Write Fight at Belfast Book Festival

Paul Doran and Ray McGahan, editors of The Bear literary website, square up for a brawl at the Black Box

What is Write Fight?

PD: Write Fight is like a pub quiz, but instead of answering questions you write stories. That might sound airy and quaint, but it’s not. Write Fights are loud, fast-paced and unfair. We set rules and challenges for every round and we do our absolute best to distract contestants.

The winners of each round are given the chance to read their entries aloud to the audience, and we feature any pieces we really like on our website. Somewhere along the way we hope to show that writing isn’t just about bearded men drinking cups of tea in shady rooms, it’s also about sweating it out, having fun and hopefully beating the guy next to you.

RM: It’s like Formula One, and also like boxing, but much slower and with less blood, and much more creative. But otherwise it’s the same as both of those things.

Have you performed it before, and if so, what was the reaction?

PD: We debuted the idea of Write Fight as part of Culture Night Belfast 2013. We set up outside Blinkers Restaurant and had people coming and going all night. The contestants loved the idea and we unexpectedly had a few younger contestants (really good ones too) who got very into it.

We’ve honed the idea a little bit since then, and because we’re indoors this time – at the Black Box on June 9 as part of the 2014 Belfast Book Festival – hopefully we won’t be repeatedly interrupted by the Jazz Funeral for Democracy that was loudly doing the rounds on Culture Night.

RM: The craziest thing about the first Write Fight was that our winner, and our runner up, were both kids. We had a panel of judges set up to read all entries and judge the overall winners. By everyone’s judgement, the best writers of the night were a 12-year-old girl and an nine-year-old boy. It was just brilliant.

These kids dove into the spirit of things so much more than any of us thought people would, and in three to four minutes at a time just churned out fantastic little stories and vignettes, sometimes with challenging constraints. The girl won the round called 'Eek! An Eventful Evening!', wherein you had to write a short story in four minutes without using the letter ‘e’. She didn’t just write a story, she wrote a good, fun story.

It was genuinely great to read. And that really shocked the hell out of us, that these kids could come in and kick everyone’s asses. That made us look into things a bit more, and hopefully the next episode at the Black Box will be as much of a family event as before, but bigger.

It's part of the Belfast Book Festival – how can people get involved?

RM: The Belfast Book Festival program is out now – just check the festival website, and go to as many events as tickle your many fancies. People like books. People haven’t stopped reading books, despite all the changes in technology over the past half decade. Books are cool. And there’s a lot of good stuff going on. And anybody interested in the Write Fight can give us a shout on Facebook or Twitter.

Tell us a little about The Bear, the literary website that you both edit.

PD: We all work full-time and pour pretty much all of our free time into it; we fund it ourselves. We also rely on the seemingly bottomless kindness and patience of some volunteer contributors, without whom we’d probably have cracked and gone off-grid a long time ago. We’re currently looking into securing some external funding with the aim of printing and distributing a journal and getting a few other projects off the ground. There’s a Write Fight app in the works.

RM: Neither Paul nor I expect any riches just yet. Write Fight may well become an ongoing thing, should the upcoming event prove to be the Spectacular Literary Bonanza that we think it will, and in theory it could provide some revenue that would go back into funding print development.

Why did you want to create the site?

PD: We have worked together on various writing projects for years. With the exception of one play, which we produced ourselves, we never managed to get anything off the ground and got sick of sending things off and hearing nothing in return.

On the 12th of July last year we both found ourselves stuck in very hot, very boring offices, having read pretty much every online literary journal to death. I, as a joke, started writing a text to Ray about starting a new journal, but by the time I sent it I was deadly serious. Ray agreed about four seconds later. Within about six days The Bear was up and running.

What did you both do before beforehand?

PD: We had lives.

RM: No kidding. That’s the best answer. I used to have the blood pressure of a man my age. We don’t live the lives of people anymore. We work and then we come home and work, and then we sleep and so on and so forth. Sometimes we crack a little bit, and need a break, but we can cover each other neatly when it’s necessary, which is nice. There’s no grumpy feelings of anyone taking on too much of the load.

Are you looking for new writers/submissions?

RM: Always. I shouldn’t be saying this because it probably makes us look unprofessional, but for the first time we have a bit of a backlog of submissions. We’ve got some really good brand new writing coming up onto the site over the next couple of weeks, in addition to all the weekly columns we regularly run, but the entire point of starting this thing was to find new writers who haven’t had the chance to get a proper review.

We started with one promise: that we would personally read and respond to every single thing that was sent to us, and that hasn’t changed. We’re still open to all forms of poetry and prose, and if anyone wants to drop us a line regarding taking care of our day jobs while we do it – like, two days a week – we’ll respond to those emails too.

Now, as well as being web masters, you have become ring masters, of sorts. Should we expect Write Fight to get out of hand?

PD: Things can get very competitive, but we’re pretty sure most writers have quite healthy egos, so it should be a model of calm.

RM: Unless things start to slow down. Myself and Euan McBride, a Scottish contributor we’ve drafted in especially, are hosting. We have a wealth of techniques with which to keep the masses in a state of barely controlled frenzy. Most of these do not involve stripteases.

Will any writers be harmed in the making of Write Fight?

PD: Only if they interrupt the host or argue with the judges. Or accidentally jab themselves with their pencils. That happens a lot.

If you could fight any writer, who would it be?

PD: Bears never maul and tell.

RM: Never mind that. Brett Easton Ellis. That guy’s a you-know-what.

Why should we not fight writers?

PD: Writers tend to have their revenge, and it’s usually a lasting one. We find it’s best not to get on the wrong side of a writer, for ethical reasons as much as personal.

Who should we fight?

PD: It would be nice to say book-burners and those who suppress free expression, but, despite their reputation, bears are pretty live and let live.

Will you be holding any other events in the near future?

RM: Most likely we’ll have a Write Fight in September during the next Culture Night, but nothing is set in stone. Meantime, we might be able to start things regularly, depending on schedules. I'm in the early stages of developing a semi-regular event in Scotland as well, so you never know. It might spread.

Belfast Book Festival runs in various venues from June 9 – 15. Write Fight takes place at the Black Box, Belfast on June 9. Visit The Bear for more information.