Short stories penned by anonymous authors are being discovered in the most unlikely places. Sarah Freeman meets the man behind the Found Fiction project
The envelopes, which have been discovered secreted inside restaurant menus, left on bookshelves and even tucked in the arms of a shop mannequin, all look the same. On the front, there is no address, just a simple instruction which says ‘Read Me’ and inside on a page of A4 is a short story written by an anonymous author.
Some are love stories, others are thrillers, but all are part of Found Fiction, which is the brainchild of Steve Clarkson who, along with a volunteer army of literary guerillas, is on a mission to bring the art of the short story to an entirely unsuspecting readership.
“It all began when I was talking to a friend,” says 30 year old Clarkson, who by day is a senior content writer for digital marketing agency Stickyeyes in Leeds. “He really wanted to write and he wanted his work to be read, the only problem was that he really didn’t want anyone to know that he was the one responsible for the words.
“We started thinking of ways that we could get his work out there anonymously and that’s when I had a bit of a light bulb moment and came up with the idea of Found Fiction.”
That very first story – a slightly surreal meditation on a gunshot – was left in Leeds Art Gallery back in 2015 where it was discovered by someone visiting from Ireland.
“We ask anyone who finds one of our stories to let us know on Twitter by using the #foundfiction hashtag, but really it’s up to them. They can re-drop it somewhere else, they can keep it as a souvenir or they can put it in the bin. It’s their choice, although obviously we’d prefer it if they didn’t do the latter.”
Three years on since the initial drop, 20 writers have contributed around 40 different stories to the Found Fiction project and while most of the work has been circulated around Britain, a few have made it across the Atlantic and beyond.
“We have had some really lovely feedback,” says Simon. “There was one girl who found one of our envelopes while waiting for a date who never turned up. She messaged us to say that she had spent the evening in a ‘bubble of glee’. She said it had made her write her own story, which I thought was just lovely. Once the envelopes are out there, we have no control over what happens to them, but every so often you realise that they really do have the power to change a pretty rubbish day into a much brighter one.”
Through a little trial and error, Clarkson says that for the optimum chance of discovery galleries, museums and cafes tend to be the best locations to leave the envelopes, but some of the volunteers have their own ideas.
“One guy was laying floor boards and left one of the stories underneath so that one won’t be discovered for years, maybe not ever, but that’s fine. What’s great about Found Fiction is that it’s such a simple idea and because there is very little cost involved we can take a chance about where we leave some of the envelopes.”
At Found Fiction, brevity is king. Each of the stories runs to no more than a few hundred words and Clarkson is always on the look out for new writers to help expand the project.
“We have just sent out our first story in Polish and I really love the idea of getting more foreign language work out there. We are a pretty broad church. Anyone can submit a story for publication and if we accept it then we will print it out, sort the envelopes and post it all back to them to drop, although some writers are happy to chip in.
“Someone asked me recently whether I had thought about monetising Found Fiction. I haven’t. Somehow it sits at odds with the original philosophy.”
To get involved in Found Fiction, email email@example.com or post under the #foundfiction hashtag on Twitter.