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!

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