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The Soor Plum Gang in Drongan – Summer Readaround, 23 August 2017

The eclectic mix of writing shared in the Readarounds continued to the end. As we enjoyed the hospitality of Richard and Irene, the pace of summer scribbling showed no sign of abating, and bodes well for the 2017/18 programme that starts next month.

It’s impossible to do anything other than capture the essence of pieces that were put under the spotlight. As ever, each author came away with plenty of advice and the benefit of constructive criticism, while we all could see how the comments could improve our own writing.

In another episode from his autobiography, Martin took us into the hospital where doctors fought to keep him alive. As he was in a coma at the time, his writing has been a valuable exercise in using points of view that are not his own. The use of a recurring motif also helped place us in the ward with his mother and grandfather: that fluctuating bleep, bleep of machines and monitors.

Jan took us to the brink of shock and horror as her character’s plans for the local Brownie pack were laid bare and went viral. That they should mount a new display to raise funds had a unexpected outcome, and had us laughing. I won’t give a spoiler, but if you say “new display” over and over again while thinking of a drama production, you’ll get the punch line. The learning point from her piece resulted from an adjudicator’s feedback – less is more, and when you’ve hit the punch line, stop.

Richard reintroduced us to Cedric, and his little dragon’s simple view of life. In his latest story he experiences his first day at school and the music teacher discovers Cedric’s rumbling basso profundo contribution to the school choir.

Meanwhile, Irene took us into the world of horse whips, high-rollers and blood-stained wine cellars. Initially part of a longer piece focussing on drug smuggling crimes, her sudden, unexpected ending had us all seeing what she’d read as a stand-alone short story with plenty of opportunities for twists.

“Are we not getting the words?” Ann and I both got the same reaction as we wanted to know if we’d been successful in building up the tension and expectation in our respective pieces. I’d taken three years to change the point of view, theme and starting point of something I started seven years ago. Ann took just two weeks, since the previous Readaround, to change to her initial chapter and then use a vacuum cleaner to ramp up the tension between the local vicar and his wife. I’ll say no more about that particular scene, suffice to say in making the changes so promptly she taught us to “just get on with it.”

Greta claimed to be lowering the tone but, with the help of willing thespians, an encounter between two theatre cleaners and a fairy was enacted. She managed to meld this post-panto exchange with a couch potato husband and a mobile library in the northern isles, before one of the cleaners pointed out that there wasn’t a fairy in Jack and the Beanstalk anyway. Who knows what we see on a dark stage in an empty theatre.

This year’s Readarounds finished with Richard introducing us to Brian and Ben, a dachshund and an Old English Sheepdog in material perfect for a picture book. Rich with repetition and the simple concept of lost-and-found, the dogs enlist the support of pigs, hens, ducks and a horse in the search for a lost bone.

And now for another year of speakers, workshops, competitions and inspiration.

Nigel Ward

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