True Stories: Michael Chaplin

Acclaimed playwright, screenwriter and author Michael Chaplin visited The Word on Wednesday 21 June as part of WRITE Festival. He spent the night introducing a number of selected True Stories written by local writers following a prior submission process.

The stories, no longer than 500 words, were accounts of events that really happened once upon a time. Michael said that “writers are considered as thief’s and that is very much the case.” The competition was inspired by American writer Paul Auster who asked American’s to send in their true stories for a radio show, Paul’s only request was that the stories should be short and they should absolutely be true.

Around 40 submissions were submitted for The Word’s True Story Competition and although Michael was only supposed to shortlist 6, in the end he shortlisted 11. He said that “the more that came, the more varied they become,” which made the shortlisting process that much harder.

The tales read throughout the night were all unique, varying from cherished childhood memories to stories of heartbreak and sadness. Each local writer had their own reasons for telling their true story, Sharon Richardson who wrote ‘Fighting for Breath’ had never written a word since secondary school, then she heard about the competition and the story came to her in an instant, the first sentence running through her mind before putting pen to paper.

Audrey Polkinghorn started writing 17 years ago when she retired through a mental illness. She was advised that writing down her feelings would help her and she hasn’t looked back since, stating that writing “was a lifesaver for me.”

After the shortlisted stories were read out audience members had the opportunity to vote for their favourite. The audience’s winner was Signs by Jim Dingwall. The incredible story followed his family after his wife’s passing, they all began to have strange experiences that linked together to show that his wife was still watching over them. Although Jim had never written before he felt that after seeing the competition people needed to hear his family’s story.

Soon after, Michael revealed his favourite three submissions, in third place was Chains by John Lucas. His story took place in the USA, where he lived for 19 years, only returning to the UK six months ago. Michael said “the story was beautifully written” and it was a story Michael could tell meant a lot to John.

The runner up was Two Berks, not much hair by Mark Robertson, he mainly feels creatively inspired to write after playing the drums.

Michael’s chosen winner was The Window Cleaner by Glenda Young. This was the first story Michael read from the submissions and it made him laugh out loud as he liked how it showed “the role that window cleaners play in British Culture.”