Killing the poet laureate
Tales from the Story Machine

In the third installment of our Story Machine blog series, author Jarred McGinnis tells the story of how he became involved in the project and offers tantalising tidbits from two of the stories.

We were delighted when Sam from Writers’ Centre Norwich asked us to bring the ‘Raffish and Overread’ approach of the Special Relationship to his fledgling idea for the Story Machine. We met at the Southbank Centre shortly after our multi-sensory live reading ‘Moby-Dick Unabridged’ had opened the 2015 London Literature Festival. It quickly became clear that we shared a vision for how literature might leap off the page in live events, and he commissioned us to produce two of the eighteen stories that make up The Story Machine.

The first will be Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Fly’, which we came to having seen the opportunity to tell a story in the offices of Dragon Hall. Telling a tale about post-WW1 grief from amidst the 21st century computer equipment was a contrast we couldn’t turn down. It also offered an opportunity to revisit something we did for ‘Moby-Dick Unabridged’ and create a script of the story dividing the text between two or more readers to emphasise the voices and characters. It only works for certain texts and ‘The Fly’ is one of them.

We wanted to get the local community involved, too, and found two of Norfolk’s own, John Underwood and Steve Highton, who have volunteered to read the story. We learned from ‘Moby-Dick Unabridged’ that – more often than not – volunteers give the best readings: they bring an enthusiasm that some professional authors have lost since public reading became part of the day job. I have no doubt John and Steve are going to make this powerful text come alive. And fair warning: bring tissues. Mansfield knows how to tug at tear ducts in a mighty way.



In fact it is because I am a fan of Duffy’s work that she had to die.

The second story we are producing is one of my own, ‘Charles III’. It is about to be published with Galley Beggar Press. I was surprised when Sam suggested this story. It’s a strange story and well… it involves the hanging, drawing and quartering of living national treasure Carol Ann Duffy. (And before I go further, let me say I have nothing against the Poet Laureate. In fact it is because I am a fan of Duffy’s work that she had to die. I need to say that lest I appear in The Daily Mail under ‘Migrant Author Threatens English Letters’.)

The story is about the things I have come to love about this country and how they are being systematically and unpoetically undermined. It sometimes feels like the future of the UK might have more in common with the civil war divisions and religious persecutions of Charles I and II, and so I have conflated the atmosphere of those times with the near future under Charles III’s rule.

The other complication is that it required me to get permission from the Poet Laureate because I quote her poetry in the text. Rather than putting me on Teresa May’s hit list, Mrs Duffy sent me an email that said ‘Permission Granted, you sick bastard’. Oh yeah, that’s going on the blurb page. We definitely had to produce the story now, but how? The story is about a man who must take the quarter limb back to Scotland along the M6. The Special Relationship has always been keen (if Americans are anything, it’s keen) to collaborate. My own work is more often informed by visual arts than literary canon, and I’ve always found it exciting to see how artists respond to my written work. By luck, I came across the ceramicist Martha Todd.

Her work captured the tension between the grotesque and beautiful that was my aim in ‘Charlies III’. What she made is worth the ticket price alone. It’s simply exquisite. I thought Carol Ann Duffy might be interested in what she would look like as the victim of a royal treason charge so I sent her an image of Todd’s sculpture. She wrote back, ‘For fuck’s sake!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ Another blurb, methinks.

I look forward to seeing you at The Story Machine in May.



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