At school didn’t we all dislike swapping test papers for marking by our neighbours? The idea of a Feedback evening brought back that exposed feeling but this time of one’s inability to be Chekhov, Austen or Brookmyre or even of having allowed an ‘it’s’ to slip through, apostrophe undeleted. However, thanks to efficient organization (Have you noticed how female-dominated organizations, especially Scottish ones, run very smoothly?) and firm guidance from Dorothy about learning to give and understand the value of comments, Feedback proved to be non-threatening, enjoyable and rewarding.
A co-operative atmosphere was generated by the grouping of chairs into fours, to which we were directed by lot from one of Dorothy’s little bags. This avoided us being asked to comment on our own work.
Marion Montgomery began the evening by reporting on the Book Review competition, whose results have already been posted in the googlegroup. She said we were a well read and well written lot. Always a good plan to congratulate the audience before pointing out the error of their ways, which were none too serious. She gave advice on reviewing but also on areas that apply to all submissions: read the guidelines and stick to them!
As if to show the value of what we were about to do, several successes by club members were announced: Barbara Stevenson was awarded first place in the SAW – Write Up North competition; an article on Uuganaa Ramsay and her forth coming book, ‘Mongol’, appeared in the Sunday Express; Bill Davidson’s book, ‘The White Petals of York’, is now available on Kindle.
Our task was then to read the pieces that others had brought and provide ‘collective constructive criticism’ that could easily improve the work, noting also the points that we had appreciated.
Brows furrowed. Varifocals were adjusted. Pages turned. Silence fell. Having half a thought as to what others were doing to my piece, I was grateful for the seriousness with which the task was undertaken. Gradually the hubbub returned as points for feedback were debated: the balance between commenting on a global impression and nitpicking punctuation corrections; whether memoirs should contain third person narrative history; and how we did something just like that when we were bairns. Obviously time for the break.
The groups returned general comments verbally, which gave an insight into the very varied nature of the writing. Understandably, because of the forthcoming competition, memoirs predominated, their quality and variety giving the lie to that harsh critic of all but his own work, Oscar Wilde, who said that ‘they are generally written by people who have either entirely lost their memories, or who have never done anything worth remembering.’ There were also short stories and poems, one of which, about the dead returning to Ground Zero, merited a public reading. As before, editing and punctuation led the areas that could be immediately improved. We need to be aware that without these craft skills, the art in our writing will be diminished or even lost.
As we shuffled our papers at the beginning of the evening, we were unaware of a joker in the pack. Dorothy had slipped in an anonymous Carol Ann Duffy poem, which was thought to be hard to pin down and might have a number of interpretations. Will AWC be sending her our comments? This piece of devious quality control seemed entirely fair but then it didn’t end up with our group. However, this practice raises another important question for us all: when in professional mode, can you really trust a psychologist?
We then collected our marked work and were able to discuss the comments with the appraisers. I could only agree with all that had been written, especially the nice bits!