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Midsummer in Moscow: Summer Readaround – 28 June 2017

Not that Moscow broil. The Ayrshire Moss-cow (so-pronounced I’m reliably informed) and as breathtaking in its quieter way.

That’s the pull of these Readarounds for nomads such as me. I get to explore this country I moved to three years ago; and hitch a ride to others through listening to my fellow writers’ work.

First I got mine out of the way. I’d written nothing new, so inspired by a piece from the previous blog, I dug out an old review. Was I as harsh a critic as a competition adjudicator once implied? Suffice to say I should perhaps have read last … a timely reminder of the Sandwich Technique from my neighbour on the sofa, who helped me see how some poor author might not get beyond my opening lines to reach the good bits.

That neighbour, Nigel, then walked us up Skye’s ‘crepuscular crags’ strewn with names I couldn’t pronounce let alone spell, in the latest addition to his online journal, entitled ‘Leaving the past behind’. During the two-day excursion, memories of his student climbing days from forty years ago mingle with today’s jammed car parks, interspersing the personal and travel guide; but at last alone atop a ridge, the daring exposure makes it worthwhile. His writing, always accessible to non-climbers, Nigel, it was suggested, could compile his backlog of posts into a book. He may be considering it?

Continuing clockwise, Martin gave us more from his work-in-progress prequel. He likes to get an early draft down then seeks to improve it, and is eager for feedback. An emotional section of the book, relying on family members’ accounts of his four months in a coma as a nine-year-old, with flashbacks to his primary school bringing occasional light relief. We felt the frequent viewpoint switches diluted impact, and he could group these viewpoints to improve reader attachment. I’m fond of multi-viewpoint myself but this is a tip I shall remember.

Chris led us into the break with an Scottish Book Trust Nourish competition entry called ‘First Love’, again taking us back forty years to his uni days at far-flung St Andrews and him trying to fit in. Forget flirting with flame-haired beauties behind the bar: freshers’ year was about drinking Black and Tans made with Sweetheart Stout. But by his second year, ‘cool’ meant Tennents lager, motorbikes, hockey and girlfriend. Tubular Bells referenced the era for those of us of an age, and the reminiscences (mine was Cherry B and cider) spilled into our abundance of coffee and cakes.

Delicious though those were, by the time we resumed, Martin had been lured away to his mum’s steak pie. Suzy’s dark fantasy short story, with potential to become a novel, plunged us into an intriguing and powerful entwining of selkies and domestic abuse. The way she portrayed the perpetrator as a rounded character through flashback impressed us all and the only advice we could give to this sparsely written piece was to make the setting a bit clearer (some confusion arose between Edinburgh and Glasgow waters). Suzy easily achieved her aim of reaching non-fantasy readers like me.

Kirsty’s fast-paced fantasy story, ‘The Time Capsule’ has an interesting inception. Writers’ Forum magazine offers a monthly prompt in the form of a fiction grid where characters, setting and theme can be determined on rolls of dice. Without saying too much, it was suggested delaying a significant piece of information would double the twist in this tale.

Also in need of a kick-start, Linda didn’t bring what she wanted because it hadn’t yet been written. So she read the polished version of the initial chapter brought before from her novel, ‘A Clean Slate’. Linda’s dilemma is whether to carry on plotting this book or start its catalyst, the non-fiction one she always intended. Each has its particular demands so why not move from one to another when the mood takes, we wondered?

Our welcoming host, Susan, rounded off the evening – another whose good intentions had been beaten by time – with her highly commended competition fantasy flash, ‘Creation’. The message of the night for me was writers must make time to create.

Sunset through the hedgerows lit my drive home, and my note-taking pink as marshmallows.

Jan Braysher

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