A Literary Death Match is a wonderful thing.
For some reason I had assumed that everyone would have heard of it by now, but apparently not, so I shall explain. Literary Death Match is an event where writers compete against one another for the adulation of their peers, or failing that the approval of a live audience and panel of judges. Four writers read their stuff for up to seven minutes (any longer and they get shot) and are whittled down to two according to the criteria of literary merit, performance, and intangibles. They then go head to head in a final round that doesn’t involve reading, but is in some way literary – for instance Tuesday’s champion was ultimately decided by spelling bee.
Set up by a very enthusiastic chap by the name of Todd Zuniga, LDM happens in venues all over the world. I first got to watch one at Latitude Festival last year but have since been to two in Edinburgh, and they’ve also done it in Glasgow, London, Oslo, Dublin, Boston…. anywhere that’ll have them, essentially.
“I don’t know if you guys follow American politics,” Zuniga said at one stage, “but basically right now, there’s a bunch of dickheads, and then Barack Obama. And the only way to defeat the dickheads is to be thoughtful, and to read books.” Well put indeed.
For Tuesday’s event at the Voodoo Rooms, a panel of Hannah McGill, Alan Bissett and Christopher Brookmyre sat in judgement, presiding over a wonky star cloth and the odd mic malfunction. Before proceedings began, McGill confessed that if she could accidentally be on a book cover it would be Tender is the Night (naked and playing a cello), Bissett conceded his literary kink is quotes from Ghostbusters (we’ve all been there – death is but a door, time is but a window, etc), and Brookmyre reckoned his literary death would probably involve being decapitated by a sharpened kindle.
Literary Death Match is not a serious or po-faced event, and that’s why I like it.
Round one saw poet Michael Pedersen take on novelist Sara Sheridan. I find it hard to judge poems against short stories because they are so stylistically different, but enjoyed both performances. Pedersen read a couple of poems, the first of of which was called RIP Porty High (I can’t remember the name of the second- alas, such poor reportage – but it was on the subject of his girlfriend going through his phone), and Sheridan a short story called The Honey Trap.
The judges injected some controversy when McGill accused Pedersen of making up the words ‘ablution‘ and ‘curlicue‘ (he didn’t), and Brookmyre said Sheridan’s boots took him back to his youth watching women dress up as boys for panto in the Citizen’s Theatre… But everyone was able to agreed on one thing, namely that “moccasins without socks are a difficult look to pull off for someone from Leith.” Thanks to Michael Pedersen and Alan Bissett for clearing that up once and for all.
Round Two was Gavin Inglis vs Claire Askew, where surname mispronunciation abounded. He read a couple of darkly comic short stories, the first of which explored the notion of selling organs on eBay, whilst she read a poem describing her ideal reader (the kid who sits in the back row of her class saying “poetry’s fuckin’ gay” sitting up and taking notice) and another on the perils of owning a vast collection of typewriters.
Afterwards, Alan Bissett destroyed the judging process with the revelation fellow judge Hannah McGill “doesn’t like any of the Godfather films. So we can pretty much discount her opinion…” whilst Christopher Brookmyre confessed that “the word ‘jobbie’ gets me every time.” I think we can all relate to that.
In the final round, poet met poet with Michael Pedersen and Claire Askew battling it out for the Literary Death Match crown by taking it in turns to spell increasingly complicated author names. She did point out that as an English teacher she might have an unfair advantage, but at least this way the subjective nature of whether judges prefer poetry or stories is rendered irrelevant – another reason why these events are good.
The message seems to be read, write, drink and think – and for god’s sake don’t take yourself too seriously. Let it penetrate.