Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The scent of cliché?

The life of a literary hopeful is beset with disappointments and as we exchanged updates on our progress towards recognition of our efforts in some format it would be easy to discourage each other. Okay so: Tony didn't win any of the competitions that he entered; Izzie's radio interview didn't materialise; Annie's brilliant childrens story idea has hit a setback, Rob's latest novel is stalled and Linda has been flooded with 'proper' work which has prevented her submitting her novel, but the camaraderie of being a member of this group means that we avoid this pitfall. We encourage each other, look for the positives and we press on in pursuit of elusive goals. It's what we do.
Linda submitted a story, Peter's Funeral, for critique and, as is usual with her writing there was much to admire, much to praise. We all agreed to being confused about the exact relationship between the narrator and the person in the coffin. We recognised that Linda didn't want to spoon-feed the reader but thought that clearer signposting was necessary. Rob's assertion that 'lilies heavy with the scent of loss' also had the scent of cliché was roundly condemned (see what I did there?) by the others. As far as other suggestions for improvement were concerned a competitive element entered the missing-hyphen (see what I did there too?) spotting and it was Tony who picked out a tautologous adverb, which is usually Rob's job.
The final discussion about the difficulty of writing allusive prose without it turning into elusive prose was difficult to grasp (!) so we arranged the next meeting: 27th January, at Annie's with Tony submitting - we're hoping for something in Anglish.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Under-quoted Vladimir and Pictures of Puddings

After missing November's sessions, I was pleased to be reunited with Rob, Linda and Izzie on 9th December for a pre-Christmas SVA meeting.  Sadly, Chris and Annie couldn't make it due to work and illness respectively.  As a result, Linda ventriloquised Chris's submission - the second half of Chapter 13 of Karl Marx and Careful Driving.  We were short on news, though Rob told us his book (and e-book) No Mean Affair had sold well at, of all places, the Labour Party Christmas Fair. His latest novel Out of Such Darkness is 'in press' in readiness for a national launch (London on 27th February) and a local launch (Bewdley on 13th March). (Contact Rob via his website for details.) Linda is approaching agents with her book while Izzie's blog has featured on Post40bloggers.

So, to Chris's submission-in-absentia ...  The consensus was:
·         we liked the personal observations which humanise the philosophical ideas
·         we liked the unassuming sense of humour
·         the 'gear changes' between the inner and outer points of view are very smooth
·         it will work as a travel book as well as a philosophy book. 
There wasn't much in the way of suggestions for improvements other than perhaps there were some missed opportunities for dialogue, particularly with the character of Vladimir. 

'Mind if I photograph your pudding, Madam?'
A week later, we convened at a local Italian restaurant for a jovial (though somehow not particularly festive) Yuletide/end-of-year celebration.  Chris was in attendance and Annie too, although the latter seemed still slightly delirious after her illness, resulting in the threshold for hilarity being seriously compromised.  As Izzie doesn't like having her picture taken, I suggested taking a photo of her pudding ... which was, it appeared, the funniest thing I have said all year. 
Let's hope we all continue to have as much fun in 2015. 

Forthcoming meetings:
13 January:  Linda submitting, meeting at Rob's
27 January:  Tony submitting, meeting at Annie's

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Petrified Fountain

The Day I Meet Mr Nicholson

We found ourselves at Annie's once again, after a quick change of venue, to hear Rob read the fourth chapter of The Petrified Fountain. The Day I Meet Mr Nicholson builds on the intrigue in the first three chapters and increases our sense of unease around the character of Mr Cross, the story's protagonist. The meeting between Cross and Nicholson, a private detective hired to investigate Cross's true parentage, has echoes of Raymond Chandler, the mastermind of that great detective Sam Spade. We all felt that Rob had created a wonderfully creepy character in a very show and not tell way. Cross's obsessive behaviour is demonstrated beautifully when the detective enters his office and places his bowler hat on Cross's desk: 'The symmetry between the unblemished blotting pad in front of me, the Trimphone in reach of my left hand and the set of company-crested coasters to my right is broken. The dome of his hat squats as if it's hiding something.'

We all agreed that the pace was a little bit slow but excellent for a first draft. I look forward to hearing more of this story.



We were a very small group because Tony, Izzie and Chris were unable to attend.
Annie has recently attended the SCBWI Conference where she made some good contacts  and received positive feedback regarding her rhyming story books for children. She also gained some useful tips from an established children's writer after winning two critiques of her manuscripts.
Rob recovered manfully from a dose of the flu to give a presentation to the Mistley Book Lovers Dining Club where he sold copies of 'No Mean Affair'.
Linda has (since the meeting) received news from the agent who had shown some interest in her novel 'A Head Full of Budgerigars' that 7 months later she was no longer interested.


December 9th at Rob's - Chris to submit
December 16th at Pomodoros
January 13th at Tony's - Linda to submit

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Best-laid Plans...

The latest meeting of the Severn Valley Authors was held at Annie's on the 28th October. We were treated to Battenberg cake, wine and not one, but two of Annie's original stories for children - The Bed-Head and The Flea's Sneeze.

Latest news

As Tony's unable to attend November's meetings due to work commitments and Izzie has a birthday bash to attend on the 11th, the original plans for November and December's meeting(s) have changed. 11th November's meeting is now being held at Rob's with Rob to submit and, on the 25th we're over at Izzie's with Izzie to submit. Special note for Annie... please remember to turn up as Tony will be away!

On 9th December Tony will be hosting, with Chris or Linda to submit. The 16th December is the only date that remains unchanged and members of the SVA will be out and about somewhere in Bewdley (venue to be confirmed) for their annual Christmas bash.

Rob announced a date for our diaries - March 13th 2015 as the official Bewdley launch date for Out of Such Darkness. This will be held at St George's Hall and it's rumoured that Rob has also offered to cater. 

Izzie continues to blog and has recently become a member of Post 40 Bloggers.

Linda is currently reading Chris's manuscript and taking baby steps towards submitting her own book.

Annie is planning a follow-up to Polly Poodle's Pamperina and is attending a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators where she will be doing a presentation on animation.

The Bed-Head

Linda wondered what the mischievous 'Bed-Head' character might look like and loved this highly original idea. Rob liked the concept of a creature visiting during the night and messing up hair while you sleep and as he's been reading a lot of children's stories recently, he announced that he'd happily share this tale with his granddaughter. Tony thought the idea was an amusing one and pictured the 'Bed-Head' as an imp-like character. He also thought that it contained some great couplets that worked well. Izzie hadn't read anything of a similar nature and thought the idea very amusing indeed.

The Flea's Sneeze

Linda thought the idea that two boys were going on an adventure and discovering lots of unusual things was a great concept. Rob liked the structure and loved that the disagreeable George got his comeuppance at the end. Tony liked the relationship between the two boys and thought that sarcasm might be the way to go to make George a more likeable character. He also suggested a great alternative ending. Izzie loved the idea of an outdoor adventure for the two boys, but much preferred Tony's ending. 

Until next time...

Friday, 24 October 2014

Marked with Melancholy and Pre Christmas Despondency

(Written by Annie but, due to technical difficulties, posted by Rob.)

We met at Izzy's on 14th October 2014. Chris was still missing and is still missed!!

The group was able to report the following news: 

Rob is giving a talk at Mistley Book Lovers' Dining Event on Thursday 6th November. This is for the launch of his book 'Out of Such Darkness.'

Linda told us that Chris had enjoyed a dramatisation of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ on Radio 4. Only 18 days left to listen so hurry and click on the link below. 

Izzy has bought the domain name for her blog and has written a blog post about the benefits of getting up early. Send me the link when you are finished Iz, anything to get me up in the morning. She has another idea for a blog post following a discussion with a friend about what would happen if men were left to organise Christmas. I think this started the Pre-Christmas despondency conversation. 

Annie is going to the Society for Children's Book Writers' and Illustrators' Conference in Winchester at the start of November. She has also had her first rejection email.

Tony has received a rejection from the London magazine for his story but is continuing with his novel and his dissertation on Well Being and Mental Health Nursing. 

Our piece for the evening was Chapter 4 from Tony's novel. The chapter was entitled 'Marked with Melancholy,' having a chapter title already meant it was a winner for Linda. Everyone was in agreement that the chapter had intrigue and was gripping. 

All of the readers thought Tony had evoked student life well and we were transported back to a time of Pot Noodles and un-emptied ashtrays. There was some disagreement about whether the cliché 'a necessary evil' should be used to describe Renaissance poetry, Rob was keen it replaced by something fresher. 

The group felt the theatrics of Dr Garrison had been well drawn and Izzy identified with the confusion of not knowing when a lecturer is inviting a student to speak or merely asking rhetorical questions. There were several occasions when reference to Edith, the chapter's protagonist, could be removed as we already knew we were following her.

Rob felt that pacing was an issue and felt that the piece could move more quickly. The little nuggets of plot that would unfold later needed to be provided less often and Tony has to trust his reader more. 

The group also asked Tony to focus on his plot. The characters speak a different language called 'Anglish' but everything else is seemingly the same. There was much grinning from Tony so maybe he has something up his sleeve or maybe he’s busy planning Christmas.

The next meeting is on 31st October is at my house. Then somehow we got very organised and this happened.

11th November: Izzy to submit at Tony’s house.

25th November: Rob to submit at Izzy’s house.

9th December: Linda or Chris to submit at Rob’s house.

16th December: Christmas Meal

13th January is out first meeting of the New Year

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Silk Bedding and Outdoor Kitchens

After what seemed like quite a lengthy summer recess, the Severn Valley Authors reconvened at Izzie's house to catch up on news and hear a reading by Linda.  It was good to see a complete set of SVA-ers looking, if not refreshed and rejuvenated, at least eager to talk writing. 

Rob reported that Bewdley Book Week 2014 had been a success and his thoughts were now turning back to his novel.  Out of Such Darkness is scheduled for publication in February 2015.  He had also managed to squeeze in a talk to the Halesowen U3A group over the summer. 

Not a Welsh mistranslation
Annie had joined The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and , as a result, had met a couple of agents and had some interest in her works for children. For the uninitiated, SCBWI  is not a Welsh mistranslation of Scooby Doo but is, it seems a  'professional organisation dedicated to serving the people who write, illustrate, or share a vital interest in children's literature.' Annie plans to attend to the SCBWI conference in November.

Reviewing silk bedding, SVA-style 
Izzie has been busy with her blog which seems, for some reason, more popular in the US than in the UK.  What's the old saying about a prophet never being recognised in their own land? When she's not busy blogging, Izzie has been doing product reviews on silk bedding.  I'm not sure if that means she lies upon silk bedding while writing her reviews or whether she is simply writing on the subject of silk bedding but, either way, it sounds pretty luxurious for a Severn Valley Author. 

Chris is still working on his book Karl Marx and Careful Driving at weekends. It was lovely to see him after a long absence from meeting due to work commitments. As for me, I'm starting work on a dissertation, still flinging out a few short stories and articles and persevering with my novel. 

Linda's submission this week was a piece of short fiction called The Trouble with Pins.  Izzie and Annie both admired the fabulous descriptive writing -

...We stood around her easel to watch the magic seep across the spongy white board ...

- and how small details like the yellow headscarf defined the  era so vividly.
Rob also found the writing 'quite exceptional'  and liked the image of an 'outdoor kitchen'  (... a kitchen in every respect except for the starry sky above us and the old range that blew out smoke in gusts ...) But Rob disliked the authorial intrusions (although Linda told us later she was deliberately experimenting with this technique). 
Chris noted the narrator's voice sounds like that of an excited child, with the repetition of  'and':
...and night and day the gulls wheeled above us and the sweet seaweed smell was all around us and the loose-limbed freedom of the dunes and scrub we played in was the small world we inhabited...

For me, this lyrical prose style reminded me of Dylan Thomas's eulogy to childhood Fern Hill, while there were echoes of Under Milk Wood in
... The sound of breaking waves filled our bedroom ears and was the rhythm of our sleep...
but the setting of Linda's story was not South Wales but that other strange coastline around Rye and Winchelsea which I have also written about here and there. (See:

Chris summarised Linda's piece well: 'a description of an idyllic, unconventional childhood with a sense of encroaching sadness...'  Like me, Chris felt it had the feel of a chapter of a longer work of fiction rather than a self-contained short story.  While Izzie liked the ending, Annie also sensed that it was 'not quite complete'.  Although Linda pulled a face at the suggestion, several of us thought this might be the starting point for a novel with engaging characters and a very atmospheric setting. 

The next meeting will be at Rob's on October 14th, when I'm supposed to be submitting for scrutiny another chapter of my novel.  As Scooby Doo might say, 'Yikes!' Better get writing!

Friday, 29 August 2014

Five Nights in Paris

It is generally a good idea to write about an event while it is still fresh in the mind. The last meeting of Severn Valley Authors in July (2014!) is now somewhat of a blur. My life for the last six months has been completely overtaken by the setting up of the Community Bank of Wyre Forest - there has been little time to sleep, eat or even sadly to write. As I have to present something to our next meeting I need to shake a leg.

Apologies to Izzie for not reporting on your splendid blogs sooner. Izzie's blogs are well written and enjoyable and 'Five Nights in Paris' also has excellent photographs of both the Lyric Hotel and the delicious hotel food. Like her I think I could also have 'fallen in love with the ballerina voile panels'. I have never visited a themed hotel but loved the idea of each bedroom being themed around classical music and dance. I think I need to pay a visit if only to see the 'pink ballet-shoe ribbon carpet leading to the rooms'. We all agreed that this fabulous holiday deserved a more exciting title - and I was curious to know what her husband thought about it all - or was he too busy watching La Lapin Cretins and doing his morning Sexercises along with the (desirable) breakfast TV presenter!

Bewdley Book Week


Rob has been busy helping to organise Bewdley Book Week which starts on September 8th for seven days. There will be lots of exciting events including a talk by Kidderminster sleuth Gavin Jones about his thriller 'Three Bullets', in which Patrick Rhodes, a Kidderminster-based detective, investigates a brutal attack on a young girl in the town's railway station. We are proud to say that Gavin will soon be joining us a member of Severn Valley Authors and I hope that some of us can make it on Wednesday 10th at 2.30 in St George's Hall to add our support. There are many more great events during Book Week - I am particularly looking forward to the Poetry Slam in Jubilee Gardens on Tuesday evening at 8pm. Know any good limericks?