David Hartley: Bringing the Apocalypse to Preston

David Hartley: Bringing the Apocalypse to Preston
David Hartley

David Hartley

The apocalypse is on David Hartley’s mind. Or maybe not the apocalypse. Apocalypses. Apocalii? For a start, this Saturday he’ll be taking up a temporary residence in Preston’s doomed bus station, leading a ‘Choose Your Own Apocalypse’ adventure story. Twice.

When I met up with David earlier this week, I also got my hands on a copy of his new collection, Threshold, which is much concerned with world endings, alternative worlds and the world as we know it slipping out from under us. What with reading the stories and thinking about Saturday’s event, I’m overcome with the sense that something is going to happen. Let’s be more specific. Imagine that the volunteer from the audience for the first performance on Saturday chooses exactly the right sequence to bring about the apocalypse. It could happen. If you turn up for the second performance and find nothing in the bus station but a swirl of dust and the distant view of a zombie down where the no. 42 bus would have been, you’ll know which ending the story found…

David comes from Preston himself, although things didn’t really seem to be happening there until he left. ‘Once I was old enough, I’d be coming into Manchester. The only things that were going on were things that my dad was doing.’ His dad is a playwright, and head of drama at a local sixth form, providing a background of performance that has been an important ingredient in David’s life as a writer. ‘It’s a curious place, somewhere people tend to pass through, with a big train station and a big bus station. I do think Preston’s a smaller version of Manchester that hasn’t quite realised its potential.’


Preston Bus Station

Preston Bus Station


They Eat Culture and Lancashire Writing Hub are two of the organisations doing their bit to bring Preston to this point of self-actualisation, and are behind this Saturday’s Journey to the End of the World. Preston Bus Station, by the way, is a landmark building in the Brutalist architectural style, currently earmarked for demolition by Preston Council. On Saturday, it will be the venue for an inspired event, where the audience will go on a journey which takes in stories and music and poems. Literally a journey, by the way. ‘There is an element of not being quite sure what to expect. There’s an MC who’s going to be telling stories as they take the audience around, and we’re all stationed at different bits. I’m right next to the Gents…’

So, tell us how you go about creating a Choose your own Adventure story. ‘It’s really fun to perform and to read, but a nightmare to write.’  The original draft ran for about twenty minutes, with up to 70 pathways to take overall. Not all of it will be used, of course. ‘I structured it with three choices at the beginning, and these lead out on different branches.’ It was in danger of getting out of hand. ‘There was at one stage going to be, on both of the buses, a top deck and a bottom deck, so you were going to choose the top deck or the bottom deck, and you’d end up with a different scenario depending on whether you were on the top or the bottom, and there were decks crossing each other – I had to really hack it back.’ An unwieldy form to work with.

I suggest that the volunteer might come up with ideas of his or her own and really throw a spanner in the works. David seems unfazed by the possibility. ‘Hopefully I will have some ultimate control.’ And, with the two separate performances, he’ll be looking out for different endings, and hoping he hasn’t written one strand to be more appealing than all the others. ‘If we end up with the same story, I’ll be tempted to put it on again sometime and see if the same thing comes up again.’

If David’s story on Saturday is long and unwieldy, the stories in Threshold are anything but. A collection of thirteen pieces of flash fiction, the shortest one a single sentence, they range through ‘science fiction, a couple of horror pieces, some strange urban fantasy.’ Putting a collection together must be a bit like choosing a playlist or making a mixed tape? ‘Yeah, it’s an interesting exercise. Creating a narrative, putting a punchy one at the end. I’m very much an album person, I listen to the whole thing, even if I don’t like half the album.’

I can’t see anyone wanting to skip a track here. Each one is a tiny world: the ghost stuck in the right house with the wrong people to haunt; a squadron preparing for a battle which is not what you might think; a dream of Preston where you can’t be sure where the dream ends. I’ve not read much lately that can match the poignancy of Invader Guilt, an end of the world after the shooting has stopped, when the invaders take an unexpected course of action.

In Threshold there’s a lot of what I’m expecting at Saturday’s performance: Preston, travel, time slipping and zombies. Well, you know, you can’t have a good apocalypse with a zombie or two. I think it’s going to be beautiful, strange and a lot of fun. I can’t wait.


Come and join in the adventure this Saturday. More information about times, tickets and location here
Rabbiting On is David’s blog
On Twitter look for @lonlonranch
Buy Threshold and find out more about Gumbo Press here
And there’s even an Etsy shop of all things Dave: brilliant!

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