Monday, 26 November 2012

Another Cake Episode

SVA Meeting at Chris and Linda's Tuesday 13 November
Blogger: Chris

Annie had intimated that she might be late because of a parents' evening. As it was her writing we were to examine we could hardly start without her, so we talked bollocks for around twenty minutes, guzzled Linda's home-made gluten-free chocolate brownies and slurped tea and coffee until she turned up.


Linda has been perfecting the first two chapters of her novel (provisionally entitled A Head Full of Budgerigars) prior to her final mentoring session with Kathryn Heyman of the Gold Dust Mentoring Scheme. After the final session, which in which she will request advice about approaching agents and publishers, she will be doing a final re-write. She admitted to 'teetering between optimism and realism'.

My only news was that an eagle-eyed reader of 'Why Don't You Fly?' has alerted me to a typo in the final chapter. What should appear as might on Page 267 appears as migt. Although the mistake was absent from the first edition of the book it has appeared in subsequent editions. I will be raising the matter with Pen Press as the error must be down to the printer. Migt might cause the translator for the mandarin version which is to be published and sold in China next year no end of confusion...

Rob announced that he had been similarly traumatised by the discovery of a missing vocative comma in his recently published novel No Mean Affair. The rest of his news was more encouraging. His talk at Solihull Library was attended by only nine people but he sold three copies of No Mean Affair. It is to be followed by a talk to Hagley U3A in March and another session with his publisher at Bromsgrove's Artrix Centre ( Even better, he told us that he will be talking about his novel on the Radio Four programme Making History on Tuesday 20 November An appearance on national radio might provide the helping hand up the ladder we all hope for. Will he be nervous? we asked. He assured us that he would.

Tony handed out copies of his article entitled Treasure and Miracles in 'Deep England' which was published in the Malcolm Saville Society's Magazine. Sadly he didn't receive any payment for an authoritative, well-written and comprehensively-researched article - a matter I feel strongly about. Those magazines and newspapers that depend on submissions should be prepared to pay for them. How many other people work for free?

Annie announced that the Parents' Evening had been 'intense'. She intends to send off her children's book to publishers after we'd all had the opportunity to critique it along with her pitch to agents / publishers - the evening's main business.


Annie's 411-word children's book, entitled Auntie Faye's Beach Cafe, is a wacky poem full of strong imagery. It reminded me of the Dr Seuss books I used to read as a child. Set to the right illustrations, I imagine it would be a hit with children.

I think we all liked the idea. Annie has skilfully crammed rhyming words into single lines (It's in the bay, about halfway, not faraway, so why not stay?), giving the lines their own distinctive sound. A refrain after each verse is intended to encourage the children to join in. In her pitch she describes the section at the end of the book as 'a unique selling point' so perhaps I'd better not mention it here. I imagine it could be used by both parents and teachers.  

Tony and Rob expressed concern about the rhythm and scanning of some of the lines and came up with their own suggestions for improvements.

Linda loved the idea and felt that children would really like it, but she also had issues with the scan.

Rob remarked that there was over-use of the passive voice in the pitch, and Tony felt that it was a little too long. Perhaps the biographical details could be shortened. Another way to shorten it would be to drop quotations from the poem - unnecessary for a work of only 411 words.

The overall feeling was that the poem was a great idea that needs only one or two minor amendments to address the occasional problem with scanning. We wish Annie the best of luck with her approaches to agents and publishers and hope that Auntie Faye's Beach Cafe will be the first of many.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday 27 November at Rob's. Rob will be reading and Linda will be blogging.

Friday, 2 November 2012

'You can't even kill yourself in peace.'

Tony's short story Weekend on Call was the focus of our second meeting in October. Nobody could doubt the authenticity of the piece seeing it was biographical inasmuch as Tony is a mental health professional and has plenty of experience of being 'on-call'. We all agreed it was an excellent story with Chris declaring that it was Tony's 'best yet'.

So what made it successful? In our critiques, each of us highlighted the way Tony had used repetition to highlight the drag-anchor effect of being tied to the bleep and the duty-manager's mobile phone. Furthermore, by employing mental-health jargon and mundane examples of the decision-making needed to field the telephone calls, Tony created a black comedy and a descent into inanity that appeared to have only one resolution. However, Tony pulled it back from the brink.

Annie called it 'heartfelt and insightful'. For Linda, the humour was in the same vein as Reginal Perrin and Chris thought it an excellent satire on modern managerial life where 'cover your arse' (Annie's phrase) is the order of the day. Rob congratulated Tony on the choices he had made regarding tense and viewpoint that contributed to the story's success.

Tony was pleased that we recognised it as black comedy and confessed that writing the story had been a cathartic process. He assured us that the effect of being on call was exaggerated for the benefit of the narrative.

I owe the blog's title to Chris who used this phrase to illustrate the predicament of the poor sap who happens to be in possession of the bleeper, the special mobile phone and the notebook on any given weekend.