I found out about White Rabbit and their short story event Are You Sitting Comfortably via my friend Vanessa, who had a story chosen for the Secrets theme night in January 2010. Pretty much my whole collection of stories can fit to that theme, but there was one I was particularly proud of, based on something that happened to a kid on my estate when I was growing up.* So, I sent it off and it was picked to be read. It was the first story I had accepted for anything, and I was beyond thrilled.
The event itself was (and still is) amazing. The Toynbee Halls in East London houses a great cheap bar, and comfy sofas, which my friends (Amanda, Lucy and Mandy) and I nabbed as soon as we got there. We were joined by Vanessa and her family. We took over the whole corner. The cakes (see below) didn’t stand a chance.
Bernadette Russell and Gareth Brierley kit the place out with a slide show, cup cakes, playing cards, books, dolls and a dolls’ house. The White Rabbit theme resides in the decor and in the signs attached to bowls of sweets and plates of cakes instructing the audience to ‘eat me’. I always do as I am told. There are also themed competitions with prizes to be one. This one was to write a secret on a piece of paper and the ones Bernadette’s sister Kim liked the best would win. For some reason my ‘I once stole a pencil sharpener in the shape of a vintage car’ left Kim unmoved.
Because actors do the reading it leaves the authors free to drink and eat, and it’s a real pleasure to just sit and listen to a range of stories, whilst necking cheap (but good) wine and free baked goods. There are intervals which allow socialising: one of the lovely things about this event is how the organisers and audience are happy to talk to you and each other. And because you’re introduced before your story and a round of applause is directed your way after, strangers know where to aim their praise. I quite like that.
At the end of a brilliant evening, a perfect introduction to the world of live short storytelling, Vanessa handed me a piece of paper on which she had written her secret. I opened it. ‘Yours was the best’ it said. She’s nice like that.
* This is ‘10.17pm’, which ended up in Smoke: A London Peculiar.