Episode V: Into the Wild

It was the great John Muir – a man too cool to be famous outside his native Scotland but who still has an entire long distance footpath named after him – who declared that, ‘The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.’

It certainly appears to be what Christopher McCandless believed. The posthumous star of the film Into the Wild gave away almost everything he owned and tramped off into the Alaskan bush carrying ten pounds of rice and little else. His aim was to live a life more in tune with his surroundings (and more in tune with rice, one imagines). Sadly, he found starvation before he came across any magical door into the Cosmos. The self-evident lesson here is that it is safer to give up on the Universe and seek out the Wilderness Within Yourself. If that feels too daunting, try setting your sights lower and looking for the Rice Paddy Within Yourself – if nothing else, it’ll save you from lugging all that organic basmati around with you.

On Tuesday 4 November at our sparkly new venue – the Green Man pub in the aesthetic wilderness that is the Euston Road – we have four pioneering spirits who have agreed to don their rucksacks of literary genius and plough fearlessly into the unknown. In case they are never seen again, we should report that they are the award-winning nature-novelist Melissa Harrison, drama-comedy screenwriter Molly Naylor, up-and-coming illustrator-cum-novelist Maia Walczak and, all the way from the home of the Outback, comedian Sarah Bennetto.

If these four can’t guide you through the wilderness then humanity is almost certainly doomed, a fate no amount of rice will ever put right.

Allergy warning: this evening is produced in an environment in which rice is also present.


Stranger than FictionMelissa Harrison is a novelist and nature writer whose first book, Clay, won the Portsmouth First Fiction Award and was chosen by Ali Smith as a Book of the Year for 2013. She writes for The Times‘ ‘Nature Notebook’ column and spends a lot of time on Twitter identifying people’s blurry photos of ‘rare’ species, which almost never are.

Stranger than FictionMaia Walczak is a novelist, author-illustrator of children’s picture books, and an artist. Her debut novel, The Colour Black, was published in Summer 2014 by Jacaranda Books. She is also the creator of The Silent Books – a series of children’s picture books without words. You can find out more about Maia’s work on www.maiawalczak.com

Stranger than FictionMolly Naylor is a scriptwriter, poet and performer. She makes live storytelling shows and writes scripts for theatre, radio and the screen. Her first comedy drama, co-written with John Osborne, has just been filmed and will air on Sky1 in 2015.

Stranger than Fiction

Sarah Bennetto is a stand-up comedian, writer, radio-person, storyteller and wistful vagabond, currently on loan from Australia.


Stranger than Fiction


Where? Basement bar @ The Green Man, 383 Euston Road, London, NW1 3AU

When? Tuesday 4th November | Doors open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start | Tickets £6 on the door | Facebook event page 


Episode IV: Independence

So say goodbye, it’s independence day. It’s independence day all down the line

So sings country and western wunderkind Bruce Springsteen in that song in which he craftily broadens the meaning of America’s 4th July celebrations to encompass a story in which the subject leaves their father and their hometown.

What we don’t hear about – and I think this is why many people become frustrated with the self-styled ‘Boss Hogg’ and feel he could put a bit more effort in generally – is what happened next. We know the hero or heroine of the tale has sloughed off the past but do they really become independent in the new life they make for themselves in the thrusting go-ahead town of Moosebreath, Ohio or wherever it is they end up, or do they merely succumb to new forms of dependency in order to pay the rent?

On 3rd September, our four apparently self-determining performers – novelists James Meek, Jonathan Gibbs, Tiffany Murray and comedian and author Gareth Rubin – will be poking about where Bruce dared not go as they tackle the vexed world of Independence.

With just another few weeks before Scots decide whether or not they wish to continue being colonised by the nation that gave the world the teasmade, shrapnel and Jeremy Hunt, we ask the question, ‘Can we really be free?’ Or is it like troubled Japanese death metal star Janis Joplin once trilled: ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’?

Do come along – what exactly do you have to lose?*

*Except your chains, of course. And six quid.


Stranger than Fiction

James Meek is a novelist (The People’s Act of Love, We Are Now Beginning the Descent, The Heart Broke In – all published by Canongate) and contributing editor to The London Review of Books.


Stranger than FictionTiffany Murray grew up in Monmouthshire and Herefordshire and her novels Diamond Star Halo, Happy Accidents and Sugar Hall are set on those borders. She has twice been shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and the London Book Award, and the Guardian named her ‘the glam rock Dodie Smith.’

Stranger than Fiction

Jonathan Gibbs writes on books for The Independent and elsewhere. His novel Randall is published by Galley Beggar Press. His short fiction has appeared in Gorse, Lighthouse and on The White Review website.


Stranger than Fiction

Gareth Rubin writes for a number of national newspapers. His first book was a guide to Britain’s worst tourist attractions entitled Crap Days Out. His second, The Great Cat Massacre, A History of Britain in 100 Mistakes, described how the course of Britain’s history has been been changed by trivial errors.

Stranger than Fiction


The George, 213 The Strand, Temple, London WC2R 1AP


Wednesday 3rd September  |  Doors open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start  |  Tickets £6 on the door




Episode III: Ghosts

Just like you, whenever anyone mentions the topic of ghosts, we at Stranger than Fiction are put in mind of those lines from Virgil:

Sunt geminae Somni portae, quarum altera fertur
Cornea, qua veris facilis datur exitus umbris*

But plainly that’s a load of bobbins because no one makes gates out of horn.

So just what are ghosts? The spirits of the restless dead? Messengers from the other side? Or indicators that the space-time continuum has more cracks in it than a three-year-old smartphone? And if ghosts are the spirits of the restless dead – which they are – why do so many of them insist on dragging chains around?

Of course, there are some people – mainly crackpots and conspiracy theorists – who claim that ghosts don’t actually exist but are mere hallucinations – tricks played on us by our imperfect eyes and febrile brains. Methinks they doth project too much.

Whatever the truth is (and the truth is that they’re restless spirits come to relocate our poorly positioned chains), we’ll be sure to hear something entertaining on the subject from our four fearless performers – two novelists, a poet and a comedian – who will be lifting the veil on things that go ‘whoo’ in the night.**

So, come along on 2nd July to the underground vault at The Albannach and join Emma Jane Unsworth, Sam Mills, Francine Elena, Howard Cohen and your heavenly host Dixe Wills for a night of spirited performances and phantastic quiz rounds. Miss out and it’ll haunt you forever.
*There are two gates of Sleep, one of which, it is held, is made of horn and by it real ghosts have easy egress

**May include owls. Terms and conditions apply.



ejusqEmma Jane Unsworth‘s first novel, Hungry, the Stars and Everything, won a Betty Trask Award from the Society of Authors and was shortlisted for the Portico Prize for Fiction 2012. Her short story ‘I Arrive First’ was included in The Best British Short Stories 2012 (Salt). Her second novel, Animals, was published by Canongate in May 2014.

Stranger than FictionSam Mills is the author of The Quiddity of Will Self (Corsair), a novel which aims to be the literary equivalent of Being John Malkovich, with Will Self as the centre of fascination. The Guardian described it as ‘so outrageous as to defy conventional review’, The Sunday Times as ‘an ingenious, energetic read’ and The Catholic Herald as ‘maverick’.

Stranger than FictionFrancine Elena’s chapbook Christmas Lantern is published by 3:AM Press and her pamphlet Fluoro was shortlisted for the Pighog/Poetry School Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the anthologies The Best British Poetry 2013 (Salt), Furies (For Books Sake), Best Friends Forever (Emma Press) and Par Avion (3:AM Press).

Stranger than FictionHoward Cohen is a writer/producer who has worked on shows for the BBC, C4 and ITV. His short film work has been nominated for awards around the world. You can find his podcast which features a regular guest from the world of comedy and entertainment at www.possiblyofinterest.co.uk

Stranger than FictionWhere?

The Albannach, 66 Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DS


Wednesday 2nd July | Doors open 7.00 for an 7.30pm start | £6 on the door

Episode II: The Darkest Hour

Fans of the 1650 travelogue A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine  And The Confines Thereof, by crack English theologian Thomas Fuller, will not need to be reminded that it contains the first recorded instance of the saying, ‘the darkest hour is just before the dawn’, or, as the cheeky cleric preferred, ‘It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth.’

It’s an insight brimming with comfort and solace – unless, of course, you happen to be experiencing your darkest hour because you’re due to be executed at dawn.

This month at Stranger than Fiction our four doughty performers will be tackling the theme of The Darkest Hour. Is it always a harbinger of brighter, happier times?  Does it always last sixty minutes? And is it more often succeeded by increasingly darker hours that  successively assume the mantle of the darkest hour until the darkness is so all-enveloping that the poor souls who find themselves in the midst of it can no longer remember what light is? Or are we just imagining a world governed by UKIP?

Come along on 4th June to join four literary journeys into the farthest reaches of the darkest of hours, where Despair reigns supreme and Hope is just a small town in Arkansas. (Bring torches.)


Stranger than Fiction

A.F. Harrold is an English poet and performer who makes odd things for both children and adults and others. He performs regularly around the place, at poetry events and in school, at the occasional festival and at Gregg’s the bakers. Examples of the sort of stuff he does can be found at www.afharrold.com


Stranger than FictionTrevor Lock‘s unique brand of stand-up comedy has gained him a worldwide cult following, touring with both Stewart Lee and Russell Brand. Besides his one-man shows, he has also written and directed plays for theatre and radio, and appeared on some of the UK’s best radio and TV shows. Alongside his work as a comedian, Trevor often accepts invitations to speak and has addressed the Oxford Union on The Meaning of Life, remarkably refuting Descartes’ maxim ‘Cogito ergo sum’  by tipping a glass of water on his head.


Stranger than FictionSarah Perry is a poet and fiction writer from Croydon, currently studying on the Spoken Word Educator Programme. She’s a member of the Roundhouse Poetry Collective, Burn After Reading, Podium Poets, The A and the E, and is one of the artists working on the Bespoke(n) project, which explores the links between tailoring and writing. Last year Sarah was longlisted for the role of London’s Young Poet Laurat and her first novel was shortlisted for the Myslexia Award for unpublished novels, earlier this year.


Stranger than FictionClaire McGowan was born in 1981 in a small Irish village where the most exciting thing that ever happened was some cows getting loose on the road. After studying at Oxford and living in China and France, she now lives in London, where there aren’t any cows but there is the occasional murder on her street. She was previously Director of the Crime Writer’s Association and now teaches on the first ever crime-writing MA at City University. Despite being steeped in crime the worst thing she has ever done in real life is walk on some grass when the sign explicitly said not to.


Stranger than FictionWhere?

The Albannach

66 Trafalgar Square





Wednesday 4th May 2014

Doors open 7.30 for an 8pm start

£6 on the door or £5 early bird.

Episode I: First Love

It was the philosopher Rod Stewart who observed, ‘The first cut is the deepest (baby, I know),’ and who amongst us can say it isn’t so? Nothing quite compares with that very first time one falls for the object of one’s desire. The heady rush of emotions, the turning and twisting of the gut, the sheer ‘oh, so this is what it’s like’ of it all. And then, a few days later, you receive a restraining order and the magic is gone.

This is why it’s always safer to find first love in other spheres. A first literary love can transport you into a different realm for months on end as you voraciously eat up every last word of the beloved author. A first musical love, meanwhile, can transform your whole life. Fall for Radiohead and you could spend a lot of your adolescence getting to know your shoes. Fall for Aqua, on the other hand, and you may have trouble making friends.

This month our four performers will be exploring these primary descents into what is, let’s face it, something pretty much akin to madness. Whether they’ll be entirely truthful in the presentation of their findings is another matter entirely.


Stranger than Fiction

Rhodri Marsden is a writer and musician. He has been a columnist for The Independent since 2005 and has written about technology, social media, dating, music, food, anxiety, relationships and various ephemera for many publications including The GuardianThe ObserverShortlist, Time Out and many others. He plays in Scritti Politti and a TV theme tribute band called Dream Themes.


Stranger than FictionGemma Weekes is a poet, singer and all-round scribbler, whose debut novel, Love Me (Chatto & Windus) was greeted with rave reviews in The Guardian (“a delight), The Telegraph (“hits you where you feel it most”) and The Independent (“a wonderfully assured debut”). She has performed and devised pieces for venues all of the UK and abroad including The Jazz Cafe.


Stranger than Fiction

Gráinne Maguire is a politics nerd and pop culture obsessive who knows as much about the vagaries of Coalition government as she does about Cheryl Cole’s relationship choices. A lot. She writes for a wide range of websites and newspapers including The Evening Standard. As a stand-up comedian, Gráinne is a breath of fresh air, original and inventive with a subversive twist and recently supported Rob Delaney for his recent run of London Shows.


Stranger than Fiction

Dan Carpenter is a writer and editor who has had his words in MetazenRainy City Stories and was featured in the National Flash Fiction anthology Jawbreakers alongside Ali Smith and Ian Rankin. He co-runs the Manchester literary salon Bad Language and is new writing editor for the Blank Media Collective.
















What’s happening?

Stranger than Fiction is a new literary night in London that brings together some of Britain’s best creative talent in a delirious collision of literary salon and pub quiz. Held at the legendary Phoenix Artist Club in Soho, the event will plunge the audience into a whirlpool of literary brilliance, interspersed with fast-paced quiz rounds that will test their competitive mettle.

Hosted by author and travel writer Dixe Wills and featuring the best in Britain’s novelistic, comedic and performing talent, Stranger than Fiction seeks to capture the spirit of the Edinburgh Festival at it’s unpredictable best.

The opening show will be on the subject of first love, with subsequent events homing in on ghosts, Scotland, gastronomy and the great outdoors.

Stranger than Fiction will take place on Wednesday 7th May at The Phoenix Artist Club, 1 Phoenix Street, London, WC2H 8BU.

Doors open at 7.30pm.

Tickets cost £6 on the door.

Read more about ‘First Love’, featuring Rhodri Marsden, Gemma WeekesGráinne Maguire and Dan Carpenter.