On a wet summer evening … Readaround – 13 June 2018

The rain rattling down on Maggie’s conservatory roof belied the description of the evening being part of a “Summer Readaround.” On the other hand, the range and quality of contributions more than made up for the lack of sunshine: words and creativity shone through.

A scene from the latest instalment of Martin’s Mauchline crime novel was set in Crosshouse Hospital, culminating in the chilling question, “should I be scared?” Beware of the next person you see wearing blue trainers.

Susan’s portrayal of recently retired and widowed Sarah gave us the opportunity to talk about some creative tinkering with the point at which a story might start for best effect.

Potentially heavy scientific explanations were the challenges faced by Gail in her popularisation of limbic systems, cortisol and the hypothalamus. Again, juggling the sequence of material to engage the reader more quickly with a personal connection emerged as sound advice.

We learned snippets of Welsh from Maggie’s children’s novel and were left anxious to know more (about the plot, not the Welsh language) with a well-crafted chapter ending cliff-hanger. We also learned a lot by the way in which dialogue moved our understanding of what was going on as well as the plot.

The concept of blue tit soup and the desire for an ejector seat were melded together in a flash fiction piece from Marion that explored the challenges of living with dementia. And anyway, why should all the wind turbines rotate in the same direction?

Chris tried out a topical short story entry based on plastic, beach clean-ups and furtive friendships that, by coincidence, also touched on charity shops, care homes and dementia, themes that recurred in a number of contributions during the evening.

My own piece had been an exercise in drastic pruning and rigorous use of a red pen. An entry for one short story competition, with a word count of 2,700, had been culled and pruned for another with a word count of just 1,000, using the same plot and narrative arc. It was a useful starting point to discuss what is essential: does it move the plot or character forward? No? Out.

Susan McV read beyond the prologue of her YA novel that she presented at the previous Readaround. Boredom was confused with Benidorm and strawberry blonds with plain, straightforward gingers. My notes remind me that she “does not do small, cheap and affordable,“ so, as with the others I’m waiting to enjoy the next episode from a world with a code that was alien to many round the room.

“I mean you no harm,” had us guessing. Kirsty’s flash fiction built up the uncertainty and tension and challenged us all: “what did I do to you?” The deft use of a vacuum cleaner gave a satisfying conclusion to the arachnophobes present.

Finally, when we all thought we might be staying for breakfast, Linda rounded up the evening with one of her fascinating and thoroughly researched historical pieces. Suffice to say, when you are next at the cinema or watching the Oscars, will you be noticing the connection to Newmilns and the essential contribution this East Ayrshire town has made to jaw-droppingly lavish sets?

And so the evening ended. Was it really that late?

We all came away with ideas and advice, whether as a direct result from comments on our own pieces, or from the way in which others had tackled aspects of writing that we might be wrestling with. Since joining the club six years ago, I’ve always felt that these informal evenings are one of the most beneficial aspects of AWC membership. Any anxiety shown by members presenting their material for the first time is inevitably dispelled by the atmosphere.

See you next time.

Nigel Ward

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