photo by halcyonday
by Erinna Mettler
Nearly two years ago I wrote a piece for Thresholds about Rattle Tales’ first spoken word event. Back then we didn’t really have a clue what we were doing, we just booked a theatre, told some friends about it and each brought a story to read. But the event was a sell-out and it was to be the beginning of a series of spoken word events, leading us to perform at various theatres and festivals around the UK, and even in France.
Rattle Tales is a short story co-operative founded by graduates from the Creative Writing programme at the University of Sussex. Once we had graduated, we met regularly to workshop our writing and, after a while, we decided that what was being presented was good enough for a wider audience.
After that first show, we decided to throw the floor open to authors outside the group, and we now put out a general call for submissions around two months before our events. A typical show will be a 50/50 split of stories from Rattle Tales members and guest readers, though this does vary depending on the stories we receive.
As a true co-operative, each Rattle Tales member has a say in what makes it into a show. Our selection process is lengthy and democratic. Everybody reads all the submissions, allocating a yes, no, or maybe status to each. We then meet to discuss them over posh crisps and wine, taking notes in the meeting so we can offer feedback for any stories we reject. Then, once we’ve cast our votes, we come up with a programme. We usually have six short stories and two flash pieces, and after each author has read, we’ll save time for audience discussion.
For a live show to work, the stories all need to have certain qualities. They need to be original, easy to follow, and interesting enough to hold an audience for around ten minutes. Rattle Tales stories often have a lyrical, almost poetic, quality in their use of language. This is something the best read-aloud stories share: a voice that carries the audience back to the bedtime stories of their childhood. That’s not to say our stories are for children, though, far from it – we want stories that confront, inspire and challenge, and we’ll often pick pieces that have a bit of an edge or that invoke discussion. We also like funny. Funny is rare. People seem to shy away from it, but if you can make an audience laugh you’re half-way there already.
Above all else, Rattle Tales aims to promote writers who might not get a chance to perform or get in print elsewhere. We’re about taking risks, seeing if things will work. Sometimes they don’t, but at least we can say we tried. Interestingly, our less brilliant shows have been the ones which have featured more traditional storytelling. More often than not, the riskier ones pay off and the audience gets to experience something extraordinary. This year, we used our Fringe show to launch our second anthology, Rattle Tales 2. Reading through it, as we prepared for print, we were amazed by the quality of the stories included. Not only do the authors take risks, but the flair, originality and mastery of the short story genre displayed by our contributors is something to be celebrated.
A Rattle Tales show is as much about the audience as the author. We want to encourage discussion of the stories being read, and so we hand out football rattles to the audience to shake if they want to comment or ask a question. Our host, Jo Warburton, leads the questions and we’re always delighted by just how enthusiastic our audiences can be. Their comments are always insightful and are often surprising too – highlighting certain areas of a story in ways that may not have occurred to the author before. This does mean that authors need to come with an open mind though! Having said this, one of my favourite questions asked of an author at the last show was: ‘Where did you get your shirt?’
This year’s Brighton Fringe show was our most successful yet; the Brunswick Pub in Hove was packed to the doors and the show went on well into the night. We had stories about zombie babies, coal miners, the apocalypse, coincidences, honest men, restless legs, girls with tails, and a future Brighton. To illustrate the stories, photographs were projected on a screen while the authors read – all from photographers from Brighton and Hove Camera Club, who were given the stories in advance. This added an extra dimension to the proceedings as most of the photographers went on to discuss their interpretations. It was great fun for the authors to see their stories interpreted in this way and some of the images were quite unexpected.
We have a summer of festivals planned, including The Green Man and possibly another outing to France, but we’ll be back in Brighton in September for The Brighton Digital Festival and a regular show at The Brunswick. We’re also diversifying into workshops, the first of which – Creative Writing Kick-start – takes place in Brighton on 22 June. Check our website for all our news and events and send us a story. It could be you on our stage come September.