FEATURE – Illicit Ink

A spoken word group with a difference, Illicit Ink has a refreshingly relaxed and entertaining approach to literature and storytelling.

Formed from an idea by Napier’s creative writing students, Illicit Ink has a forthcoming event on 2nd October with a Halloween theme – Monsters Ink.

We caught up Illicit Ink’s ‘Benevolent Dictator’, Babs Melville, to find out more.

Illicit Ink

Illicit Ink

Tell us a little about Illicit Ink…

Back in February, the students from Edinburgh Napier’s MA Creative Writing teamed up with Writers’ Bloc for Love Sick, an anti-Valentine spoken word event. It was terrific, and everyone wanted to know when the next one was. So, a few of us students formed Illicit Ink, running themed events every two months, and offering slots out to other writers. I direct and produce, and Matt Nadelhaft helps with promotion. Jennifer Bryce and Ariadne Cass-Maran are our two in-house compères.

There are several aims, but at its heart, Illicit Ink is a celebration of the power and joy of language. The big aim is to nurture this celebration, entertaining audiences with playful, colourful stories that were meant to be read aloud. The ‘old school’ literary events, where everyone is asleep (or wishing they were), is our idea of Literary Hell.

But we’re not just audience focused – we support the writers, offering rehearsals or editing where needed, and more recently, performance workshops.

Is it open to anyone; or only students?

Anyone can apply for a reading slot, and anyone can come along to listen. I say ‘apply’, which sounds a bit scary, but it isn’t really. We like to be sure writers understand the commitment of writing a story to a set theme – you can’t sign up and then forget about us until the day of the event, and then crawl in with a story about elves when the theme is espionage.

We like to keep in touch with writers and help them shape their stories.

How does it differ from other spoken word groups and performances?

I think what makes us different comes down to a combination of factors: we have striking themes, we’re prose-only, and the line-ups change.

The events also have a warm but mischievous atmosphere I can’t place elsewhere. I think this is partly because we encourage dark and witty stories, but also because we use a venue with a burlesque feel. The material works so well with Cabaret Voltaire’s Speakeasy as its backdrop. Any venue where you can wear a feather boa (and get away with it) is a plus in our book.

What does a typical event consist of?

People come in, have a drink and a chat, and get bit of cake, chocolate, or in the case of Monsters Ink, a cookie. The compère kicks things off, introducing each performer to the stage. We have a break half way through to allow for further chatter, and after the second half, a few folks always stay on for a drink and more banter. For a ‘sit and listen’ event, it is very sociable.

But if there’s room to play with the form or do something different, we will – in fact we encourage writers and compères to consider performing experimental material. For example, at Love Sick, we had a musical collaborative performance, and at our murder-themed event, the compère introduced all the writers as suspects in a literary murder.

Monsters Ink

Monsters Ink

And what can people expect from Monsters Ink?

You can expect monster sound effects, cookies, and several funny stories, including some read in character. Stories include obtrusive seagulls, Mary Shelley in a bad mood, and a zombie story which doesn’t contain any zombies. That last one was inspired by our ‘no zombies’ rule in the writing guidelines. We encourage writers to push the boundaries, and it’s always fun when they find creative loopholes.

Have any members gone on to writing success? Are there published authors who take part?

We don’t have members as such – the admin team have all either compèred or read stories, but we’re not always in the line-up. It’s also early days, given our first event was in February. Nevertheless, I sent this question out to everyone who has performed with us, and was heartened by the responses.

Several of the writers have a track record of published works, including Tracey S. Rosenberg, Sean Martin, Andrew J. Wilson and Sindhu Rajasekaran.

But it depends on the goals of the individual. Many find the performance itself a huge achievement, and I tend to agree with them. I’d been put off performing after a bad gig last year, but reading at Love Sick got me past it. We each have our own metric for success.

Where can people go to find out more?

We’re on Facebook and Twitter, and our website is at illicitink.net.

We’re on the lookout for writers to perform at future events. Anyone interested should either drop us an email at team@illicitink.net, or come and say hello to us at Monsters Ink.

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