Easy as ABC – Zoom Readaround 22 July 2020

Friendly faces smile from the grid of little boxes on my laptop screen, like an online episode of Celebrity Squares. Ooops, remember to click on ‘audio’ to hear and be heard.

7.30 pm … and we are ‘live’ and zooming from the comfort of our living rooms, lounges and studies under the capable hands of Ajay, technical support and muter, and our genial host, Jeanette.  Zoom is as easy as ABC. Which is how Jeanette swiftly sorted out the evening’s running order. Alphabetically by our forenames. Simples.

This meant Ajay was first, reading his polished book review on the gothic mystery novel Once Upon a River.  Like the Thames, a key element of the book’s setting, his review flowed beautifully. Thumbnail visions of intriguing characters, a snapshot of plot – the review did what a good book review should do – made us want to read the book.

Anne’s been editing her crime novel and read us a chapter she’d whittled down from over 2000 words to 999.  The Rev. Simon Harrington is a troubled man and seeks counselling from a psychologist.  Anne’s well observed piece gave a good sense of place and showed us Simon’s feelings and vulnerability. We recommended Anne lose a few ‘he said / she saids’ – some of the dialogue didn’t require these tags to differentiate between the two characters.

Carolyn, inspired by her trip last year to New York, shared her observational poem Subway. From her first line – Steep steps lead deep – Carolyn used powerful language and expressive imagery to convey the experience of her subway journey. I could visualise ‘the argument of lawyers’ and the distressed young girl. We were transported to NYC to witness the ‘underground performance’ played out in front of the poet.

Next, a short story based on a true event from Damaris. Drummer Boy told of a Romanian lad living in Italy; ‘a drummer with a mission’ to win a national drumming competition. A simple and poignant tale, built up beautifully, with strong but succinct descriptions, Damaris had us rooting for this ambitious boy. Wisely, she was not tempted to alter the real ending to a happy-ever-after one and the story was the more powerful for that.

Tidelines’- Greta’s poem, written to be entered into a competition, brought the sight, sound and smell of the sea to our living rooms. Tight descriptive phrases and pace, her words encapsulated the motion of the ocean – ‘melodic lapping reassuring.’  Just beware the ‘squidgy ruby blobs’ (jellyfish, of course).  Good luck with the competition, Greta.   

 Five readers down – five to go – we took a refreshment break. Kettles boiled, tea made, glasses recharged (water, of course) and a few minutes to blether. We morphed briefly into Gardener’s Question Time. What do you do with a wilting Yucca?  Then our host, Jeanette, gently prodded us to start the second half.

Jeanette excused herself from reading. We look forward to hearing from her next time.

So, it was over to Joanne and chapter three of her family saga Coal Dust and Fisticuffs. The relationships and dynamics between her three characters Jean, Brenda and Mick were well established. Tea towels on ‘the pulley’ and a Formica table helped place the story in time to the early 1960s. Natural Scots dialogue is Joanne’s strength and we loved the banter. We felt she should use dialogue more to move the story along rather than tell the reader about a conversation.

L is for Linda, and there were two of us.

I went first and read the beginning of a short story I’ve been editing. I’m trying to reduce the word count by 400 words (nae chance). My eccentric granny with the nutty name was appreciated by the group as was the humour in my story.

Order! Order! Linda H ‘s Global Warming, Global Warning is set at a ‘Climate Impact Summit.’  Each weather element (rain, wind, etc) is personified and puts forward their concerns about future working conditions to the Committee – ‘Snow is feeling quite redundant these days’. A clever and topical environmental satire, Linda is struggling with a satisfactory ending. We suggested she close with a cataclysmic natural event. Or perhaps she could challenge her readers and finish with a thought-provoking question?

Maggie entertained us with another chapter from her children’s fantasy novel The Secret Life of Ailsa McCann.  Ailsa is coming to terms with the realisation her special powers have helped her deal with two bullies.  Maggie’s plot is developing nicely as is the bond between young Ailsa, with her insecurities and lack of confidence, and feisty Aunt Hecate (Heckity).  We all wanted to know – what will happen next?

Who doesn’t enjoy a walk along the beach?  Marion’s well-balanced article considered the benefits of the seashore to our mental health.  Opening with childhood memories of seaside trips and simple pleasures – paddling, sandcastles, salty chips, ‘tinned pink salmon on soft white bread’- Marion lulled us into a false sense of nostalgic security before fast forwarding to a materialistic, hectic, pressured, work-focused present-day world. We found we could relate to both halves of this article – and agreed a walk along the seashore can restore drained spirits.

As always, it was a pleasure to listen to talented people share their work and offer (and receive) friendly and constructive feedback.  Thanks again to Ajay and Jeanette for co-ordinating the evening and keeping us right.

Next Readaround will be on 5 August, when I’ll be hosting. Wonder who will be part of AWC Celebrity Squares that night? Looking forward to seeing you there!

Linda Brown

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