Lock-down Readaround Zoom – 24 June 2020

Wednesday evening, just after dinner, and instead of pulling on my coat and heading out to join some fellow writing enthusiasts at a kindly host’s house, I stay in my own house and sign into Zoom. Another eight familiar friendly faces pop onto the screen and after brief how’d-you-do’s and instructions, we were picking our literary pseudonym from Carolyn’s wonderfully crafted wee placards to take our place in the running order with Ajay keeping us on track.

We started off with a revamped version of Jeanette’s book review. I shamefully have not came across the work of  rising star Sally Rooney however, the start of Jeanette’s lively and incisive  review of Mr Salary certainly kindled my curiosity – just as any good book review would – with keen observations and humorous analogies such as ‘melted butter on crumpet’ we all agreed on not only wanting to hear the rest of Jeanette’s witty review, but to find out more about Sally No-Quotations Rooney. As Jeanette’s alter ego of the evening, Harold Pinter, has said – “Good writing excites me, and makes life worth living”.

To quote Wordsworth, Maggie B’s pseudonym, “What is pride? A whizzing rocket. That would emulate a star”. This seems appropriate to reflect the sentiment in this reading of the seventh chapter in Maggie’s children’s novel – The Secret Life of Ailsa McCann. Maggie addresses big social topics such as empathy and forgiveness alongside acceptance of being different, cause and effects of bullying and using our powers wisely. All of this wrapped in sensitive, humorous dialogue between the young Ailsa and her apparently ‘odd ‘ Auntie Heck whilst maintaining the simplicity of childhood. We wanted to hear more.

Ken is next and he has chosen Carol-Ann Duffy – a woman of many firsts, being the first Scot, the first woman and first openly LGBT person to hold the position of British Poet Laureate which she was awarded in 2009. It was certainly the first introduction many of us had to the benefits in sharing our writing on social media. Ken read out his latest blog, describing how through this, we could reach not only a wide but a very specific audience appreciative of our specific genre and style. He skilfully turned what, to most of us, is a new and admittedly daunting platform, into something that sounded accessible, easy and fun. I am sure this would appeal greatly to Carol-Ann.

Another great Scottish female writer, Rhona Munro, was next on our celebrity squares evening. Or perhaps it was her alias Maggie M. Maggie’s poem invited us to leave the modern world and enter the mind of a young girl as she prepares for a day helping to organise a street party in celebration of  VE day. The poem’s length and attention to detail allowed us listeners to be fully immersed in this insightful account of domestic life at that era.

Appreciative and constructive feedback was given and in true club tradition, we had a brief break for refreshments – which some of us used to ponder the trials of lockdown hair care – you see, it’s not all literary masterpieces on AWC Readaround squares.

Ajay brought us back to focus for the second half and who better to ease us back in than Jane Austen – in the guise of Demaris. We were quickly drawn in to another chapter from Demaris’s collection of true short stories from Umbria, Central Italy, this one titled All for a Lady.  A very touching account of a young gentleman coming under the scrutiny of the very oppressive Italian laws as he is fumbled by two Officers and charged for theft of each of the endangered flowers he had picked. The charges came  ‘like a hammer blows’ not only to his hopes of treating his beloved wife for their anniversary but also to his meagre finances. Such was the skill of enthralling storytelling, Demaris had to relieve our concerns for her title character, apparently he was able to pay up and move on relatively unscathed. Ms Austen does like to give her reader a happy ending.

The same cannot be said for the evening’s Rabbie. Yes, Mr Burns was also with us in name and taking the form of Kirstie. She gave us a zesty slice of flash fiction – BFF’s. A very powerful modern account of grief, told in first person. A drunken young female follows the taunting voice of her deceased Best Friend Forever, leading us, totally captivated, to her assumed tragic end. The consensus of us all was that this was a piece well worthy of entering into a competition.

It was then time for the penultimate piece of work to be shared. Linda treated us to the first chapter of  her fledgling novel, Opening Pandora’s Box. We were cleverly transported to the Victorian age through wonderful imagery of steam trains and horse manure. Deft description of the title character’s struggle with an unidentifiable stench made me wish I had a clothes peg to hand, until near the end when  the source was found. Not a mislaid and long forgotten pretty maiden’s bonnet as the box suggested, nor even a severed head as the listener may have imagined. But something altogether more gruesome, leaving us all suitably intrigued. Drama well suited to Linda’s nom de guerre, Shakespeare.

And finally over to Oscar Wilde – or just myself. I shared a short poem called I’m Hurt, which depicts an emotionally raw experience of workplace bullying. Or was it domestic abuse? Perhaps even an account of an intimidating military encounter?  The piece appears to be open to much interpretation, as my chosen sidekick would say – “Two men look out a window. One sees mud, the other sees the stars”.  All present did seem to agree that it packed a punch – perhaps a double blow as on request it was read out twice. I am not quite sure what Mr Wilde would have made of that!

And so another wonderful evening came to a close. Two hours chimed away beautifully to Demaris’s clock in the background. I do hope more will join us, even if just to give another listening ear. The more people who sign in, the smaller our ‘boxes’ are which has great advantage when thinking of my own lockdown hairdo.

Joanne Bailey

One comment

  1. Carolyn O'Hara

    Great blog, Joanne – love the way you’ve run with the ‘presence’ of the literary greats by quoting their work! Each contribution well summed up too.
    Thank you!

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