Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Mea Culpa! Mea Culpa!

Smells good too!
Regular readers of this blog will know that it’s our practice to appoint a scribe for each meeting and she or he tries to capture the spirit of each meeting in a few lines before we collect together again. Our meeting on August 24th remains unrecorded and this grave omission is down to me.

Here’s what I remember:
  • Izzie, once again, proved that the Internet is where it’s at. She cleverly contrived to come second in a design-a-room competition and thereby avoided the winner’s prize, which she didn’t want, and collected the runner-up’s that she did.
  • Linda is entering A Headful of Budgerigars in the Myslexia novel-writing competition. It deserves to win.
  • Tony is toying with a concept for a new mental health primer.
  • Tony read a chapter from his novel-in-progress: We all agreed that Tony has a unique, relaxed style and that this extract built the suspense well. Some of us were concerned about Tilman’s naivety and Angland’s complicated ‘banishment’ process. At one stage Linda admitted that she was so transported by Tony’s description that she could smell Tilman’s urine.

I can't see the blog! When's the next meeting?
Had the blog been written in a timely fashion it would have stated that the next meeting would be on 14 September. Apparently, members are unable to use a calendar or diary to determine which are the second and fourth Mondays in a month and you can imagine the confusion that was caused by not being able to refer to the blog for this vital information.

And on that note I’ll move on to the most recent meeting: 14th September. We were down in numbers because Izzie and Linda were both in London. Linda was attending a Guardian writing masterclass and it will be interesting to hear how it went. As far as news went, it was good to hear that some of us enjoyed events in Bewdley Book Week. Tony has submitted an article to the Malcolm Saville Society magazine. (Tony is a fully paid member of the Lone Pine Club Rob has talked about No Mean Affair to Dorridge U3A and Chris will talk to Newport (Shropshire) U3A about Why Don’t You Fly?

It was Annie who submitted for this week and we discussed a very nearly final draft of Polly Poodle’s Pamperina. Because of Chris’s extended absence this was his first exposure to this text for an illustrated children’s book and he commended Annie on the originality of the story and its rhymes. His main concern was whether and when Polly’s ‘speech’ should be in quotation marks.

I suggested that the work was much improved by the changes that Annie made following advice from her ‘proper’ writing group because it now has a recognisable story arc structure. The rhymes and rhythm are almost perfect with some verses working stunningly well. However, I expressed concern that the couplet that was used as a refrain was not as smooth as it needed to be to bear repetition.

Tony was also very positive about the rhyming and rhythm and suggested improvements where he thought they were called for.

Annie circulated a pitch that she’d written for a ‘Hook’ event at the next conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and this was met with approval from all – subject to some very minor amendments.

After a brief discussion of whether we have to start building bomb shelters in our gardens and prepare for dystopian future now that Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour Party, we went our separate ways. But not before we had agreed arrangements for the next few meetings, as follows: 

28.9.15:  Rob to submit and to host
12.10.15:  Chris to submit; Tony to host 
26.10.15:  Jayne to submit and to host
9.11.15:  Linda to submit; Annie to host.
(And all meetings to start at 8pm.)

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The Trouble With Cats...

Chris was on a downward spiral, but keeping going anyway because it's the only way to go after spending so many years on what is going to be a brilliant read.

Rob is to attend two writing groups who have read his latest release and has been notified that 'Out of Such Darkness' has been longlisted for The Guardian's Not the Booker Prize. Here's the link if you'd like to read more.

Having seen a play about The Lone Pine Club, Tony went on to write a review. This was spotted by the Malcom Saville Society and after they promoted the post via social media, Tony has seen a spike in traffic to his blog. The review is to be published in the Malcolm Saville magazine.

Annie plans to run her own website after posting lots of entries on her school's blog and being inspired to write her own website. Based on writing techniques for children, the site is called 'Write There.' She also continues to work on Polly Poodle.

Linda has finished a submission for this year's Myslexia Women's Novel competition and has registered for a Guardian Masterclass on submissions.

Linda read Chapter Four from 'Chelsea Beach.' The general consensus, as always, was that Linda's writing was atmospheric, emotional, descriptive and poetic. The opening paragraph with its description of a house filled with cats set the scene for family mayhem. As the chapter unfurled, we were treated to an emotional read about Phoebe's sixteenth birthday celebrations organised by her grandparents.

Annie thought the chapter revealing about life at home through the eyes of sixteen-year-old, Phoebe. Izzie loved the descriptions of Phoebe as someone having to be grown-up before her time. Tony thought it a comforting read and imagined the book being selected for Radio Four's 'Book of the Week.' Rob thought it quite brilliant, but possibly offensive to cat lovers. While Chris thought it was descriptive and the dialogue, 'expert.' 

In Linda's right to reply, she revealed that she'd not had much time to devote to writing the chapter. As we were all so taken with it, this came as quite a surprise.   
The next meeting is to be a summer social event held at Rob's on the 10th August at 7:45pm.

Monday, 20 July 2015

A local writing group for local people

We met at Tony's on Monday 13 July.

Annie is continuing to work on her children's poetry and has spent a picture-book-writing day with her Proper Writing Group.

Tony has been invited by Persephone Books to review one of their books on his blog. He has submitted three short stories to Popshot magazine and he's also planning to write a proposal for a book based on his research on wellbeing and mental health.

I have been revising the final two chapters of Karl Marx and Careful Driving. I was able to report that I have done two talks on the cycle-ride to Beijing: to Bromsgrove Motorcycle Club (Monday 7 July) and to Leominster Vintage Club (Wednesday 9 July), selling respectively thirteen and seven copies of 'Why Don't You Fly?'  

Linda has been working on a new book, provisionally titled Chelsea Beach. She will be entering A Head Full of Budgerigars in Mslexia's women's novel-writing competition.

Rob, who has been heavily involved in organising Bewdley Book Week, test-reading the manuscript of Karl Marx and Careful Driving and landscaping his garden, has been invited to three local reading groups to talk about his latest novel Out of such Darkness. I don't know how he finds the time, even in retirement.

The submission was from Rob's novel-in-progress The Petrified Fountain. Our hero flies out to Lisbon to meet a cousin he has traced through a private investigator. The descriptions of the city are testimony to the week the author spent wandering Lisbon's streets earlier this year specifically for the purposes of research.  We all enjoyed Rob's development of the fastidious narrator (a man, he assured us, who would absolutely have said 'quotidian' rather than 'daily') and the introduction of Luis Fonseca, the chain-smoking cousin who happens to be a private investigator himself. Tony remarked that Cross's meeting with his cousin in a dingy, smoke-filled office was evocative of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe and wondered if it was for real or a parody.

As with all first drafts there was the odd typo to point out and the syntax was occasionally a little clumsy. Annie felt occasionally that the descriptions of Lisbon sounded a little too like a guide book and Linda was of the opinion that Rob might have added more of the city's sounds and smells. Writing convincing dialogue spoken by foreigners is a minefield. Given that Fonseca professed himself to be bi-lingual, I was concerned that Rob's efforts to make him sound foreign in the passages of dialogue might be misconstrued by some readers as poor writing. Rob countered that since the claim to be bilingual was Fonseca's alone, the faintly stilted English was a joke - but in my opinion one a little too subtle for the majority of readers to pick up (had the English been truly awful we'd have got it).

Cross dons neatly-pressed tan chinos and a plain Hawaiian shirt for the meeting with Fonseca. 'Plain Hawaiian shirt? Oxymoron!' we jeered, almost in unison. Not so. Plain Hwaiian shirts, we were reliably informed, can be bought on the internet.

Finally we discussed whether to use further or farther and complexion or complection. All spellings are permissible but farther is used exclusively for distances.

The next meeting is at 7.45 pm on Monday 27 July at Annie's. Linda will be submitting. Now I really must go and book those tickets for Bewdley Book Week.

Blog posted by Chris.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Remember: It’s always sunny above the clouds!

We met at Izzy’s house. There were only the four of us, as Rob was otherwise engaged with some old friends and Tony was in Bournemouth.

Linda and Izzy have both been busy with life in general and so had no writerly news to report. Chris had given a talk and sold nine books. I (Annie) have totally reworked Polly Poodle and am pleased with the way it is progressing.

Chris read an extract from ‘Karl Marx and Careful Driving’. Izzy was astounded by the depth of Chris’s knowledge of periods of history that are not mainstream or even in our psyche. Izzy also enjoyed the playlist that punctuates the story with the switch from Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ to Mozart’s clarinet concerto as Chris and his armed security guard take it in turns to hear their preferred music during the trip.

Linda thought it a brilliant read and was absorbed by it. She found the history parts fascinating and enjoyed the punctuation provided by Chris’s lighter observations about life on the road. Linda also paid homage to Tony. At SVA we each have our part to play. Rob is the patriarch, Linda the matriarch, Izzy the techno queen and Chris the brains. But Tony is the hyphen police. Stitching words together where they have been pulled apart. But something exciting happened in his absence! Linda spotted a hyphen that had been included and needed to be removed! Cumulo-nimbus to cumulonimbus.  

For me the piece was a good balance of history and more mundane, trivial matters such as how to avoid getting shot by armed bandits. The relationship between Chris and Vladimir is developing well for the reader if not in their reality. The links between sections were subtle with Chris stopping at a bakery to buy bread shortly after musing about bread rationing in the Soviet Union in 1934. I did challenge Chris when he asserted that ‘everyone has common sense.’

Keep going, Chris! I remember how mentally exhausted I was once with a 10,000 thesis so I can only begin to imagine the magnitude of this project!

The next meeting is July 13th at Tony's house. Rob is submitting.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Drinking Cup-a-Soup with William Morris (and Judy Tzuke)

Since time immemorial - or at least as long as I can recall - SVA meetings have been held on a Tuesday.  But, as Take That so memorably rendered it, everything changes, and so we have switched the meeting to Monday nights.  The change is to accommodate Chris's new work pattern, facilitated by Annie who has sportingly agreed to combine writing with running by doing both activities on a Monday evening.  And so it was that Annie arrived, almost literally hotfoot (and hardly late at all.)  A quick change and a Golden Vegetable Cup-a-Soup later, she was able to join us in critiquing Izzie's submission. 

Linda has just got back from Portugal where she perfected the art of writing while her friends enjoyed a lie-in.  Chris was welcomed back into the fold to tell us about his talk at Bewdley Bike Week and the fact that his book was now being stocked (alongside titles by fellow SVA members) at Bewdley's newest and quirkiest shop - Bewdley Emporium

Rob had been spending more time gardening than writing but had paused between horticultural tasks long enough to note that Amazon sales of Out of Such Darkness were gratifyingly high.  Annie, now suitably victualled, told us of her plans to submit her recent work directly to publishers and Izzie had been busy posting pieces on her blog about Eurovision and Judy Tzuke (of Stay With Me Till Dawn fame) (number 16 on the UK Singles Chart back in 1979, if you're struggling.)

Izzie read her piece with the intriguing title Life in an (almost) empty nest. Linda felt she would like to have heard a bit more about how it feels to live in an (almost) empty nest.  Everyone seemed to like the William Morris quote: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."  Chris said he might have been inclined to put this quote upfront. Rob and Tony both detected a certain transatlantic tinge to some of Izzie's writing and Rob found the tone occasionally a little bossy while Annie focussed more on the ideas Izzie had dreamt up, rather than the style or tone. Izzie is certainly enjoying success in the world of blogging and that's an encouragement to us all, whether we're writing blogs, children books, short stories, articles, non-fiction or novels.  But what would the great William Morris have had to say about our little gathering?  Well, he once observed, "It took me years to understand that words are often as important as experience, because words make experience last." Or, as Judy Tzuke put it:  "It's the same old situation/Every word so finely placed ..."
Next meeting:  Monday 22nd June at Izzie's, Rob to submit.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

What do the Boomtown Rats know that we don't?

We don't like 'em.
Severn Valley Authors has been meeting on Tuesdays since its inception but now in the first radical change in our format (we’re nothing if we’re not flexible) we’re considering changing to Monday evenings. Our next meeting will be on Monday 8th June at Rob’s with Jayne submitting. Will we end up agreeing with the BTs? Watch this space.
Our ranks were depleted once again with Linda being en-route back from a break in Lisbon and Chris having work commitments. We whizzed through news, focusing mostly on Izzie’s success with her blog. She’s been commissioned to write more pieces. She’s way ahead of the rest of us when it comes to earnings from writing. Rob appeared on a panel of three novelists at a Readers Event in Dudley which was very enjoyable.
Annie read two pieces of work. We all thought that The Big Little Book of Opposites was a brilliant and original idea. The group commented favourably on the sillier rhyme choices: "As hot as mosquitos’ burritos; as cold as midges’ fridges", but felt that the more sensible choices: "As prickly as Porcupine’s spines", would not appeal to children as much.
We were also treated to the prequel to Polly Poodle’s Pamperina where we learned how Polly came to own a beauty salon for pooches. Annie is acting on advice from another writing group that specialises in writing for children who have suggested that she needs the first Polly book to have a story arc that ends with Polly opening her shop. This group can see the sense of this but feels that one of Annie’s strengths - and her greatest appeal to children - is her anarchic writing. We like and admire her zany ideas and feel that the storyline straitjacket is cramping her natural style. There were lots of positives in terms of the way she has created a backstory for Polly but we’d like to see more mayhem!
See you next Monday!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

That which goes out the window

We met at Tony's to discuss the latest instalment of his work-in-progress, a novel provisionally titled Nothing but a Phantom, which he told us is a nod to a quote by Herman Hesse: "Was all that we called culture, spirit, soul, all that we called beautiful and sacred, nothing but a ghost long dead, which only a few fools like us took for true and living? Had it perhaps indeed never been true and living? Had all that we poor fools bothered our heads about never been anything but a phantom?" The more of the book that Tony reveals the more apt this quote appears to be. But more of this later.

In our updates: Rob mentioned that his two novels are now on sale in Phil Richard's new outlet Bewdley Emporium in Lax Lane; Linda gave news of Chris's talk during Bewdley Bike Week (details here); Annie is pleased with her Polly Poodle progress; and Tony was delighted to have received a royalty cheque for sales of a non-fiction book on mental health nursing that was published 15 years ago. Sadly, Izzie was unable to give her news because she was unable to come to the meeting. Get well soon, Izzie, from all of us.

We agreed that our next meeting on May 12th should not be a formal one since Annie and Linda are both away. The rest of us - including Chris, we hope - will get together for a chinwag over a drink somewhere.  Details to be sorted.

So to Tony's extract - Chapter 5 At the Guards Station. It's a testament to the quality of Tony's writing that there was hardly any comment about the technical side. Although Linda and Annie both thought that the pace could be improved we all agreed that Tony was building the tension well and that the totalitarian nature of the imagined kingdom of 'Angland' is becoming apparent in a controlled way.
The book's protagonist, Tilman Birchwood, is a 19 year-old university student and we all wondered whether he would be more aware of the true nature of the state and therefore less naive about his first visit to a Guards Station. We all praised the chapter's finale that introduced the concept of 'banishment'. What does this mean for Tilman? Read on!

Annie was troubled by the word 'defenestration'. (OED definition: verb [with object] rare Throw (someone) out of a window.) As she teased out why, she realised that in Angland - a parallel country to ours that retained its Anglo-Saxon nature - the Norman influence on our language wouldn't have happened and therefore French-rooted words (fenetre = window) wouldn't have happened. As Annie put it: "If 1066 and all that never happened Angland wouldn't have French words."

Whether this means that Tony is going to have to go through his final manuscript and root out all the words that have Norman roots only he can decide. If he does, his work would be worthy of inclusion in the Oulipo portfolio. It would be a nice irony if this French group were forced to admit a work on this basis.

The meeting closed with a customarily inconclusive discussion on when to use 'which' and 'that'. Next meeting informal on 12th May - venue tba. On 26th May we'll meet at Annie's and consider work by her.