Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Longest Journey Begins with the First Step

As local authors sharing the same publisher, Rob and I used to meet in Piccolo's coffee bar to discuss our latest writing projects. The idea to start a writing group was Rob's. When pondering a suitable title we decided upon 'authors' rather than 'writers' as we wanted members of our group either to have written, or be in the process of writing, a book. We wanted them to be serious. In short, like us.

So we were delighted when Annie announced a couple of weeks ago that the novel-writing course she has been attending in Evesham had inspired her to get cracking on Chapter One of her first novel (title as yet unknown).

This is a momentous occasion for any author. I am firmly of the opinion that writing those first few vital sentences is the hardest and most daunting part of a task that will demand a great deal of commitment for a period that may last for years.

On Tuesday January 11 2011 at Tony's house in Kidderminster, Annie read out the first draft of Chapter One. Set in the inter-war period, the story begins with Isabel's arrival on an island in the Hebrides to begin a new life as a teacher.
Weakened by seasickness following the a stormy ferry crossing from the mainland, she is met by the curmudgeonly and ungracious Francis Murdoch and taken by horse and cart to a church to witness the funeral of a two-week-old child.

The fog, the looming cliffs, the waves, the ungracious Murdoch, the grieving congregation and the tiny coffin conspire to evoke a sombre atmosphere, but the chapter ends with a lift in the mood. The sympathy and friendship offered to Isabel after the funeral by the dead child's mother is as if the fog has lifted to reveal blue sky and sunshine.

We congratulated Annie on her ability to create an atmosphere and describe scenes. Rob, who has 'been there before' and is also embarking upon a new novel, suggested that the action might begin at the funeral. Isabel's sea voyage, arrival on the island and journey to the church could be revealed by a series of flashbacks.

This idea met with general approval. We debated the pros and cons of using Scottish dialect in direct speech and whether or not the island should be fictitious - or even if it should be Scottish at all. Tony pointed out that a fictitious island that wasn't necessarily Scottish would save a lot of research into culture and history and keep Annie out of the minefield of reproducing dialect that would sound genuine to a Scottish reader.

Annie - who, like the main protagonist, is a teacher - stated that she wasn't yet sure where her story would take her. Nevertheless she appeared already to have plenty of ideas about a plot. I have found from personal experience that a story can generate a momentum of its own. One new idea often inspires several others, taking the narrative in all kinds of unexpected directions. We advised her to just get the ideas on down on paper and revisit them later. Rob added that imagining the characters as film actors is a good way of ensuring consistency of description.

I left the meeting wondering where our various ongoing projects will have taken us this time next year.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Eerie tale on a cold night

The frozen River Severn at Bewdley - December 2010

The start of the coldest cold snap in the history of the UK gave us an excuse to start our final formal meeting of the year with a glass of mulled wine. Suitably lubricated, we bounded into our customary discussion of the Bewdley and Kidderminster literary scene and the vagaries of the publishing industry at large. Soon the conversation was in full flow - in contrast to the nearby turgid River Severn which was already showing signs of the first freeze across its width in living memory.
Under 'membership news' (we adhere to a strict agenda in the SVA) Tony reported that he has been given support from his employer to do research into the role of creativity in mental health care. He is keen to develop this into a proposal for a non-fiction book and is very excited about this project. Annie has written the first 1000 words of her novel which is based on a fictional island which has a history similar to that of St Kilda. Both successes were greeted warmly by the other members.
Tony read the first half of an eerie tale called A Game of Chance. We have come to recognise Tony’s writing style which closely follows his speaking patterns. I have come across only three writers who have the ability to make me hear their voices when I read their works: Garrison Keillor, Clive James and our Tony. Not bad company to be in.
We all have our suggestions for smoothing Tony’s prose or using ‘better’ words but then we ask ourselves, would ‘improvements’ ruin his colloquial style? This was the question we discussed at the end of the meeting.
Before then we all agreed that A Game of Chance, in which the narrator meets a dead person who is reading a yet-to-be-published copy of magazine in a railway carriage, had us all on the edges of our seats. We voted that Tony should end the suspense by sending us the second half of the story.
So the formalities for the SVA year ended. But seven days later the members met again to enjoy a festive dinner at The Old Pack Horse in Bewdley. Wine and good cheer were in abundance and there were none of Tony's ghosts to disrupt the fun ... as far as we know.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Shame On Me

Tears of Remorse was the name of Linda’s piece but are also being shed by me for my somewhat late contribution to the blog. So sorry folks, too many mince pies and general lethargy. However so vivid was the description in Linda’s piece that I can still remember much of it now, over a month later. Linda’s description of Madame Bonnet ‘displaying her meaty thighs and tomorrow’s washing’ was appreciated by all. As was the description of, ‘a wondrous sky of graphite, teal and petrol, like a peacock’s feather.’ In addition Linda’s heroine Lily is certainly demonstrating herself as a force to be reckoned with.

Chris highlighted Linda’s flair for description but also requested that she added more dialogue. Rob felt that the piece was full of humour and humanity. Tony’s praise was whole-hearted when he said he couldn’t wait to read the whole book as each section had been comic, touching and evocative.

Rob did request the English spelling of gaol as opposed to jail. He also gave a solution to problem of adding dashes to prose. Sometimes automatic formatting means that they appear as hyphens and are not long enough. Rob suggested using the minus sign instead which does not appear to change length willy-nilly. Thank you very much Rob.