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.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Moonbeams and Madness

Rob was a little late to the meeting having been at a pilates class - we may have just chatted among ourselves about the frustrations of modern life and all its complexities in his absence.

In news, Linda shared details of a short story competition over at the Royal Academy and we were thrilled to learn that Chris has finally FINISHED his book. Tony's had a letter published in Songlines magazine and Rob is back after a recent trip to Lisbon researching his latest novel. He has also sold more copies of Out Of Such Darkness which is excellent news. Annie enjoyed her writing trip in Yorkshire and reported a busy, but productive week. And Izzie has been working on a couple of promotional posts.

Linda read a short story called, 'Winchelsea Beach.' This was filled with beautiful descriptions and created fabulous imagery of life by the sea. Izzie loved the story but was a little confused as to whether or not picnics would be enjoyed on a beach in November. She also loved the cure for madness during Victorian times, 'They would capture moonbeams in a jar, add some sugar of milk and a tiny drop of brandy and shake it all together.' Annie loved the overall feel, but admitted to being a little bewildered as to the ages of the children. She loved the description of Lorna in her dress and the use of, 'a glassy flat sea veneered with mist.' Rob was a little confused about the narrative throughout the story but loved the line, 'no amount of kisses would turn that toad into the man of her dreams.' Tony thought the story engaging and could imagine listening to it on the radio. It reminded him of The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden as it had an innocent, but turbulent feel to it. Everyone loved Linda's fabulous descriptions which created vivid images of disordered family life in an idyllic location. We all look forward to reading more.

The next meeting is to be held at Tony's on 28th April with Tony to submit.


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

SVA Hasn't a Clue

(Written by Linda and posted by Rob)

While Rob was scouring Worcestershire for the correct venue for last Tuesday’s meeting, the group, in the most writerly fashion, discussed Tony’s search for a plumber that really would get back to him, the merits (or not) of the 1968 hit Macarthur Park and our relief that Annie hadn’t left her delicious chocolate cake in the rain.
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'Cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again, oh noooooo
Rob arrived and regaled us with yet more plumbing talk. On the previous Sunday he had been discussing plumbers with Tony on the telephone whilst trying to concentrate on the rugby when the fire brigade arrived to put out a fire in his back garden. We couldn’t take much more excitement and returned to our ‘writing news’ update. Rob is going to Lisbon at Easter to gather research for his latest oeuvre The Petrified Fountain and Annie is off to Bronte Country for a writers’ week. And don’t forget to vote for Izzie in this year’s Brit Mums Brilliance in Blogging Awards!
Out of Such Darkness
Congratulations to Rob on the launch of Out of Such Darkness on March 13th. The event was very well attended and Rob sold so many books that he ran out – a sure sign of success. The whole event was really enjoyable. St Georges Hall is an excellent venue and the cabaret-style entertainment by The Trio Project (who include Rob’s daughter Charlotte) was fabulous.
Out of Such Darkness is published by Patrician Press.
Click here for more information about Rob and his work.
The Petrified Fountain
We all enjoyed the fifth chapter of Rob’s latest book. The characters of Cross and Nicholson (think Jack Nicholson in Chinatown) are strongly portrayed and there is a real sense of tension between them. Cross is a complex and sinister character and we all felt that there would be chilling events to come. Nicholson seems to enjoy capitalising on Cross’s insecurities and ‘drips’ the information on his research into Crosse’s family background ‘at his pace’.
Izzie pointed out discrepancies in place and time which we had all missed and Tony said that the dialogue seemed a bit stilted at times. Everyone agreed that Rob had done an excellent job in portraying Cross as a nasty dysfunctional character. Linda found it interesting that Cross did seem to have insight into his own weaknesses, in particular his obsession with tidiness:  ‘But I am distracted by my desk. The rectangle of clean blotter that Tracy has brought in is cluttering up one side… It always takes time to make sure it’s aligned symmetrically and I anticipate that she would regard me as a bit weird if she witnesses the whole performance.’
We are all looking forward to the next instalment.
Next Meeting
April 14th at Izzie’s house. Linda to read.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

One In, One Out!

(Written by Annie posted by Rob.)

We met at Rob’s house. Tony had sent his apologies but we were still five because Chris had been able to join us.
Izzy: has been working on a blog commission with More Than car insurance and what it is like to teach teenagers to drive. One teenager must be bad enough but to have to teach twins to drive must have been nightmarish. Well done Izzy on the blog and on the driving tests!
Annie: I talked to the group about my recent visit to Crufts and also on how I have decided to loosen the structure of my picture book.
Linda: is starting her second novel and although much is undecided Linda feels that she has decided upon a setting, Winchelsea Beach.
Chris: gave a talk to the U3A and proved to be very popular. He sold 19 books but then ran out of stock. Chris has also been invited to speak during Bewdley Bike Week and event being run by Bewdley Outdoors. It is scheduled during June at St George’s Hall. I for one am very much looking forward to it as I have never had the opportunity to see Chris speak about his journey to Beijing.
Chris’s Reading
Chris’s reading was an extract from’ Karl Marx and Careful Driving.’ Chris’s sharp prose sparkled as ever and all members of the group had found the piece enjoyable and entertaining. Izzy commented several times on Chris’s subtle use of humour.
The piece started with a reference to ‘the British wanting their garden sheds’ which we found amusing. Soon after, the piece contained 4 asterisks to blank out an expletive, there was much discussion as to whether some of the letters should have been left in as there were two possible choices as to the insult being used. Another area that caused amusement was Chris’s reference to shaving between pimples during adolescence.
I was concerned about the lack of a hyphen in nosedived but as you can see it doesn’t have one although Izzy had also felt it looked strange and had also had to check. Rob was excited to be introduced to a new word: Integument.  
A tortoise showing off its integument.
In biology, integument is the natural covering of an organism or an organ, such as its skin, husk, shell, or rind. It derives from integumentum, which means "a covering" in Latin. Wikepedia

I had to confess to Chris that I did not always read the footnotes as I found the Marxist theory quite heavy going but despite this I had managed to spot an errant number three which had found its way into one of them. My confessions didn’t stop there I also admitted that I found the chapter length long. This led to a discussion on chapter length and what is expected. Chris has structured his work around each chapter being a day in length and so each chapter lasts as long as is needed to cover the ground. The others felt happier to slip a bookmark in at whichever point they had reached rather than searching for a natural break.

It was fantastic to see Chris again and to hear news that he is still pushing forward with his non-fiction work ‘Karl Marx and Careful Driving.’ We look forward to the next instalment and only hope that he is there to read it to us.

Next meeting is 24 March at Annie’s house and Rob is reading.
Our 14 April 14 meeting is at Izzy’s house and Linda is reading.