by Erinna Mettler
Rattle Tales grew out of Sussex University’s MA in Creative Writing. A bunch of us wanted to continue workshopping our fiction and so we met monthly at each other’s houses over wine and posh crisps. These were lively and insightful evenings, we each read out a short piece of work and then everyone else said what was good about it and what didn’t work. Above all, these evenings were an enormous boost to confidence, really rallying people to keep going with their writing, the quality of which was by and large outstanding and never less than interesting. Members of the group would regularly go to local short story nights and after one such outing we decided that we should put one on ourselves. We rang round a few venues and found Brighton’s Marlborough Theatre, a delightfully intimate and old-fashioned space above the Marlborough Pub, a stone’s throw from The Royal Pavilion.
Venue booked, we had a meeting to decide how the evening should progress. It was agreed to keep to our writer’s group format. Everyone should read a short story and then invite questions and comments from the audience. We wanted to find a fun way for the audience to get involved; someone suggested that if they wanted to speak, instead of raising their hands, we could give out football rattles for them to shake -they could use these to draw attention to themselves and show appreciation for the stories. We tried out a number of names with rattle in the title and finally came up with Rattle Tales (sounds like tattle!). Apparently in Native American tradition the storyteller shakes the rattle, the rattles have different voices. You can still buy them now on the internet – made from elk hide and semi-precious stone – we really must get one.
The next few weeks were a blur of activity: between us we designed and printed flyers and posters, set up a website, twitter feed and Facebook page, downloaded songs with rattle in the title to be played in the intervals, sourced appropriate images to be projected while stories were being read. We asked local author Louise Halvardsson to be our guest on the night and luckily for us she was delighted. We had a final merry meeting in the Marlborough the week before to work out the running order and go over any eventualities.
Suddenly it was the night. Programme printed, hand stamp at the ready, we waited anxiously in the theatre to see if anyone would turn up. As there are anything up to fifteen of us in the group it didn’t really matter if they didn’t, we’d kept the costs low so it would just be like a really grand writing group evening. Then, a little after 7.30 people started to arrive, people we didn’t know, people who were willing to part with £3 to come in and hear our stories. Our MC, Jo Dillon, took to the stage, banged a walking stick on the wooden floor and explained the proceedings. We were treated to stories on the origin of fire, cannibalism, Facebook suicide, John Lennon’s murder, drugged-up car accidents, unopened letters, the fragility of celebrity, the winning lottery ticket and, from Louise, a teenage seductress.
What amazed us the most was how quickly the audience got involved. There was rattle shaking and questions from the off. It felt fresh and original and interactive and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. There was a real buzz in the bar afterwards and someone from the audience said that we’d made literature into a live event.
A few days later there was an email from the newly launched Brighton Book Festival asking if we wanted to put the next Rattle Tales on in conjunction with them. And so we have. The next show is on Sunday June 12th, again at the Marlborough Theatre. This time as well as members of Rattle Tales we’ve thrown the challenge out to other authors. We are in the selection process as I write but, from the stories read so far, it looks like it will be an original and entertaining night. We hope to stage a Rattle Tales event three or four times a year, so get involved, come along and take part, or submit a story – pass the rattle!
For details of Rattle Tales events go to www.rattletales.org