Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A Sprinkling of Gold Dust

Rather unusually I am reading and blogging this time. I had already interfered with Rob’s blogging algorithm by going out of turn and so I thought I would offer to blog as I am on half-term.

The news this week came thick and fast.
Clive: A magazine called Britain at War are interested in an article about a metal case made for Monty by Clive’s father during World War Two.
Chris: Has given another successful talk that was well attended.
Rob and Tony: Are preparing for their talks at Bewdley Library during half term.
Linda: Hold on everyone! This is big news! Linda has been accepted on to the Gold Dust mentoring programme. After attending the Arvon Course Linda was invited to submit her work for specialist mentoring and has been accepted. Linda has an Australian tutor and they keep in contact by skyping. Congratulations Linda, well done.

We also discussed my story that I wish to submit to a competition to write a children’s story. Everyone engaged well with my main character, Thomas. Linda did suggest a few more mannerisms to be included to give insight into his character, which I have done. Also the group were in agreement with the age range that I plan to submit the story for.

The other news of the night was that Chris failed to notice I had missed a vocative comma, leaving it to Rob and Tony to pick this up.

Clive was concerned that the ending of the story was too predictable. Often when I am reading with children at school it is easy to predict what will happen in the book so I am not sure if it is a problem that an adult can predict an ending. Tony thought that the ending did not have enough of a comeuppance whereas Rob thought that the pay back was good.

Eagle-Eyes Gillam noticed some typos: coupe instead of couple and conversions rather than conversations. I was also picked up a number of times for missing out the second set of speech marks.

Thank you all for your valuable contributions. The story is now ready and I will be posting it tomorrow.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

An Englishman in Berlin

Given that there were a couple of sparkly bits, The News On Tuesday was like the curate’s egg. Chris attracted sympathy for his Dorset venture where, of five events, two were well-attended and three were not, for which sole responsibility apparently rests with his sister-in-law (do not enquire). Perhaps people in that part of the world are insufficiently  proletarian in outlook to appreciate the finer points of cycling – I’ll bet they wouldn’t recognise a whippet if they saw one – though the prospect of meeting a man who cycled from the UK to Peking might have been expected to provoke at least the merely curious. Odd that Wessex, having produced one of England’s finest writers, failed so miserably to support a contemporary author.
Tony is undertaking a new course at Worcester University which will, amongst other things, require him to produce a pair of two and a half thousand-word pieces before the end of the year, but he was cheered by the sale of some of his books on a market stall (not his, someone else’s – the stall, not the books) and, with Rob, looks forward to the Bewdley Authors’ Reading Week for which Rob provided some leaflets. Tony reads on Wednesday 26th at one o’clock and Rob on Friday 28th at two thirty. I reported a tie: one rejection and one acceptance (unpaid) in Mensa magazine’s December edition (and Rob liked my new website). Annie failed to report anything, having at the time a mouthful of Mrs E’s finest home-made ginger biscuits and being too polite to attempt to speak.
The highlight was Rob’s success in the 31st Winchester Writers’ Conference competition into which he had entered a synopsis and the first three pages of his novel ‘The Sting Inside’, of which we later heard an extract. Rob received a Certificate of Commendation which he intends to frame and to which he will give deserved prominence.
Once the decks had been cleared of news, Rob read an extract from a discovered manuscript for a memoir called 'My Cabaret Years' (sub-titled ‘In Isherwood’s Footsteps’), written by one of the characters from his work in progress, ‘The Sting Inside’. The memoir found unanimous favour, attracting such epithets as ‘engaging’, ‘convincing’, ‘crisp’, ‘well-researched’ and ‘authentic’. It is written in the first person by Cameron Mortimer, a gay Englishman visiting Berlin in 1932 and looked after by his Jewish friend Leo. Apart from those too young to know, of whom Tony claimed to be one[1], it was felt that the era and the place were extremely well-drawn, realistic and authentic, but anyway, Tony trusts Rob’s research. Chris enjoyed the contrast between the superficial gaiety and innocence on the one hand and the underlying menace on the other, while Annie was entertained by the homosexual passage towards the end. The writing was of a consistently high quality, and although I disagreed with Rob’s choice of word in a couple of places this was balanced by my admiration for some well-chosen verbs. This served to illustrate one of the benefits of first-person fiction: the author takes the credit for the good bits and blames his character for the rest. Towards the end, Rob moved into the present tense, creating tension and a sense of immediacy, pointing up the climax when Cameron becomes instantaneously infatuated with a young, blond, blue-eyed Nazi. The physical description of Cameron’s burgeoning lust was felt to be surprisingly authentic, by those in a position to judge.  We look forward very much to reading more of ‘The Sting Inside’; in the meantime, Chris wondered whether we might have sight of a synopsis.
We were able, sadly only momentarily, to relish the prospect of a debate on whether the ‘s’ of the verb ‘focus’ should be doubled when forming the past participle. To everyone’s regret, Tony averred that as he frequently found reason to use the word, he’d taken the trouble to ascertain that both forms are correct. We took out our disappointment on Rob who claimed to have forgotten the algorithm again; the rumour that he’s lost the original and can’t now remember how he did it is gaining ground. We meet next to critique work by Annie at Chris and Linda’s on October 18th.

[1]. Rob alluded in the memoir to “a Sally Bowles character”: a reference lost on the ‘youth’ party who claimed never to have heard of her. She was, of course, the character upon whom Lisa Minelli’s role in the film ‘Cabaret’ was based. Now there’s a thing . . . Rob’s piece could easily have been entitled ‘An Englishman in Berlin’, as in ‘An American in Paris’, which was a 1952 film starring Gene Kelly and directed by . . . Vincente Minelli – Lisa’s dad!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

A 21st century equivalent to Somerset Maugham

We gathered at Rob’s for new member Clive's debut reading - a short story called Old Friends. Both Linda and I were initially put off by the golf club lounge setting of the opening scene but still the story managed to engage and everybody admired Clive’s acute ear for dialogue, much of which sounded completely natural, as if it were real conversation overheard. Annie was very taken with the character of the annoying waiter, commenting he was ‘annoying in a really good way '. She wanted the waiter to go away so she could continue eavesdropping on the other characters’ conversation - proof of the compelling nature of Clive’s storytelling. But it was Rob who really hit the nail on the head when he observed how Old Friends - a rather old-fashioned, highly moralistic tale in which the good are rewarded and the reprehensible get their comeuppance - could have come straight from the pen of Somerset Maugham.

Now I didn't let on about this at the meeting but Somerset Maugham and I have something in common. Last year I wrote an article for the British Journal of Wellbeing called Time to write the next book. I don't mean to cause a distraction here so I'll put a link to the article at the end of this blog entry and you can click on it and read it at your leisure. The point is, Clive is anxious to break out of his rather old-fashioned style but, as there are probably few people writing in the tradition of Somerset Maugham these days, why shouldn't Clive be the one who picks up that particular baton?

There is an apocryphal story that Thomas Hardy (one of the greatest of English novelists and also one of England’s finest poets) wanted nothing more than to be remembered as an outstanding dramatist like his friend JM Barrie (one of Scotland's most successful novelists and playwrights in his time) who in turn berated himself for not being able to write poetry like Hardy. The moral of this story is that, if you’re brilliant enough to create a Far from the Madding Crowd or a Peter Pan, you should be pleased with your achievements. And if my Severn Valley Author friends insist on my being Wyre Forest’s answer to Garrison Keillor then I think Clive might settle for being the 21st century’s Somerset Maugham.

Click here to read Time to write the next book by Tony Gillam as published in the British Journal of Wellbeing, August 2010 – Vol 1 No 5.