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“Our shared interest is in the imagination” – Our Reading Round group in Bristol

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  • 6 February, 2024

“The simplicity of it is key,” says Dr Edson Burton, writer, historian, playwright and tutor, who is running a RLF Reading Round group in Bristol. As our Head of Outreach, Katharine McMahon, explained in our previous post on the launch of our Reading Round groups, they are “where a group of people gather round a table with a professional writer, and the writer brings a short story and a poem and shares them with the group by reading them aloud and then encouraging conversation about the writing.”

Reading Round is free, and the group meets every week for a couple of hours for thirty weeks.

Bristol Reading Round Group © RLF & Barbara Evripidou

“It’s hard to communicate the power of that simplicity,” Edson continues. “It sounds so indulgent and middle-class, sitting in a group, reading stories. But I don’t think it is.”

Edson chooses two pieces of work each week, usually by writers who identify as having different genders, from diverse ethnic backgrounds and who have different writing styles. He prints out a copy of the work for members but also reads the work out loud. The group then talk about the piece of writing they’ve listened to.

He says, “I think the most telling strength of Reading Round has been the members who’ve said I’d never have bothered with the story, or I’d have given up on the first page. It’s through discussion that every week everyone has come away quite startled with how much more they’ve excavated by spending time to unpick the density in the short story form.”

Bristol Reading Round group © RLF & Barbara Evripidou

Participant, Joe Hill, agrees; “The work selected has been really interesting. It’s not stuff I’d have come across otherwise or usually read. It’s been a lot more profound than I was anticipating, and the space is not as academic and doesn’t require academic knowledge about literature or writing techniques. I don’t write and I don’t have that sort of knowledge so I wasn’t sure it was for me, but I’ve found it really accessible and nicely facilitated.”

Edson gives the example of a seemingly simplistic story the group read in the first couple of weeks, called The Strong Man by Helen Simpson. An unnamed woman is having her fridge repaired by a man of Russian origin.

The Strong Man seemed to be about the man who came round to fix the fridge of the woman who was telling the story…”

Get my knee fixed then get the fridge-freezer fixed, that was the plan.
The Strong Man by Helen Simpson

“…but by the end we realised it was about a complex Stockholm-esque relationship one can have with toxic masculinity and our sympathies were completely played and moved around,” Edson says.

The truth is. The truth is, no one would believe you back then. “A bit heavy-handed” was how it was described if you had to visit A&E. Nothing happened when you told a teacher. The police had a good laugh. “Making a fuss about nothing,” was what they used to say; or, if it showed, “Making a fuss.”

The Strong Man by Helen Simpson (in Cockfosters, 2015, Jonathan Cape)


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