Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Galileo, Pavlova and Generic Nouns

Rob didn't mention his publisher, honest.
'Mmm! Delicious Pavlova, Annie.' Rob fluffed out a cloud of meringue powder with the capital 'P'.

Chris, Clive, Linda and Tony were too well brought up to speak with their mouths full and allowed the unctiousness of the cream to engulf the fruit and meld with the sugar creating a mellifluous juxtaposition of flavours. They emitted a choral, 'Mmm!' of agreement.

So started the second meeting in July. Only when the serious business of making inroads into Annie's confection had finished did we pass on to news:

•    Clive has been too knackered to write more than the two pieces he put before the meeting.

•    Rob gave advance information on 'Bewdley Book Week' in October.

•    Chris's talks about Why Don't You Fly continue and he sells circa 10 books at every event.

•    Linda is on track to present another 10,000 words to her Gold Dust mentor.

•    Tony gave out the deadlines for the '3 into 1'  and 'Falling Asleep' short story competitions.

•    Annie is hoping to enter the Myslexia children's book competition.

Clive read two short stories he has written as possible competition entries. The shorter of them described an imagined visit of Galileo to a Cardinal and, in an understated way, dealt with the likely effect this would have on the Church. The second was about a boy's friendship with a damaged First World War War veteran.

Except for the minor corrections – missing or redundant hyphens appeared regularly – Clive's writing emerged largely unscathed. We all agreed that he writes excellent prose with interesting flourishes that add colour.

Our critiques focused more on the authenticity of the pieces with some feeling that the Cardinal was too gentle and his reaction too accepting. Others liked the characterisation and the philosophical resignation of his response.

In the longer story it was the parents' reaction to the boy spending his time with the 'Wild Man of the Woods' that prompted discussion. Were they being naive or were they more accepting times? As far as this piece was concerned, all agreed that it is unnecessary to label the first section of a short story, the 'prologue'.

After Clive's spirited response to some of the suggestions and a reminder from Tony that all critiques offered are merely opinions to be accepted or rejected by the writer, the discussion moved on to the use of upper case initial letters a generic noun is used instead of names. We all agreed that we knew the rule as far as parents are concerned: eg  My mum said, 'Sit down, Dad'.  But what when the usage is less commonly seen? The clearest direction I could find is that a generic noun used instead of a name is always capitalised. 'Are you all right, Son?' 'Bless you, Child.' Sister Ignatius pointed at the line of sisters and, singling out me with a glare, said, 'Come here, Sister.'

And Rob never mentioned his publisher, not even once. Honest.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Patchwork, Quiche and Mordant Humour

For the second meeting of June we met at Chris and Linda's. Chris, however, was nowhere to be seen and Linda explained that he was off gallivanting in Germany. Also conspicuous by her absence, was Annie who has temporarily succumbed to the delights of patchworking and has not yet worked out a way of being in two places at once and combining her patchwork group with her writing group. All part, I suppose, of life's rich tapestry.

We followed Linda's suggestion of doing our  ‘news round-up’ first, before hearing and critiquing the extract in question, on the very sensible premise that it is hard to read aloud whilst drinking tea and eating lemon drizzle cake. My own news was that my submission to the FutureDaze anthology of young adult science-fiction had been unsuccessful; BBC Radio had also at last made a decision to reject my short story The Idea of Marmalade and, despite not having won their 100 word story competition, Reader's Digest had said they would love to publish The Storks of Valladolid on their website. Rob told us of his success in the Winchester Writers’ Festival competition. The Sting Inside was highly commended in their ‘opening of a novel’ section while Rob's story The Reflected Woman came joint third in the short story category. Clive had also had some success with yet another recipe accepted for publication in Take a Break magazine. They used to say real men don't eat quiche but I'm sure Clive’s Quiche with a Kick will turn out to be the exception that proves the rule. Linda has been completely absorbed in the task of producing 12,000 words of her novel every month to meet the unrelenting requirements of her author’s mentoring scheme. Despite this tough schedule, Linda'smentor has told her thatshe thought her writing had ‘improved in leaps and bounds '.

All of Linda's hard work was in evidence when she read her chapter describing the experience of seeing the sights of America with some very difficult relationships in tow. You could certainly feel the heavy-heartedness of the narrator and her desperate attempts at levity which make for an entertaining read but one where the reader is fully engaged emotionally with the plight of the characters. Interestingly, Linda was apologetic about it being so ‘downbeat’ but, like me, Clive found it full of mordant humour while Rob described it as exceptionally well-observed, with a pervading sense of ennui and yet bursting with humour. We all agreed that calling a central character Mathaios was probably asking for trouble as, each time the reader saw it on the page, (s)he would wonder how the name should be pronounced and this ran the risk of seriously interrupting the flow. Rob mentioned the value of having some more relaxed passages in the novel and Linda agreed that it was important to pace the narrative and have little ‘pools’ for reflection. Her mentor had also stressed the importance of ‘framing’, by which she means that every scene and every chapter must be rounded and have goal/conflict/resolution and beginning/middle/end. For now we had achieved the meeting’s goal, without excessive conflict and had brought things to a resolution, from a beginning of refreshments and news, through a workshop bit in the middle, to a convivial end -- until the next meeting of the Severn Valley Authors.