Alison Clink. She's giving the lowdown on entries to the Festival Short Story Contest, which she organises annually, to the writers crowded into the Library children's section on Sunday Morning. Old Peoples' Homes are an overly-used theme too, and this year's obligatory anthropomorphic viewpoint was that of a motorway. Intriguing... and a very successful event too, with helpful winning tips from both senior judges. Maria McCann in her excellent short talk spoke of the importance of language, and avoiding both the'forced epiphany' at the end and the 'fossilised title' at the start. Crime writer Peter Lovesey needs to feel in safe hands, which is something that happens when the story is compelling enough for him to forget about style altogether. After useful & encouraging information from the experts, three of the winning stories were read aloud so we could all reflect on Maria's reminder that "ultimately it's all down to personal choice" and then go & enjoy a salad buffet in Divas.
Mark Thomas brought his new one-man show Bravo Figaro to Merlin en route to Edinburgh. I'd seen, and raved about, Mark's previous show Extreme Rambling, about his walk along the Palestine border which he dubbed '723 kilometers of national self-delusion', so I wasn't sure what to expect from this 'work in progress' about his relationship with his opera-loving father. It was simply brilliant. With all the passion, insight, and stand-up-comedy skills of his more overtly political piece, Mark told an amazingly personal story "not of redemption or forgiveness - the story of a gift." The vastly enlarged photograph of his father, looking uncannily like Mark in a joke-shop beard, gazes across the auditorium as Mark describes this family despot ~ "there was no greater bigot" ~ who sang Figarofigarofigaro across the rooftops of South London although 'he can't sing and he doesn't know the language or the words." The complex feelings of a left-wing activist whose father combines addiction to opera with extreme and violent intolerance are in themselves a fascinating story which touches profoundly on the difficult nature of family itself, but the heart of this piece is an extraordinary reunion. When his father was debilitated with palsy and dementia, Mark had the chance to stage a concert in his home to try, finally, to connect with him. We hear the actual words as Mark's father speaks, laconic but lucid, about this event. And that's really all we need. "My dad and I are never going to 'make it up', we're never going to heal the wounds. I wanted to say goodbye."