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.