Sunday, 19 September 2010

Five Writers in Search of a Home


The wind from the north, channeled by the valley’s sides, funnels into a gale and rips the leaves from the trees. The leaf litter swirls like torn betting slips on a deserted racecourse until a shower matts it into clumps. Then the frosts come and the clumps sparkle as the moonshine breaks between the scudding clouds. Surely, autumn is the cruellest season to be put out on the streets.

But this is what has happened to Severn Valley Authors. The advent of a weekly Tuesday night quiz at the Arches means we are to be evicted from our meeting room. Commerce trumps art.

So in our final Arches meeting it was fitting that our very own master of ‘wistful’, Tony Gillam, was reading the second extract from his three-part work, The Softness of Heads. In this part the hero graduates to junior school, goes to a Hallowe’en ghost reading, has a bath and discusses with his older brother the merits of watching the Lunar landing on their Gran’s colour television.

Not the most gripping material, you may think, but in Tony’s confident hands the accuracy of the reminiscence and the way he prompts sparks of recognition to flash in the reader’s mind made this an enthralling follow-up to part one. How about this for a heart-tug: ‘At playtime I stood in the playground and ate the Lincoln biscuits which Mum had wrapped in a piece of wax paper torn from the loaf of Mother’s Pride.  She worried that, on these cold days, I might get hungry before lunchtime.  I felt the crumbs in my pocket, crumbs of mother’s love, wrapped in mother’s pride …’
We all congratulated the Garrison Keillor of Kidderminster on this one.

Chris was absent with man-flu (Get Well Soon, mate) so Tony was spared a forensic examination of his comma-splices and on this occasion the discussion focused on the subject of ‘voice’. On the one extreme Linda feels that it is impossible not to inject hindsight and experience into the supposed voice of a seven-year-old and that a reader would be foolish to expect the voice to be 'authentic'. On the other, Rob thinks that the writer needs to be consistent and if the piece starts in the na├»ve voice this should apply all the way through unless the writer signifies he is breaking out of it. Tony remained tight-lipped on whose advice he will take when he looks at The Softness of Heads again.

In other news: Linda and Tony reported on a writers’ networking event in Worcester they had attended with Chris on the previous Saturday. Annie is awaiting news of a recent submission to Mslexia and Tony circulated a copy of his article, Time to Write the Next Book which appeared in the British Journal of Wellbeing.

Severn Valley Author's is thriving now but, after an Autumn on the streets, who knows what may become of us.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The one after the summer recess


The Severn Valley Authors were reunited once more at The Arches with new pencil cases and satchels at the ready to start the autumn term. Well, sort of. Some of us had worked most of the summer keeping the wheels of industry, health and social care oiled (if health and social care can be said to have oiled wheels). Annie (the only schoolteacher among us and thus the only one entitled to a proper Swallows and Amazons-style summer holiday) couldn't get enough of classroom pursuits and had been off to Writers Summer School (see her previous blog post).

And so it was that we gathered to discuss Linda's untitled piece. This had been entered for the Birmingham Book Festival's Short Story competition and we spent a short time licking our wounds since neither Linda, Rob or myself had been successful. It was also noted that none of the group had been successful in The Guardian Short Story Competition a few weeks earlier. This general lack of success was positively re-framed as (a) indicative of immense perseverance on the part of group members who risk repeated failure by entering competitions and (b) proof of the truism that short story judges' decisions are purely a matter of personal taste and therefore shouldn't be taken to heart.

Linda's untitled piece had been shaped into a short story for the purposes of competition entry but had originally been conceived as part of the novel-in-progress A Headful of Budgerigars. I found the piece lyrical, affectionate, humane, full of perfectly-chosen words, with musical, rhythmic sentences and poignant psychological observations. Rob described it, aptly, as elegiac. For me, it captured the atmosphere of a funeral and the unanticipated family dynamics and even unexpected humour that these situations can provoke. From a writer's point of view, it made me reflect on the differences between a short story and a short extract of fiction - not necessarily the same thing, though there are examples of short stories that went on to become the first chapters of novels.

We may not have won any competitions this month but Linda's beautifully- crafted poetic prose is, a far as I'm concerned, a successful piece of writing. As long as we continue to write and hone our craft we can't really go wrong for, to quote Richard Bach, a professional writer is really no more than "an amateur who didn't quit."