You may have noticed that we at Annexe HQ love the storytelling extravaganza that is Liars’ League. How could we not? There is something almost illicit about Liars’ League. An eager audience flows into a darkened basement to hear secret stories. The out-of-time setting conjures up a future where storytelling has been outlawed and enigmatic speakeasies have emerged in the shadows of the city.
So, as a little extra, we caught up with Liars’ League leading lady Katy Darby to chat about defending the fort of fiction, performance/prose fusion and a christmas no.1.
Firstly, how did Liars’ League come about? Has it always existed in the form it is in now?
It came about through my friend Tim Aldrich and myself going to a reading about five years ago – it was Tales of the Decongested at Foyle’s, now sadly deceased, where authors read their own stories. The stories read that night were probably great, but it was really hard for us to tell because one author was extremely quiet and mumbled a lot, one had a very thick accent and a third was obviously really nervous and kept tripping over his words.
We went for a drink afterwards and agreed that authors and audience would both have been happier if someone else had read the stories … maybe someone trained and confident in performing … someone like an actor. We knew if we didn’t do it probably no-one would, and so Liars’ League (with the help of a few other friends) was born.
We’ve moved venues a few times to accommodate our expanding audience, and we’ve recently started filming the readings, but apart from that LL is much the same as it started out: the very simple principle of having a talented actor read a great new story aloud is the heart of it, and that won’t change.
What’s the process behind choosing the programme for each event? Are there particular kinds of stories that you are drawn towards over others?
We send out calls for submissions a few weeks before the deadline and then sort through the stories sent in, removing the names because we judge anonymously, and discarding any which are unsuitable (too long, usually). Then I send them to all the other readers – the stories are usually read by four or five out of the seven of us and we meet and vote for our top five. Simple as that, really. Once we have our five (sometimes six) stories we send out a call for actors, and cast the pieces from the company members available.
In terms of the kinds of stories we favour, I have to say we have a soft spot for humourous pieces (as is probably evident from our archive at http://www.liarsleague.com), simply because Liars’ League is a live event and audiences love funny stories. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do serious, moving or experimental stuff too – we’ll perform any story as long as it’s good.
What place do you think live fiction and storytelling has in 21st century life?
A strong, fiercely defended one! I think our audiences enjoy the Liars’ League events because it’s a little bit different, but familiar at the same time – nearly everyone, unless they were orphaned at an early age, has had the wonderful experience of being read aloud to, and we don’t get much of that as adults. Also, as mentioned, we seek out comic stories where we can and usually put them at the end of the night so we finish on a high – at its best I’d say Liars’ League offers the fun of a comedy night with the cultural cachet of a literary event you can impress your friends with next day at the office …
Storytelling and reading stories aloud is something that’s growing and growing at the moment – five years ago there was one regular live fiction event in London; these days there are at least 6 or 7 I can think of, and more pop up every year. We’re one of the only ones (and certainly the first) to have actors read the stories, creating a sort of “performance prose” fusion, but there are many more venues for new fiction now – not to mention ways to record the readings and places to upload them to – and I think that’s fantastic.
I noticed there is a Leeds chapter. Is Liars’ League going to expand even further?
Over the years there has been talk of starting up LL franchises in New York, Amsterdam, Bristol and Brussels, but as Richard Smyth, captain of LL Leeds, has discovered, it’s a lot of work for three or four people, let alone one! There usually needs to be one person who drives it – does the boring stuff like updating the website and spring cleaning the mailing list, as well as reading the stories – and that’s the main challenge, to find that dedicated person
What does the future hold? Are there any plans for mutations of the Liars’ League idea?
Well, we did a “best of” studio-recorded CD in 2010 which was lots of fun, and we give these away to press and the lucky winners of our infamous monthly book quiz, so it would be great to make that an annual thing. Of necessity, all the videos and MP3s on the site are live and thus have laughter, coughs, and any minor hiccups built in, and personally I think that’s part of their charm – but it’s also nice to make a professional sounding recording which can be used as a calling card. Plus a Spoken Word no. 1 for Christmas 2011 would be nice …
We’ve done a few recordings for the Granta podcast as well, (here and here) and hooking up with them to read some of the fiction in their new issue at our events, has been a great development in 2011. We’d hope to continue and maybe expand that, as well as partnering with other print magazines or publishers to promote their authors and expand our audience, but the essence of what we do won’t change – I think we’ve found a good formula and don’t want to mess with it.
In the long term, I have a fantasy of doing an All Star Liars’ League at the Royal Albert Hall one day, with stories from Booker and Nobel laureates, read by the Oscar-winning cream of British acting – all of whom got their first break at the League. It could happen!
Katy Darby, as well as orchestrating Liars’ League, is an award-winning writer of prose and plays. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Stand, Mslexia and the Arvon anthology, and has been read on BBC Radio. She teaches Short Story Writing at City University in London.