reality, all of us wanting more.

With the variety on offer, there genuinely was something for everyone. Also, having the opportunity to hear (and enjoy) stories I would normally dismiss after just reading the blurb has left me more open-minded to wandering outside of the genres I usually stick to. It felt like a lucky dip, but without a single dud prize.

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