Thursday, 27 May 2010


The unenviable task of following Tony's entertaining entry about last week's meeting and the Local Author's Fayre has fallen to me.

This week it was Linda's turn to submit a chapter of her novel A Head Full of Budgerigars to the unforgiving scrutiny of the Severn Valley Authors. Entitled 'Tiger! Tiger!' the chapter dealt with a visit to America by Lily's cantankerous mother. As usual, Linda's writing was full of some wonderful imagery and descriptive phrases but we agreed that the two pages describing Lily's husband and the town in which they lived might better be reserved for use in a separate chapter.

I felt that she could make more use of dialogue and direct speech as a means to describe and develop her characters and illustrate the conflict between them. Dialogue (written as opposed to spoken) is an area in which Linda lacks confidence, but expertise will come with practice.

Changes in a recurring nightmare about a tiger that eventually lost its power to terrify were skilfully used to symbolise the shift in Lily's relationship with her mother during the holiday. Rob stated that the chapter was very evocative of time, place and people. We discussed the classic story line of 'opening, build up, climax and resolution'. Rob, who had fully recovered from the horrid life-threatening disease that afflicted him last week and is reading Lynn Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves, is particularly hot on punctuation at the moment. He pointed out that a comma was needed between 'fat' and 'pink' in 'a fat pink tongue'.

We it came to the use of italics, however, we were obliged to consult The Oxford Guide to Style. Then we argued amically about the appropriate position of the apostrophe in possessives ending in s: "Ed Ricketts' House" or "Ed Ricketts's House"? 'Use 's after non-classical or non-classicizing personal names ending an s or z sound,' states The Oxford Guide to Style. Nevertheless it goes on to state in a more conciliatory tone: 'Convention allows latitude in possessives (e.g. the additional s is used more in speech than in writing).'

Thank God for that. I'm all for latitude - particularly when it comes to speed limits and the drivers' hours regulations.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

All is fayre ...

words Anthony Gillam
photo Phil Richards

It's been a hectic week for the Severn Valley Authors. On Tuesday we gathered for our usual meeting where Chris presented his most recent extract from Marxism and Careful Driving. Rob was feeling somewhat under the weather with some dreadful contagious disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or some such malady. Perhaps it was even just the common cold. Whatever, Rob felt it necessary to sit at a considerable distance from the rest of the group which, for some reason, made us all behave like silly schoolchildren. There was some discussion about the nature of ‘skype’ (for the uninitiated , a software application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet). After some inexplicable hilarity about the true meaning of the verb ‘to skype’, Chris read his extract which was greeted with extremely positive feedback from the other members of the group. Personally, I found Chris's piece a brilliant melding of high ideas with everyday detail. It seems to me that Chris is close to perfecting his experiment in blending a history of philosophy with a compelling road trip. Several members of the group felt they they would like to hear more from the perspective of the truck-driving narrator and I wouldn't disagree with this suggestion.

On Friday evening, the Severn Valley Authors reconvened at Perdiswell House in Worcester for the much-anticipated Authors’ Fayre. Chris, Rob and I were strategically positioned behind a pillar in a corner of the crowded room. Rob went into serious marketing mode, targeting every potential buyer for his novel Olympic Mind Games. Annie 'meeted and greeted' arrivals, managing to look relaxed and happy despite having spent the last few days supervising a school field trip. Linda helped Chris to man his stall promoting Chris’s epic velocipedic travelogue Why don't you fly? I managed to sell two copies of A Passenger in Time but Rob was the bestselling Severn Valley Author of the evening with a staggering three copies of Olympic Mind Games sold. Despite not being able to retire on our takings, it was an interesting evening that gave us an opportunity to meet fellow authors, young readers and even the organiser of the forthcoming Worcester Literature Festival. Linda Bromyard, whose idea this evening was, is to be congratulated for a successful and enjoyable event.

If I was heartened by the sale of two copies of A Passenger in Time on Friday, by Saturday morning I was to be living proof of the saying ' pride comes before a fall '. At a car boot sale, I happened upon a battered copy of my first book Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing selling for the princely sum of 25p. The full story will appear at once I've finished feeling sorry for myself. It's a funny old business this writing lark.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Kenneth’s Taste for Red

Every SVA member loved Rob’s short story written in a humorous style with captivating character descriptions. Rob had asked for our input having been unsuccessful in a writing competition. We tried our best but found it almost impossible to improve on what Rob had initially written. This led us to question what judges look for in a piece of prose. We decided it was difficult to define.

We are introduced to Kenneth Madeley, the third time winner of best wine in show in his local town competition. He is deliberating whether he needs more challenging opposition when he is unexpectedly elevated to the position of judge. Kenneth relishes the task. However, his judgement comes under scrutiny from a rather irate Mrs Mary McKellar demanding to know why he has declined to judge her wine. There ensues a comical conversation between expert and novice each standing up for their rights. Kenneth’s dogged determination to abide by the rules begins to waver as he becomes distracted by his admiration of Mrs McKellar’s physical attributes.

SVA members highlighted aspects of Rob’s narrative that particularly drew their attention: The double-entendre in the title, the excellent portrayal of Kenneth’s personality, the vivid picture painting the competition scene and Kenneth’s expertise as he performs each stage of the wine judging process.

Rob’s cleverly written prose draws the reader into the scene as the red-haired woman makes her dramatic entrance. Her unexpected shriek initiates images of shocked faces and sudden silence as all eyes are focused on Kenneth and the woman. The reader is then treated to an entertaining dialogue in which we learn about Mrs Mckellar’s Aunt’s potato wine recipe. “…….But I make it with Smash”, is no doubt received by the other competition entrants with incredulity. This is rapidly followed by, “You know, for mash get Smash off the telly.” Kenneth indignantly states that competition wines have to be made from original fruit and vegetables. The coup de grace comes at the end of the paragraph, “…..Certainly not packets of freeze-dried pebbles purporting to be potatoes”

Examples of the linguistic richness of the text are illustrated by: ‘...pushed his snout inside like a dog checking a dustbin….’(alluding to Kenneth’s checking the nose of the wine), ‘….she wrestled her bosom higher in her chest’, ‘Her pippin cheeks puffed…..’, ‘Her pink tongue slithered like a snake across her moist lower lip’, the description of the rolling of the Scottish ‘r’.

True to form, dilemma’s concerning punctuation were raised. On this occasion the subject was the use of the colon & semi-colon. The debate continues……..
Posted by Helen 080510

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Kennedy Question - with a hint of Clinton

Annie’s story The Kennedy Question is a rites-of-passage tale of a teenage girl considering her mortality. Annie composes easy-to-read prose which flows easily and this tale has a wistful, Gillamesque quality which any reader can empathise with.

The evocation of teenage years came through during Annie’s reading despite her having to speak over the increasingly raucous deliberations of the Bewdley Footpaths Association which was meeting in the other half of the upstairs bar at Arches because of a double booking. (I assume that any footpath marked out towards the end of one of their meetings is a meandering affair.)

The ensuing discussion (in our half of the room) identified a number of instances of excellent prose work. For example, instead of simply telling the reader that the narrator was too young to remember where she was when President Kennedy was shot, Annie informs us that the girl was, ‘perhaps … eating parsnip puree from a plastic spoon’. Or how about the same girl, recovering from a faint recalling that, ‘the cool tiles of the science prep-room stuck to my calf muscles’? Details ‘were no longer sketchy, they were stark’. There was much to admire.

Of course an SVA meeting would not be an SVA meeting without its members contributing advice regarding comma splicing or hyphenation. But on this occasion we were also able to indulge in some interesting speculation on how to wring the best comic effect from a schoolgirl fainting and falling onto her knees in front of a teacher in such a way that her head nudges into his groin leaving a lipstick smear on his trouser fly. (Annie assured us that this was a true-life story.) Robert’s miming of the scene from the teacher’s viewpoint generated gasps of horror rather than the serious debate about the mechanics of humour that he had intended.

For a few minutes, the footpathers were silent as they eavesdropped our authorly discussion.