Don’t let growing up ruin your dreams – Bristol Lit Fest Launch Logic



After Primary School, lets face it, the fun is over. High school means you have to work out how to act like a grown up, or at least learn the ability to pretend convincingly you’re a grown up.

You don’t play games, not imaginative games. You learn to play social games. You’re made to stand up and read in front of the class. You’re terrified, and you have no idea what the words mean, not really.

You don’t understand the story yet, because you haven’t experienced anything yet. You’re learning to fit in and fake the emotions though, so you blend in with the crowd.

But you know the words mean something, so you start to wonder about them, usually secretly. You wonder what you can learn from them. The stories you hear seem to have the answer to something you can’t quite grasp.


You have your set texts. GCSE’s are important. You need to hit the targets or the school looks bad, your parents will be disappointed, and you will feel bad.

If you don’t get your grades, how will you learn to tick all the other boxes ahead of you satisfactorily.

You’ll never get into college. You’ll never get a job. You won’t be a success.

Won’t I, you wonder? Really?


They are not on the designated sheet. They are out of the scope of the reading list. Those texts that catch your imagination are too modern, those artists that intrigue you are too vulgar. Your opinions are not shared by the class, and your answers don’t fit the marking criteria. You don’t make the grade.

So, now there are two obvious paths to tread; because your imagination is broad and varied, but what the majority of people count as ‘growing up’ and ‘being successful’ is not.

That’s when you meet and court those most limiting of characters;

Fuck ‘em, and compliance.

Fuck ‘em says: The hell with ‘literature’ and ‘aesthetics’ and, all that other bollocks.

They’re for rich wankers anyway. For people with too much time on their hands.

They’re for armchair philosophers and self indulgent bastards who like to sound clever in front of their smug peers down the pub. Literature is for people with too much money who don’t have to get a ‘real’ job. If you wrote anything honest down, they wouldn’t understand it anyway, because they don’t go out and experience things.They just read about them. They read Shakespeare and Tolstoy and they haven’t a clue about real life.

Fuck ‘em says; If I don’t know the right words, they’ll never take me seriously. If I don’t read the right books, and have the right grades, they’ll make me feel small.

So you stop daydreaming, stop asking questions, stop getting lost in stories or writing anything honest, you just get on with it.

Then you feel sad and you don’t know why. Because you can’t express yourself, and you feel like you shouldn’t. You just want to fit in.

Don’t worry, a disheartened, tired voice inside you says.

Just get home, put on Netflix and it will tell you what you’ll like, based on previous selections. No need to discover or explore. No need to think anymore.

Work in the morning.

Or you can listen to compliance.

Suddenly saying Stephen King or Nick Hornby are your favourite authors is embarrassing. You could safely upscale to Bukowski or Hunter S. Thomson because they’re pretty cool. But you have to know they’re cool because of the drugs and the drinking, not really think about the message behind what they’re saying.

You need bite size quotes. Bite size quotes impress.

Who cares if you didn’t read the whole story. You can only tweet 140 characters anyway. Or you can just put a selfie on Facebook of you in black rimmed glasses, drinking a latte with the book next to you, you don’t even need a quote for that.

Later, of course, you will have to know the more ‘literary’ writers. You’ll need to be familiar with canonical texts and learn to  pronounce authors like Dostoyevsky* correctly.

You’ll need to know at least a summary of Shakespeare’s plays. Was Hamlet the one where he holds out the skull, and Macbeth the one where he goes murderously mad, or the other way round?

Just learn to remember the facts, and when it comes up at the pub quiz, over a craft ale, you’ll sound very intelligent indeed.

You learn it all, and you know all the best lines. You can say all the right words in the right places. You fit right in. You’re successful. A real grown up.

But you feel sad and you don’t know why.

You can’t express yourself, and you feel like you shouldn’t. You’ve learned so many second hand opinions, you’re not even sure what you think anymore.

Don’t worry, put on Netflix and it will tell you what you’ll like, based on previous selections.

No need to think anymore. Work in the morning.

So, readers, Small Stories is here to tell you you needn’t choose either.

Literature, in whichever way you choose to write it, read it, perform it, or listen to it, is cathartic.

It’s good for you.

It makes you question life, consider other points of view, and tell your own truth, however you wish to tell it.

Ask stupid questions, because that’s how you learn.

Tell your truths despite being a ‘proper grown up’, and never stop daydreaming and doodling at the back of class.

Thanks to everyone who came to the event, and thanks for getting involved and writing down your confessions. There’s a selection below and I’m sure there’ll be more from Small Stories soon… so keep in touch @smallstorybris

Confessions from the evening can be found below…

*My truth: Dos-toy-ev-sky. I had to do that in my mind when writing this. I also wiki searched the spelling. Just in case.


A selection of your confessions from the Literature Festival launch:

“Sometimes at poetry readings I switch off and just think about myself” – Er, thanks for coming Graham

“I am as soft as down & as frightened as a chicken” – Carol

“I love Jonny” – Well Sophie, if he’s reading this, can I count matchmaking as one of the services provided by Small Stories? Keep me posted eh.

“I should have known I was a lesbian when I fancied Mary Poppins as a child”. Cassie

“I’m going to be an English teacher and I still don’t fully understand how apostrophes work”. Hannah

“I own hundreds of DVDs, but don’t have a DVD player”. Josh

“I am over 30 & I still can’t tell my left from my right. Now I have developed a system where I have to clap in order to know which way is left. It’s weird”. Yer tis Christie, but whatever works!

Thanks so much to everyone who came along, and to our amazing readers, Dean McCaffrey, Ellen Waddell & Bella Fortune, and to DJ BarrTheTruth

Also a massive thanks to out designer Sam Green, and our illustrator Ben Philips. You guys make us look so pretty.

Hopefully see you all at the other amazing Bristol Festival of Literature events on around Bristol this week…


Small Stories presents Bristol Festival of Literature Launch Party!


Small Stories presents: The Bristol Festival of Literature Launch Party

Oct 17th, 8.00pm – late at Watershed Café Bar



Can you hear the truth?

The modern world is full of words. It’s hard to cut through the noise. From click bait articles to 140 character self-promotion to advertising masquerading as news to social media self-propaganda, it’s hard to tell what’s real and to get your voice heard.

Everyone has a story to tell, no matter who they are or how they choose to tell it. Often, the most memorable stories are honest – they share experiences, they teach you different points of view.

That’s what Small Stories is all about. We find the people with the most interesting truths, and we give them a stage.

You’ll hear from some of Bristol’s best Theatre Performers (Ellen Waddell), Performance Artists (Bella Fortune), Spoken Word Performers (Dean McCaffery) and from your slightly cynical, but ever honest, host (Natalie Burns).

There’ll also be a live DJ set and the chance to get involved and make your story heard – all for free. Donations welcome of course!

Most importantly, whether you like it or not, we only speak the truth.

Learn a little more about our truth tellers…

Ellen Waddell

Ellen Waddell is a writer, director, performance artist and musician.

She’s been featured on BBC Radio Bristol, and her one-woman show ‘Jean Luc Picard and Me,’ has just returned from the Edinburgh Fringe.

Ellen will be performing a piece of prose about the difficulty of being honest in a world where self-promotion is valued above all else.


Natalie Burns

Natalie Burns is a writer, reviewer and ex-copywriter. She is co-creator of Bristol writers group, Small Stories, and currently working on the board of organisers for Bristol festival of Literature.

Natalie will be hosting the event, and reading a short tale about why writing is the best way to make sure that being a ‘proper grown-up’ doesn’t ruin your dreams.


Bella Fortune

Bella Fortune is a writer, performer and performance maker. Her first two solo shows were performed as part of Mayfest at the Wardrobe and Solo Showcase, Solo Lab and her third is currently in development with support from Ferment, Bristol Old Vic.

Bella will be critiquing the critic by performing a poem about her own experience of the pro and cons of reviewing.


Dean McCaffrey 

Dean McCaffrey is a Bristol based writer & musician who has performed with the ‘Apples & Snakes’, a UK based spoken word organization, ‘Listen Softly’ in London and ‘Stemschot’ in Belgium. He performs spoken word & hip-hop around the city.

Dean will be telling some very real spoken word truths in his unique, creative and inimitable style.


Luke Sleven

From an early age, Mr. Sleven has been scribbling on every canvas or wall he can get his grubby, paint stained paws on. Each piece is produced with the thought and intention of giving the viewer an insight into his world and a piece of his soul. He can mainly be found dwelling around the colourful underbelly of Stokes Croft.

Luke will be illustrating one of the Small Stories live on stage, and we’ll be auctioning of his unique, original painting at the end of the event.


DJ BarrTheTruth

Usually found lurking in the more dark and dangerous corners of the city, DJ BarrTheTruth has decided to step into the light to play us some funky tunes when the performances are over.

He’ll be making sure you all feel relaxed and groovy, and that you stick around to meet some fun people, have a drink or two, and enjoy the party.



Bristol Literature Festival is hosting 16 events, right across the city.

View the events map

Old Dust

the shire

I used to watch him when I was a kid. I’d hide on the stairs and peek through the metal railings.

The steps were cold, bare concrete, painted dark red to hide the splashes that spilled on the floor, but you could see all the colours from the ink on the metal, spatters of fuschia, yellow and blue.

There wasn’t much art or colour living out in the fens.

It was more artistic than anyone could have deliberately designed. The industrial equipment seemed enormous, immovable and inexplicably intriguing. I must have been about seven.

His office was also the dark room. There were always papers, negatives and crunchy sheets of acetate with weird diagrams drawn on them lying around.

It was when the X-files was on TV and me and my little sister used to sneak into his office and rummage through the towering filing cabinet looking for secret documents from the FBI about alien testing.

She must have been five.

We never found proof of aliens, but it didn’t matter. We found plenty of documents that we didn’t really understand, and that was adventure enough.

The office had been built out of the old bricks from the outhouses. The house had once been a grain store he told me.

It backed onto the river but there was now a road where the old grass banks had been.

You could still see the outline of the huge arch on the wall where the barges came in to unload the grain. When we moved in there had been three outhouses in the yard.

One was used for killing the pigs, and there was a big iron bath in there.

The other was used for hanging the meat up when it had been salted.

There were rusting iron hooks nailed into the wall that cast long shadows on the crumbling brickwork. I used to imagine the pigs being killed and their blood being drained into the bath.

I wondered if once that floor had been painted red, too.

The last building was an outside toilet, old, broken and disused for years. The ceiling had fallen part way in and now swallows had made it their home.

All the rooms were dark, musty and damp with brick floors that had worn down in places from long forgotten footfall.

The bricks were permeated with damp and the salt was rising out of them, crystalising on their surface.

Some of the bricks had big holes whittled into them, smooth indents that looked like tiny caves worn down by the sea over time.

That was the sparrows he told me, because they liked the taste of the salt.

The garden was always full of sparrows.

When we knocked them down all that was left was a huge pile of rubble in the garden, it didn’t look like it had ever been anything.

It looked like a ramshackle mountain and I used to climb to the top and build forts out of the bits of broken brick and make mud pies.

I wore scruffy clothes, dungarees and second hand jumpers, because I was always covered in old dust.

The sparrows loved it, too. They rolled around in the dust like they were taking a bath.

He used the old bricks that weren’t too full of holes to build the printing studio where I hid on the stairs.

He took the hooks and the big iron bath to the farm life museum in the village, a little building down the road with a thatched roof.

It was full of antiquated machinery from old industry that people from the village had donated.

Mannequins dressed like maids were positioned to look as though they were weaving thatch or boiling things in big black metal pots over long extinguished cast iron fires.

I was sad to see the iron bath go because it was fun to play in on top of the rubble, but he said they were just taking up space.

Although the studio was new, you could always smell the age of the brick.

It mingled with the smell of melting plastic, white spirit and ink. It sort of stung your nose, but was pleasant anyway. The chemical smell was like the taste of pink pear drops.

When the red light was on, all the colours looked black. The force of the water that rinsed the ink into the plastic bath screwed into the wall was terrifying but I loved it anyway.

The noise of the powerful spray from the hose against the fine mesh of the screens in that red room mixed with the smell of the chemicals was addictive.

So I hid on the stairs and took it all in.

Slowly the lettering would appear on the wet screen in the dark, translucent and glistening.  But that’s when I was a kid.

After a while there was less ink, less Perspex and the X Files went on for too many series to be fun anymore.

I helped out on weekends if I was bored.

It was helping him out, or drinking vodka down the playing fields, waiting to leave.

The splashes of colour were still there, but they weren’t as bright anymore. I didn’t know how the machinery worked, not really, even though I had watched so closely.

I was only a kid.

When I came home years later the fens looked different, but nothing had changed.

The fields were still there, as flat and hard as they ever were. There were still only farms buildings to block your view.

But the fens have no memory.

They are always a clean slate, unfeeling, offering no protection from the elements.

You could try and impose your own memory on them, but it would just blow away like the dust on the fields and be lost, or caught, useless, in the old barns under the vast open sky.

I couldn’t explain that my memories were as redundant as everything else.

I felt like a different type of person, a person looking through colourful railings at something magical I couldn’t quite understand.

I thought later about sitting on the red concrete stairs watching him work.

I thought about how much skill it must have taken, and about how difficult it must have been.

Later I couldn’t explain that I understood that trying was hard, and that it didn’t necessarily mean anything.

The machinery, the screens and the bath in the dark room are dusty and forgotten and taking up space.

I never really had understanding.

Only memory, the meaning redundant and lost, outsourced, and mass-produced, from the same batch but with a different label.

I wished I had tried to understand better.

But I was only a kid.