Tuesday 29 July 2014

Small Stories Guest Post

Really happy to have secured a chat with Nat & Sian of Small Stories. As you know (if you're a regular reader) it's an event I've read at and it's one that has enjoyed great success. I got to ask Nat & Sian a bunch of questions about what, how & why ...

Over to Nat & Sian

For anyone who doesn't yet know - what's the idea behind Small Stories?

The idea is to create a friendly, welcoming and creative space to encourage people to share their stories, their art and their designs. Bristol is such a creative city, with so many talented, interesting people, we wanted to put together an event where you can share and discuss ideas, and make friends!

How did you two meet?

We briefly worked together at a web agency in Bristol, and shared a passion for writing so we just stayed friends. We are both a little workaholic I think if we are honest, so we are always looking for new fun projects to get involved with. 

How did the idea for Small Stories come about?

Nat: We were both working as copywriters, and complaining that writing for the day job was putting us off doing creative writing in our own time.

We decided we should do something about it, something that encouraged us to write a bit each month. I was writing a short story at the time, and Sian had just sent me the first bit of Perkalept. We needed something to keep us motivated to write - and so, Small Stories was born!

Sian: For me it was also inspired by my love of music. It's an area which constantly pushes you to do better, to put what you create out there and always have a new goal, a new gig to create tracks for. For me, I wanted to bring that feeling to a story telling night. I thought it would be great for Bristol to have a cosy little low-key event where writers could feel comfortable sharing their work and have something pushing them to write each month. Nat and I talked around the idea and it just so happened that we were both feeling the same.

A key part of Small Stories is the live drawing, where did that idea come from?

Nat: I think this was Sian’s idea! We both love the Scribble and Scratch events, and knew a few of the illustrators. Sian just suggested we illustrate one on the stories each month and I thought it was a great idea! We’ve now had Jordan Selig read his beautifully illustrated children’s book ‘The Bristowl’, and are discussing auctioning the drawings off for charity, so it’s really taken off!

Sian: I have to direct credit where it's due - this idea really came from a conversation I had with a friend, Tizz Chapman, who created the original logo design and also illustrated the second event for us. I was talking to him about Small Stories at the beginning of its creation and he just ran with it. That’s what Small Stories is all about; creative collaboration.

How do you choose what goes on the program?

Nat: There are so many great writers in Bristol, and as writers ourselves, we know a few creative types also. We ask that people get in touch and send us their story. We don’t have a theme, but we try and pick an interesting mix of stories each month that complement each other. We read them all, time them and then make the list! We also send them over to the illustrator to pick which they would like to draw. What they choose is as much a surprise to us as the rest of the audience on the night!

Sian: I try to create mini themes sometimes if I happen to notice one emerging from reading the stories. Like for Chapter 4 the first half seemed to resonate with a seasonal theme so I arranged the stories running from Spring to Winter in terms of their content.

It's not something anyone would really notice I don't think, I just like to do it anyway! If there isn't a connection, I try to vary them by length and by content. We've had a few regular writers who are very funny, so I try to put them at key moments of the evening like at the end of the night, to end the event on a really good note.

We've been really fortunate in that we haven't had to turn anyone away for bad writing yet! Bristol is full of really talented, unique writers with amazing stories to tell, most of whom just write for the love of it.

Who's your favourite short story writer (outside of the fabulous guests you have on your events)?

Nat: Mine is Raymond Carver for the brilliantly simple way he takes seemingly insignificant everyday events and hints at how they change people’s lives. It’s the bits he leaves unsaid that really make the stories powerful. I also love the fictional sci-fi writer Kilgore Trout whose stories pop up in Kurt Vonnegut’s novels!

Sian: I have to be honest; I don't read a lot of short stories. I've always been a massive-novel-that-takes-3-months-to-read kind of girl. But I did really like Angela Carter when I was at college. And I've read a few short stories by some of my favourite authors, Diana Gabaldon, Kate Mosse and Barbara Erskine. They all seem to have had a go!

What makes a good short story & what's better about short stories than novels?

Nat: I love that the writer has such tight control over what they tell us, and what they leave out. I think the best short stories leave a little to the imagination, through things left unsaid. They use a small amount of words to say something much bigger.

Sian: What make a good short story, hmmm, that's a toughie. The amount that you leave out I think. For me that's the hardest part but also the bit I like best. You have to be succinct but in a really interesting way.

What's on next month?

We're in the process of going through some of the great stories people have sent over, and they range from performance poetry to a touch of the theatrical! Our designers are also working on some steam punk and sci-fi themed logos and posters for our event on the 4th of Aug, and the Small Stories: Big Books event on Aug 25th, so it’s a busy and exciting month!

We will also now be hosting the event at Small Bar on the first of every month starting in August – Small Stories, Small Bar. Perfect!

What are your plans for the future?

We are planning to keep the event at Small Bar each month, but are looking into some interesting event collaboration with other Bristol creatives too. Next on the cards is the Small Stories: Big Books Event on Aug 25th at the Lansdown in Clifton.

We are currently talking to Jordan Selig, author of The Bristowl about recording some of the stories from previous events. There’s also the possibility of a couple of events, and charity auctions of our illustrators work coming up at Watershed, so watch this space…

What do you think it is about Bristol that there has been such an explosion of cultural events?

Bristol is such a wonderfully playful, friendly and collaborative city. It seems to lack the cynicism of some cities. People here are very tolerant and encouraging when it comes to other people’s creativity, which makes for some great projects! There’s a social conscience to the artists here that makes it truly unique.

Small Stories contact info:


https://www.facebook.com/SmallStoriesBristolBirdcage  (though we will be at Small Bar from now on)

Natalie Burns contact info:


Sian Wadsworth contact info:



Small Stories: Big Books (wuith Ann & Jeff VanderMeer at the Lansdown) https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/small-stories-big-books-tickets-12100640341

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