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Ayr Writers’ Feedback Night – 12th October 2022

And all because Ayr Writers love wondrous variety!

Wednesday evening brought about our first Feedback session of the current programme, and the first in person for many a month after our Zoom-based experiences. A dozen Ayr Writers appeared at the Mercure Hotel, many clutching the required four copies of their anonymised prose or poetry, ready for some constructive comments.  Nigel, our President, had given his apologies for this week, leaving yours truly in charge. Not a problem, except I didn’t have the all-important gavel! Cue a rap on the table with knuckled fist to get the session started!

Splitting into four sets for the first half of the evening, each group took one piece of writing to read and reflect on, before sharing their thoughts back to the rest of the room. As experience has taught me, even the relatively small number of Ayr Writers attending a Feedback night would give rise to a variety of styles and genres!

First up for sharing was a children’s story about a young boy starting a new school. This had lovely turns of phrase to describe the protagonist’s anxiety before coming to an appropriate feel-good ending, although it was queried if the dream sequence was maybe a little too scary for the expected age group. The author reassured us that he had often written stories for his own children, and that they loved to be frightened; the challenge was often making the stories chilling enough to have any impact on the cynical young things…!

We visited a domestic Groundhog Day next, where the diarised entries had two main characters repeatedly passing each other like ships in the night. Jan was the daytime narrator of the piece, whilst her husband, Mike, worked the graveyard shift. The author was encouraged to retain the chapter as the starting point for her “wife murders husband” novel. There was good characterisation of Jan – the use of swearing in the opening line had me laughing out loud – and her increasing frustration against Mike was well-paced; however, a reduced number of similes would have given a punchier feel to the language.

Leaving the criminal intent behind, we next found ourselves in an elderly residential home, helping siblings Karen and James celebrate their Mum’s 80th birthday. The writing was engaging, with good use of small, and overall, details but it would benefit from some focus on punctuation. We particularly loved the image of Mum’s pal in a frock that made her look like “two stacked tangerines”, whilst James, being recognised by his Mum, added tenderness to the piece. The author confirmed this was the first half of a short story, clarifying the lack of conclusion in the piece submitted for review.

Our final share before coffee was another short story; this time the narrator, Mary, was describing both the actual view, and her own opinions of, the visitors and activity on her local seafront. This was a good mood piece, with an unexpected twist right at the end that brought new meaning to much of the preceding tale. The first half of the story was very descriptive compared to the second half, which had more balance between imagery and Mary’s opinion – could more of the latter be fed into the earlier part of the tale? I’m not going to share exactly where the author got her ideas for this piece, as I don’t want to spoil the twist, but it was another reminder that inspiration for writing can crop up at any point.

Our well-earned coffee break was both an opportunity to rest the brain cells and provide me with a suitable vehicle to call order after the 10-minute interval. A tap of my teaspoon against the rim of my coffee cup was far more effective than the knuckle rap – use noted for next time!

The second half saw us splitting into 5 groups to review the remaining submissions. The first output took us to the USA and a poem inspired by a visit to a New York liquor store. The transaction had made the author feel guilty for no reason – an emotion that resonated across the poem via the imagery, emotional unease, and use of short lines in the structure. A suggestion was made to switch the order of two consecutive verses to improve the flow of language even further. We may not have been to New York, but most of us have experienced “The jeopardy in daily transactions”, as concluded by this piece.

Lifting the mood next was a piece aiming to tell a fictional story, except the author kept providing us with tongue in cheek reasons as to why she was going to write the story instead! Highly engaging, this ventured into creative non-fiction, as the narrator took us on an edgy word countdown until “Dammit”, the word countdown was done, the story less so! The reviewing group thought it was just “perfick”, with suggestions made to the author about potentially suitable writing competitions.

The next two submissions up for review and output were both part-chapters from novels. The first was a fantasy-based story built over a more traditional country and western theme. There was good dialogue between the family characters, and the reviewers wanted to know more about them; however, the pacing of the chapter was too fast in sections, and introduced too many places and characters in short succession. A suggestion was made to introduce maps into the book – this would provide insight to the reader about the geography without having to drive it all through the narrative.

The second submitted piece was the beginning of a murder mystery novel, with the prologue and the initial chapter available for review. The prologue had a historical quality about the writing which contrasted to the more modern feel of the prose in the first chapter; both gave rise to good imagery and characterisation of the female protagonist. This early writing did not obviously lead to the murder mystery element – the author confirmed this would come later and that it was her stepmother that had been murdered…Yes, this did generate some confusion and much laughter as the author hurriedly reassured us that it was all fiction, her family were not involved in any way, and we were not about to be plunged into Taggart-style interviews with the local constabulary!

Last, but not least, feedback was provided for an audiobook review: “Four Thousand Weeks – Time Management for Mortals” by Oliver Burkeman. The review was light-hearted in style, which mirrored the apparent tone of the book, and touched on interesting points and quotations. Care was needed though, as the length of the quotations had resulted in the word balance between quotations and actual review favouring the former. The author – and reviewers – had also focused in on the Four Thousand Weeks, the lifetime of an average human. It seems a decent timeframe, until you realise how quickly the weeks disappear from us!

On that note, it was time to go home, nourished by feedback, and committed to spending more of those weeks writing productively. Oh, and don’t worry, no hands were hurt during the impersonation of that pesky missing gavel!

Maggie Morton

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