Twelve cheerful faces filled our Zoom squares for the latest in our Summer Readaround meetings.
Fiona Atchison was our host and, having established a reading order, we embarked on an evening of varied and entertaining pieces.
Damaris began by charming us with two more of her astutely observed bird-themed poems, Rooks and Dunnocks, the first metaphorically conveying rooks as lawyers, observing how “…they peck lawsuits…” before one meets a violent death in a traffic accident. The pair of dunnocks, depicted in the second poem, are for all the world like an elderly couple, their intimacy touchingly observed “sharing a picnic. Not speaking.” The very essence of a companionable silence.
Moving from poetry to memoir, Marion offered us some of her Memoir of Glasgow, which focused on life recalled from the 1960s. The wide-ranging piece began with era defining references – the moon landing, the Vietnam war, the flower power slogan – before moving to more local memories of gossip, and families boasting of status symbols like venetian blinds and shooting breaks. We felt the most successful and evocative part was when personal recollections of the excitement of the fashions of the time were conjured in detail: more like this please, Marion! It’s conclusion, touching on sectarianism and how children might inadvertently find themselves innocently caught up in something they did not understand, was deemed an excellent subject for a separate piece.
From reality we moved to fantasy: Carrie provided us with a hypnotic, children’s story called The Witching Hour Girl. A rhythmic, enchanting piece with repetition and intriguing character names, this explored the theme of a ghostly child, “with eyes like the moon”, who appears nightly with her special doll to help lonely children find happiness and playmates. Discussion focused on reducing some repetition, thus allowing the reader the pleasure of anticipating what is to come; to check for ambiguous phrases, and to employ the rule of three.
Fiona A brought us Chapter 2 of her children’s novel The Journey, based on the true – and horrifying experiences of children – in this case two siblings, making their way from Honduras to the safety of California accompanied only by a paid guide. The elder brother, Ricardo, narrates the tale in which he provides encouragement and protection for his sister, Rosa, particularly when she finds herself attacked by bullies when they encounter a travelling ‘caravan’. It is then that we witness the boy’s extraordinary strength, an element of the story which helps alleviate the scariness of their experiences for young readers. Feedback focused on how to balance the veracity of the account with the fictional element, and indeed what might be the most appropriate – and attractive – title to entice readers.
From a children’s tale of adversity to an adult one, next, with Chapter 4 of Nigel’s novel Will Power. In the first part of this chapter, Nigel brought us to an appreciation of how the narrator, Sarah, came to be the sharp, no-nonsense person she is, with an account of her childhood and the upbringing she and her brother had experienced, focusing on their sheltered existence and sense of entitlement. Comments were shared about the necessity for nuanced pace, with the need for backstory balanced with moving the plot forward.
Back to poetry, again: Patricia read us her evocative poem Twilight (twice, so that we could savour her word choice and imagery) with memorable phrases such as “…water shivering…” and “the threshold of our fears” creating real atmosphere.
Accountability time followed! Jeanette revealed her progress in her self-imposed challenges en route to writing a cosy crime novel. Ticked off this week were: Kindle with 200 books organised in 10 categories; daily reading timetabled; writing strategy begun (750 words daily); a non-fiction, writing craft book chosen to read and review; listening to audio books while vacuuming, and a determination to enter all club competitions, preparing entries in advance, then adjusting to theme. Encouragement and suggestions to edge closer to the writing of her novel were made, including focusing on developing a character and establishing deadlines to increase productivity! We’re all holding you to your promises, Jeanette!
One of the most disturbing and effective pieces read was Matt’s The Strid, a fictionalised account of similar events. A group of drunken teenagers is on the bank of The Strid, one of the most dangerous, real-life locations in the country, where a benign looking piece of water in fact hides an expansive and dangerous stretch, the location of more than one fatality. Drawn to the site by its reputation, the teenage group witness one of their number – filled with bravado – make the leap. A silently chilling ending which could not be bettered.
Finally, Maggie B shared Chapter 7 of her children’s story about the unleashing of two dragons in Wales. Two siblings, temporarily staying with their aunt and uncle, have been told about the dragons, but are unsure whether what they are experiencing is real or a dream. Elder brother, Aiden, goes in search of his missing sister in the middle of the night, only to find her in the midst of rain and wind on a hill, in conversation with… no one. She is convinced that she has not been dreaming, and that Da, the dragon, had told her, that the other dragon was “…thirsting for blood”. Discussion centred on how much description could be tolerated by young readers, keen to know what would happen next – another delicate balancing act.
One of the great things about Readaround nights is that we never know what treats will be on offer, and tonight was no exception. Nigel thanked everyone for bringing such strong and engaging pieces, and for the invaluable interaction of members, providing expertise and inspiration.
Thanks also to Fiona for hosting a most enjoyable evening.