Second Book Of Shaftesbury Stories On Sale This Summer

A group of locals who write for fun will publish a second book of Shaftesbury-inspired stories in time for Fringe.

Members of Shaftesbury Arts Centre’s Creative Writing Group have produced a dozen fictional or factual pieces on the theme of ‘Shaftesbury – Life on the Edge’.

The writers’ fortnightly workshops began eleven years ago, following a short-story writing contest that was judged by Shaftesbury-based author Fay Weldon. “We’re a self-selecting group of people. Our motivation is to improve our own work, but also to share in a forum,” explained group member and book editor Barkley Johnson.

He says his fellow writers have had fun interpreting the ‘Life on the Edge’ theme. “Shaftesbury is sited on the edge – and that’s geographically, not necessarily in another way. Some people have followed that, so their work might have a passing reference to Shaftesbury. On the other hand, it might be a historical event, totally to do with Shaftesbury. A lot of the people that are coming for the Fringe aren’t necessarily locals, so if the story has a universal appeal, that’s better,” said Barkley.

Barkley Johnson

Each of the original stories in the book will be very different in both style and subject. “The content ranges from the historical, or factual with some invention, to the bizarre. The standard of the stories is fantastic. There’s something there for everybody,” said Barkley, who added that he likes to spring the unexpected on his readers.

“I always like to have a twist in the story so that I’m leading you down a path in one direction, and we land up entirely somewhere else. Others will use the prompt to write a story about an event in their life, which they’ve never had the opportunity to express before. And that, in itself, is a form of release. I’m not saying that we’re an encounter group, but there are elements of that kind of cooperation, that makes us feel better about ourselves, our stories and our ability to write.”

As well as publishing their writing, the collective will read their stories to the public in the Arts Centre foyer between 10am and 12noon on Saturday 6th July. As a former actor, with BBC Radio 4 drama experience, Barkley won’t baulk at the thought of standing in front of an audience. But writing at home alone and public performance requires very different skills. Yet Barkley says all of the other writers, except a group member who has a prior engagement, are looking forward to reading out their stories at the podium.

“Some of us have had experience in public speaking, either in business or performance arts. Some people are a little bit quieter but as long as they can be heard and understood, we don’t need to present the work in a performance way. Nobody needs to be an actor. What they do need to be is heard,” he said.

Shaftesbury Arts Centre

When the group read their work at Fringe last year, members of the public tended to drift in and out of the foyer, so the group has kept the stories short this year, with the audience in mind. “None of them will take more than about eight or nine minutes to get through. It’s partly due to wanting to make the stories accessible without getting too involved with them. And publishing the number of stories that we have, we like to keep the booklet down to a reasonable size. That doesn’t mean to say that in the future, we might not publish something where the stories are less short,” he said.

Barkley expects the book to go on sale from the Arts Centre in time for Fringe. This year’s festival runs between the 5th and 7th of July. “I’m hoping, as editor this year, that we will be able to get the booklet out perhaps a week before,” he said.