Julie Mayhew and Elleke Boehmer, 14th January 2020
It was a dark and stormy night. No, genuinely, it was - I mean, darkness is pretty much guaranteed in mid-January at 7pm, but to add into the mix we had Storm Brendan gifting us with sideways rain and stupid drivers (that may not have been the weather’s fault!) as we headed to the warm and welcoming bosom of Blackwell’s in Oxford... Having attended this monthly evening before, I walked into the bookshop with an air of confidence, but not as boldly as our host for the evening (Sarah Franklin) apparently did, decreeing “I am the event!” in a very uncharacteristic way.
The event itself is a wonderful escape from the world for a couple of hours, into the brains of a pair of authors via the voices of talented actors. Tonight’s first offering came from author and Professor of World Literature in English at the University of Oxford, Elleke Boehmer, with a short story from her latest collection To the Volcano and other stories. “Synthetic Orange” was read beautifully by the talented Amy Enticknap (of the brilliant Human Story Theatre company) and gives a glimpse into some dark events from LeeAnn’s past; thoughts evoked by the fastening of an orange bracelet: “The clip clinked shut and in the same instant the memories crashed over me like a breaking wave”. The imagery used by Boehmer is powerful and Amy’s telling certainly heightened the drama. Even the author later admitted she was on the edge of her seat as she listened to the ebb and flow of the story drift neatly between the past and the present.
After a short break (cake, drinks and books available for a small fee) we were soon back and ready for our next performance. And what a performance. Our actor this time was the arresting Stavroula Kounadea, reading Julie Mayhew’s creepy tale “Kayleigh”; a mesmerising psychological thriller about a girl’s obsession with her partner’s ex-girlfriend. Mayhew did say she had initially chosen a humorous story for this evening’s consumption, but realised that since the book she was promoting (Impossible Causes) is “a thriller about four teenage girls accused of witchcraft on a remote British isle”, perhaps it would be more business-savvy to go with something less hilarious, more thriller-like. It worked – I had to buy the book after listening to the tale of “Kayleigh” unfold.Having also read the brilliant alt-reality novel The Big Lie (set in a modern Nazi Britain, having lost to Hitler) I genuinely can’t wait to get my teeth into Mayhew’s first adult novel.
After shaking ourselves free from the spell woven by “Kayleigh”, there was another brief opportunity to mingle and eat cake (and of course, buy books) before the most important task of the evening – the Q&A. Audience members are invited to ask the authors questions. About anything. In return, we are treated to witty responses and one or two lucky guests could win a new book for their question-writing efforts.
Such a lovely way to spend an evening, with lots of laughs (Sarah Franklin does not know how funny she is) and some interesting discussion, as well as the showcase of writing and acting talent. All for the modest price of £5.