Sunday, 10 March 2013

Izzie's Debut

The venue for the second February meeting was at the residence of Tony 'Nigella' Gillam, where we traded news while chomping on mini-egg chocolate nest cakes to the faint clink of chains from upstairs.

Annie has entered the Malvern short-story competition As You Read It with the intention of repeating last year's triumph when, as one of the six winners, she read her entry to a rapt audience in Malvern's Forum Theatre. The editor she was intending to approach at a literary agency with her children's book has unfortunately moved on, so she is considering alternative agencies.

From short story to novel: Tony announced that, having experienced recent difficulty in getting articles published in magazines, he has decided to write a novel.
'What's it about?' we asked him.
'About 2,000 words,' he replied.
I've always felt that Tony has a novel in him - something along the lines of Lake Wobegon Days perhaps, only better. We look forward to reading the first chapter.

From novel to short story: Linda has almost finished the rewrite of her novel A Head Full of Budgerigars but the failure of the hard drive on her computer has interrupted progress. Fortunately the creature is still under guarantee. While it is being repaired at P C World she has been working on the outline of a short story.

I sold six copies of 'Why Don't You Fly?' at a talk. I am working on the last six chapters of Karl Marx and Careful Driving. As I yo-yo between the extremes of yeasty optimism and black despair I find myself wondering if the damn thing will ever be finished, never mind published.

Izzie is submitting an April Fool's joke to the BBC in the hope that it will be read out on air. She is also thinking of entering a short-story competition (theme: 'Going on a Journey) run by National Express Coaches.

Izzie read out her first piece of writing to be given the 'SVA treatment', a short story entitled Half a Hundred Things. It describes the plight of a working mother juggling career and children. She struggles throughout with exhaustion and stress. An accident in which she falls downstairs and breaks her wrist elicits scant sympathy from her equally stressed husband. The forced absence from work brings her unaccustomed time to reflect and to the realisation that she must 'find new job and divorce husband'. The piece was strong on detail and ended with a nice, optimistic feeling of 'better times to come' but more dialogue would have served to break it up and enable Izzie to 'show rather than tell' the reader of her character's frustrations. A little more humour might also prevent readers from losing sympathy with a narrator who seemed to be prone to self-pity. There were one or two minor technical issues involving punctuation and the overuse of certain words, which we all struggle with at times - but a few more sessions with the SVA will soon iron those out.

Linda felt that Half a Hundred Things would be appropriate for a women's magazine. Her suggestion of Lucky Break as an alternative title drew a round of applause. She commented that a little more economy and more dialogue would improve the story.

Tony described Half a Hundred Things as an enjoyable and authentic internal monologue, but also remarked upon the characters predisposition to self-pity. The contraction of 'cannot' to 'can't' and 'there is' to  'there's' would give the writing more informality. A good edit would iron out repetition and grammatical errors. His assessment betrayed an unexpected antipathy - as a mental-health nurse - to Izzie's use of the term 'male nurse'. "After all," he pointed out, "you wouldn't say 'female doctor', would you?"


Rob said that although the mention of the pendant at the beginning and end of the story gave it a good shape, it read more like a column or a blog than a short story. The ending was handled well and it had good potential.

Annie echoed the general observation of the character's inclination to 'whinge'. She suggested that calling the husband by his name would make it feel more personal. Some more specific description of the chaos left by children (such as an escaped hamster, for example) would be an opportunity to dilute the self-pity with humour.

We finished with a discussion of the appropriate usage of 'might' and 'may', a point that we've discussed before. It continues to cause problems, however. Fortunately, I had Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage with me:

1. 'With reference to present or future possibility, may and might are both used, but with may the possibility is more open and with might it is more tentative or remote.' 

2. With reference to possibility in the past, may have leaves it open whether an event or circumstance was actually the case, whereas might have implies that it was not, and is explicit that it was not when the statement is part of an unfulfilled condition introduced by if or by inversion.

Any the wiser? I tend to use the unscientific method of going with whichever option sounds right, trusting my instincts and hoping for the best.

Next meeting is at Chris and Linda's at 7 p.m. on Tuesday 12. As a departure from our usual format, we'll be discussing the benefits of Internet goodies like Facebook, Twitter, Websites and Blogs.