Flash Fiction Armagh – The First of Many…

When I was young, I thought that all things literature were boring and decidedly stuffy. Many people, having suffered through Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy at school, still think like that about the literary world but Flash Fiction Armagh turned that idea completely on its head!
Eleven talented writers wowed the socks off the audience in the upstairs room of Mulberry Bistro in Armagh.
Let me begin by describing the gorgeous venue. Mulberry Bistro is in an old but beautifully restored listed building right across the road from one of Armagh’s cathedrals. Decorated in a simple rustic fashion, touches of glamour such as crystal chandelier light fittings and plush velvet seating in a range of fun colours add the right amount of pop.
Réamonn Ó Ciaráin, author of Cúchulainn, Ulster’s Greatest Hero, and co-host of Flash Fiction Armagh was already there when I arrived to set up for the evening. Mulberry handed over their upstairs room, offering to move chairs and tables into any configuration we wanted – they were happy to let us complete rearrange the room to suit our needs. It didn’t take long – the place already the perfect venue.
The Cathedral, lit up as night fell, looking in the windows at us as people arrived. It was pure Armagh – looking beautiful and majestic. My home.
All the writers arrived on time and to our great delight, the audience filled the room. The table closest to the mic the only one with no takers – people hate sitting at the front!


None of us had expected such a good turnout, but Mulberry Bistro rose to the occasion feeding and watering everyone as needed. Nerves had prevented me from having a big dinner but a tasty caramel square and a coffee set me up. All in and settled, it was time for our first reader.


Local writer, Jay Faulker got us off to a great start with his story Rain, an emotive account of a firefighter’s attempts to save two little boys from drowning. 


Brilliantly told, I knew the story would strike a cord when I’d read it during the selection process and I wasn’t disappointed. I could actually see members of the audience relax into the evening as they listened – none of us had known exactly how this venture would go, but as Jay read I knew we’d done something right.


Christopher Moore from Broughshane enthralled us with the magic of his piece Dark Hedges.


I particularly loved his hints at a magical other world and felt that he’d claimed those hedges back from Game of Thrones and made them ours again. His mastery of language and sense of flow captured our interest and imagination, bringing some solace after the intense drama of the first piece.


Réaltán Ní Leannáin from Belfast via Dublin read Dílis,


…expertly switching from between the Irish and English languages so that everyone could enjoy and appreciate the zesty humour in her story about a little protestant girl so enamoured with the holy communion dresses the little catholic girls are wearing that she begs her mother to let her be a Catholic – just for a day!  Réaltán left us all with smiles on our faces.


Keady man, Damien Mallon read a selection of his poems that were such a hit he sold out of his book, Reading the Trees, at the intermission!


His combination of humour, sensitivity and vivid imagery took us through awkward encounters at parent-teacher meetings, wistful reminiscing at graveyard Sunday and a walk through Carnagh woods such that you felt you were there.


Donegal/Derry writer Pamela Brown’s Mansfield House was so skillfully rendered that it made the audience chuckle in places then fall pin-drop silent with emotion in others.


This story pulled us in, led us around a blind corner then smacked home some tough but unavoidable truths. Engaging and honest, Pamela pulled no punches and we were richer for it.


Before going into the break Réamonn Ó Ciaráin from Armagh read from Laoch na Laochra a book in modern Ulster Irish about Cúchulainn…


 …and followed that with reading the corresponding passage from the English Language version Cúchulainn, Ulster’s Greatest Hero

In both languages, the power of the writing and the story it carried shone through. We headed into the intermission filled with wonder and awe.

People mingled, bought books, congratulated readers and the general atmosphere was a delightful hub-bub though I wondered how I’d ever get everyone settled back down again for the second half. 


No need to worry – so the 15-minute break drifted into 25 minutes – soon everyone was ready to listen to Trish Bennett from Enniskillen read Power of a Peeler. 


Her entertaining performance provoked belly laughs from her audience as she explained how important a certain kitchen utensil was to her and her extended family. She even produced the subject of the story to gales of laughter. 


Lisburn writer Karen Mooney’s A Fond Farewell moved every person in the room with her emotive piece remembering her father.


The words beautiful and heartfelt dripped upon a captive audience like honey from a spoon, sorrowful yet soothing. When she finished, the momentary silence was as much an accolade at the spontaneous applause that followed.


Reading in Irish, Armagh man Seán Ó Farraigh gave a beautiful rendition of his story Neamhchiontach go dtí go gcruthaítear a mhalairt


I grasped at words and phrases I recognized, desperate to understand this lilting and musical language. This young man’s bilingual skill inspired me to consider attending Irish language classes myself – with the new Irish Language centre on its way here in Armagh, I really have no excuse!


Catherine Carson from Crossgar made everyone’s ears tingle and skin goosebump with the power of Spectrum, a story of a mother with her grown-up autistic son. 


A collective “Awe,” at the end of her account, gave instant, and I’d imagine, gratifying feedback to the writer of a story outstanding in its perception, construction and delivery. This new writer is one to watch. (You heard it first at Flash Fiction Armagh!)


Malachi showing a picture of the suits in Scoring in the Seventies
Though it was a hard act to follow, Malachi Kelly from Armagh brought the house down with his amusing story Scoring in The Seventies, about how a new suit sets hearts and minds alight in 1970’s Armagh. 


Leaving us smiling and uplifted, it was a perfect way to end the evening.

By the time we brought the evening to a close, it was decided that this would not be the last Flash Fiction Armagh. It turned out that Mulberry Bistro loved hosting us as much as we loved being there – an event marriage in the making. The feedback forms begged us to have another evening as soon as possible. When people were asked about the venue, the vote was in – Mulberry Bistro was ideal – classy, intimate and welcoming.
There were about half a dozen people in the audience who were there because I’d asked them to come as my friend/family to support our first event. At the outset, I looked upon their attendance as a favour to me – it may not be their cup of tea. I worried that I was putting them out but valued their support, loved them for it in fact. But by the end of the evening, I realized something – this event, these readers, our selections had reached every member of the audience, more than once and in more than one way. The event had been a success for all of us because good writing is about describing the human condition and connecting us to one another, no matter who we are and what we believe. Flash Fiction Armagh extended beyond my preconceived ideas of what literature should or should not be. Flash Fiction Armagh connected us to one another however fleetingly and I am confident it will do so again.


We are having the next Flash Fiction Armagh on Thursday 14th June 2018 at 7 pm, upstairs in Mulberry Bistro.

See you there!

Byddi Lee