Thursday, 10 April 2014

And then there were three...

(Submitted by Annie posted by Rob.)

Tony and I arrived at Rob’s to be greeted by the news that we were his only guests that evening. Chris was working, Linda had to prepare for a last minute breakfast meeting and Izzie had been taken ill. Rob quickly discussed the rules of engagement: he wanted us in and out quickly so he could watch the second half of the footie!

The news report was a bulletin rather than Newsnight. Tony has been working on his novel. He has also had his article: ‘Phenomenology (thank goodness this is a blog and not a pod-cast!) in Mental Health Research,’ published in Mental Health Nursing. Rob has submitted his second novel to an independent publisher and I had been heartened by some positive feedback about my latest children’s picture book.

Rob was reading and had submitted the second chapter from his novel, ‘The Petrified Fountain.’ He was a little over the word count: 2, 800 rather than 2, 000 words. ‘You don’t have to read all of it,’ his email had explained but neither Tony nor I had been able to resist Rob’s pacy chapter opening. Tony thought the piece well-crafted and extremely poignant. But Tony felt that the main character needed to nag his mother more before she gave in to the idea of the school trip. I’ll bet Tony, it’s not often that you ask for more nagging! A couple of hyphen problems and the mysterious case of the vanishing sister were also solved by Tony.

There was plenty in this piece that I identified with; it was a great read and Rob had built the tension up carefully. Rob had mentioned a pink, frilled light shade in his description which had made me think about the ones trimmed with brocade and adorned with tuffety tassles. Following this discussion Rob changed his description to include a coloured glass shade which he felt captured the period more vividly. Tony and I had both been in agreement that an outside courtyard was far too grand for a two-bedroomed terrace. I was very pleased to be able to pick Rob up on a couple of continuity issues. The protagonist had described himself as tidy then later replaced some items haphazardly. Although his school reports had described that he ‘could do better’ and ‘try harder’ he had managed to win the sixth-form essay prize. Trying harder and the desire to do better are at the centre of what the Severn Valley Authors are about.

Next meeting is at Izzie’s house on 22nd April and I am submitting. Looking forward to seeing you then.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Aviation, literary agents and flying the nest

In a week when missing Malaysian flight MH370 was very much in the news, Chris brought to the group a handsome, newly-published book called Beyond Flying: Rethinking Air Travel in a Globally Connected World. This new anthology of essays, edited by Chris Watson and published by Green Books,  is less about the risk of tragic and exceptional airplane incidents and more about the everyday danger of aviation pollution, with suggestions for more environmentally-friendly alternatives. 

While most of us would think twice before cycling from England to China, this is precisely what fellow Severn Valley Author Chris did and why he was invited to contribute a chapter to the book called The Human Engine: Bicycling to Beijing. As our Chris writes, 'the faster you travel, the less you see.' In this spirit the group discussed, in an unhurried way, their various bits of authorial news. (Sadly, Annie couldn't make it to this week’s meeting.) Izzie has had some success with features for online magazines and this has further boosted the popularity of her blog The World According to Izzie. Linda and Rob are both busy submitting their novels to literary agents and Rob mentioned the website Agent Hunter which could be very helpful in this process. 

We moved on to hear and critique Izzie’s submissions is to the group -- two short articles on the theme of what we miss about our teenage children once they leave home. Of course, lots of parents nowadays complain that more and more grown-up children remain in the family home well into adulthood. The 2001 French comedy Tanguy was about a 28-year-old still living with his mum and dad and the lengths his desperate parents go to trying to persuade him to leave home. But Izzie’s bittersweet features contained a mixture of exasperation at her daughters’ incompetence and nostalgia for the noise and chaos of a houseful of teenagers. 

Linda wondered how many 18-year-olds could reasonably be expected to use a kitchen timer appropriately and Chris, too, seemed to empathise more with the hapless but fun-loving teenagers than with their practical parents. Rob wondered whether it was ever really possible to experience 'extreme apathy' and, for my part, I would have preferred a quieter, more reflective ending to the pieces, what Rob called 'a softer landing ‘-- using a metaphor in keeping with the aeronautical theme of Beyond Flying.

The range of the Severn Valley Authors is impressive -- short stories, nonsense poetry for children's picture books, philosophical travelogues and quirky, creative non-fiction. But next time, (Tuesday 8 April) it will be back to Rob’s for some more fiction, as we discuss his latest novel-in-progress. 
Tony Gillam

Friday, 14 March 2014

Anglish, Cat Stevens and Pound Coins

Work commitments have meant that of late I have been a part-time member of the SVA. However...I took Tuesday 11 March off work in order to do a presentation  to a retirement home about the 16,500-mile bicycle ride. The only slot offered by the agency for Wednesday was a 02.00 start so I decided to decline and spend the day writing instead of driving. Less lucrative, but writing and selling books is what fulfils, even if it doesn't pay. And the SVA just happened to be meeting at Annie's flat on Tuesday evening so for the first time since Christmas I was able to attend.

Not all that much, it seemed, had changed. As always it is a struggle to find sufficient time to write. Rob is spending most of his time running the new cinema in St George's Hall instead of continuing work on his latest novel The Petrified Fountain. Although Linda has given up her part-time job at the play barn, credit-union business is taking up more and more of her time and energy and she hasn't found time to submit her latest short story to The Best of British magazine. Annie, whose job as a teacher is keeping her busy, has decided that she will have to do a massive re-write of her children's poem - 199 out of the 200 words need changing. Izzie and Tony had more positive news to report. Izzie's Blog has been nominated for three categories in the MAD Blog Awards and she has been approached by Mummy Hotspot to write 2 features per month. Tony has written another introduction to a Malcolm Saville reprint and an article is to be published in Mental Health Nursing.

Tony read Chapter Two of his novel, set in Angland, a United Kingdom that had never been invaded by the Normans. The principle characters are students. We agreed that the chapter was an excellent evocation of student life - certainly as I remember it in the late seventies / early eighties when Tony was also at university: joss sticks, shelves constructed using planks supported by bricks, cans of beans with rice to eat. We felt that the attention to detail - in particular in the description of the task of replacing a guitar string - slowed the pace of the narrative somewhat. A problem that struck me was the mention of pound coins and Cat Stevens - would either have existed if the Normans had never invaded?    

Posted by Chris on Friday 14 March 2014.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Come Back Chris - We Miss You

The latest meeting of the Severn Valley Authors was held at Izzie's. This came as a surprise to most of the fellow members, but as Chris needed to sleep before starting work in the early hours of the following morning, we were only too happy to oblige. Linda kindly supplied the cake - chocolate for the record, and very scrummy. We eagerly await Chris's return to the group when work commitments permit.

Every member of the group is continuing to work on their various projects as and when time allows, although most of us are finding that life is sometimes getting in the way of our passion for writing. However, we still have news...
  • Rob plans to enter The Bridport Prize
  • Tony is writing an introduction for the latest Malcolm Saville book
  • Annie has been encouraged by us all to submit Auntie Faye
  • Linda is awaiting feedback after submitting A Head Full Of Budgerigars to a literary agency
  • Izzie continues to submit features to various online publications
Linda submitted a short story titled - 'Dearest Arthur.' This was set during the Second World War and written as a series of letters and observations. The story was well received by everyone and we were astounded that it was so beautifully put together after being written within a very short time-frame. Linda was encouraged by Tony to submit it to Best of British magazine.

The next meeting will be held at Annie's (I think, why didn't I write this down at the time?) on 11th March, Tony to submit.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Death by Asparagus Cream Doughnut

It's asparagus officinalis, Watson.

Why does a group of writers meet? If you ask a member of Severn Valley Authors they'd probably answer that it's the high standard of workshop feedback that attracts them. Perhaps it's also that it provides motivation to have a piece of writing ready to present to the group. The camaraderie of sharing anecdotes and news with like-minded people is a plus. And don't forget the cake.

To be exact, on this occasion Krispy Kreme Donuts. For Annie had gone a long way out of her way to supply us with a selection of her favourite confection. Thanks, Annie. Yum! Yum!

When the first round of finger-lickin' (or is that another import from our former colony) had finished, Tony introduced the subject of The AsparaWriting Festival Short Story Competition. An entry should be in the crime genre, set in the Vale of Evesham and feature asparagus! Members immediately saw the possibilities of the 'locked room' murder where the weapon is a frozen asparagus spear. The detective finds only a dead body with a hole in it and a plate of cold, limp asparagus. Suggestions of what other dastardly deeds can be committed with the versatile vegetable soon followed.

With Chris being absent due to work commitments and there being a paucity of exciting news we soon moved on to Annie's writing which consisted of a re-working of Aunty Faye and an introduction to her new children's book Do You Think He Saw Us. Annie is establishing a style for her books - tight rhyming and total nonsense with an educational intent. This may sound contradictory but it isn't when collected into the original and clever packages that Annie envisages.

The session ended with five serious writers discussing the fashion faux-pas of dinosaurs and the reader's likely reception to the names knicker-pickersorus and teapoticorus while licking the surplus donut sugar from their lips.

Onwards and upwards!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Krispy Kreme and Missing Persons

Izzie was almost late as she’d ended up in Birmingham on a last minute mercy mission and returned home minutes before the meeting was due to start. Confessing that she’d eaten a Krispy Kreme doughnut for lunch, there was much discussion about the relative merits of the aforementioned confection.
Chris and Linda were mysterious by their absence. Linda had telephoned Izzie’s husband, but he was a little vague in the handing over of the message and so the remaining members jumped to their own highly imaginative conclusions. Were Chris and Linda…

a)      Abducted by aliens.

b)      Gobbled up by a boa constrictor.

c)       Working.
It later transpired that they were both working.

In news, Rob mentioned that he had been suffering with something described only as a ‘pigment of his imagination,’ i.e. writers’ block. Happily, this has been overcome by sitting in a café with a notebook.

Izzie had been working on marketing her e-book and continues to blog.

Annie reported that she’d had a new idea for a children’s book all about the history of the Tudors, written in rhyming verse. She’d also though about changing the title of Auntie Faye’s Beach Café to Uncle Jack’s Snack Shack. There was heated discussion and the general consensus among members was that we all preferred the original title.
Tony was disappointed that his entry for the Costa Coffee short story competition hadn’t been shortlisted. Sadly, he’s also had to prioritise coursework over creative pursuits. Although luckily, he had found the time to re-work a short story for the meeting called ‘Sugar Beet Harvest.’

Izzie preferred this version to the original one and thought the liberal sprinkling of humour was incredibly cynical. Having grown up in the area mentioned in the story she thought the descriptions of the town were very accurate.
Annie suggested that the town in question should not be mentioned by name and wasn’t sure what to make of the story. She also thought it was a little too far-fetched and struggled to get to grips with the earthquake.

Rob thought it was quite introspective and a little confusing, describing it as ‘a ludic-playful story.’ He liked the distinction of ‘safe snow,’ as opposed to unsafe snow that caused people to fall over. He felt that talking about a sick giraffe before the earthquake gave too much away. He’d also have liked the ending to have been a little longer.
Tony admitted that the story was a series of mostly true anecdotes woven into a story. These had been improvised upon and used in a surreal, absurd way. He agreed that the ending could be re-worked and expanded and was keen to point out that no creature was harmed in the creation of this story!

The next meeting is to be held at Annie’s on 14th January 2014.
Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored by Krispy Kreme – sadly!



Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Didn't we have a luvverly time

Severn Valley Authors were in bumptious mood when they convened for the second meeting of November. There was much ribbing and ribaldry before we shared our respective news. Tony makes it into print this month having written the introduction to the republished version of Man With Three Fingers (A Lone Pine Adventure) by Malcolm Saville. Being a Shropshire lad, Tony feels a strong nostalgic attachment to the Lone Piners and we're all thrilled that his name is now irrevocably linked with Malcolm Saville's.
Back in the 21st Century, Izzie's e-book is now available – it's called The World According to Izzie and is a collection of her very popular blogs.
 Annie is researching her next children's book, Rob has clocked up another rejection and another talk and Chris has been chasing the dragon. (I may have misheard this one but in the week that Nigella Lawson has been outed - allegedly - as a cokehead of the top order anything is possible.) Linda has been playing house with a boa constrictor and in her work-time mucks out the meerkats and teases the tarantulas. You couldn't make this stuff up.
Which links in nicely to a story that Linda did make up. (Ba-dum-tsh!) It's called The Day We Went to Bangor and we loved it. It told the tale of a child in care who absconds from her home in the company of two likely lads who TWOC a car and drive to Bangor. And she has a luvverly time until the police come along and spoil it all.
Bangor - not a beach in sight
The beach at Llanfairfechanpenmaenmaur
Perhaps the most crucial constructive criticism came from Tony who knew, having been a student in Bangor, that the town does not boast the beach that Linda described in the story. Tony offered the name of a town near Bangor called Llanfairfechanpenmaenmaur that fitted her description but there just aren't enough vowels in a keyboard to make it worth the effort to get these things right. And let's face it, The Day We Went to Llanfairfechanpenmaenmaur doesn't have the same ring.
We all agreed that the strength of Linda's story lay in its attention to empathetic detail and its combination of fun and poignancy.
After a short discussion regarding the acceptable anomaly in the sentence, 'Arsenal is the best football team in London whereas Tottenham are crap' we agreed to meet at Izzie's on 10th December when Tony will submit something to read.
(See, Chris, whoever controls the record controls history.)