Admittedly, I’m a fan of all the venues used for the Writers Festival, largely because they’re located in my neighbourhood . Joining Missy Marston and Pasha Malla for Plan 99 Fiction at the Manx was thus a particular delight. The Manx, a small and literally underground pub in the core of Ottawa on Elgin Street is the ideal venue for an intimate poetry or fiction reading. There is nothing like tight quarters, accommodating strangers and a warm beverage to make you feel like hearing a good story. Marston and Malla certainly delivered, and to a receptive audience that felt like family.
As pointed out at the start of the event by resident poet and Manx bartender David O’Meara , the Manx merits a larger font on any pages to be read due to its ambient lighting. This, and the apparent lack of seating, was my only critique of the event. O’Meara, whom I bumped into while hunting for a seat, recently became a Griffin Poetry Prize judge, so he’s certainly a qualified host for an event such as this one. He wasted no time in getting Marston into a corner cleverly disguised as a stage, and thus began our brief time with Plan 99.
A woman after my own heart, Ottawa native Missy Marston brought her book flagged with neon Post-Its. Clearly, I was in the right place. Her summary of her book The Love Monster went something like this: Margaret H. Atwood—the fictional proofreader, as opposed to Margaret E. Atwood , the author of The Handmaid’s Tale fame—is visited by an alien. A brief yet captivating summary if I do say so myself. Oddly enough, Marston’s reading voice reminds me of the non-fictional Atwood. When I mentioned this to Marston after the event, she happily accepted this as a compliment, and guessed that it may have something to do with her love of the real Atwood .
The first and most-notable excerpt read by Marston was a tale of what I will politely refer to as bathroom concerns, which is obviously a highly-relatable but rarely discussed topic. Add this to the list of reasons why the Manx feels like a family gathering, because everyone was laughing along with Marston’s unfortunate and hopefully fictional story. Latter readings shared by Marston dealt with love and loss, and thus continued the relatable theme. She certainly piqued my interest.
Next on the docket was Pasha Malla, a Newfoundland-born and Ontario-raised author who was reading from his first full-length work of fiction People Park . As a general rule, anyone who includes obscure rap references in his or her work is a-okay with me. Malla began his background of People Park just so, offering free drinks to anyone who could come up with the context for “all in together now.” For those too lazy to research the reference themselves, Malla was referring to the Wu Tang Clang, a fact I discerned much too late to receive anything other than personal satisfaction from.
Malla provided a noticeable reading contrast to Marston; though both were confident readers sharing a quasi-relatable subject, Pasha spoke at a rapid pace, and was considerably more risqué in his content. A bold move, but one that was certainly appreciated by the audience.
Pasha’s side comments, such as “Anyone from London, Ontario? Yes, that’s a reference,” were a welcome addition to his brief reading from People Park. He had me picturing a weird fusion of the film adaptation of Watchmen with the Rocky Horror Picture Show . And, as odd and perhaps as worrisome it may sound, I also felt as though Pasha was telling his story somewhat first hand; as if he saw a series of raucous activities on our street, yesterday. Our gracious host David O’Meara claimed he couldn’t wait for the film adaptation.
Guests at the Manx were appropriately enraptured by story time with Missy and Pasha, whose brief readings were vastly different but equally appealing. It is my hope that all Writers Festival events feel as comfortable as Plan 99.