Mushrooms, Mountains, Mischief and Much More – Summer Readaround – 16 June 2021

Like any self-respecting biscuit tin, our second summer readaround had a great variety of tasty and very moreish treats to get our teeth into and savour – and all calorie free!

Maggie M was our readaround host. After a cheery welcome, she passed around her virtual biscuit barrel, filled with cookies, wafers and choccy bars galore, asking each reader to choose their favourite. Then with some jiggery-pokery (technical term), Maggie compiled the evening’s running order.

First out the packet was Chocolate Hobnob, aka Carolyn. She’d written a memoir piece for the Scottish Book Trust’s Celebration project, only to realise, just before submitting, that being a published author she was ineligible to enter. Now she’s considering different options for Look Who’s Here – a moving and beautifully expressed piece about Carolyn and her husband’s experience of meeting their 10-month-old grandchild after months in lockdown, the powerful feelings of love and celebrating the simple joy of a family reconnecting. Real, emotional, lump in the throat stuff.

Hope Carolyn finds a home for her work – the excellent suggestion was made that the memoir could be adapted into a story suitable for a woman’s magazine.

Next to unwrap was Tunnock’s Teacake – me. I read the beginning of a children’s novel aimed at 8–12-year-olds – Jinx Jamieson Adventures. Quirky aliens, a feisty human girl, and the hint of a mystery, set against the backdrop of the historic city of York. I was grateful for the positive feedback received about my extract’s pace, my characters and my effective use of dialogue.  Many thanks – now to work on the next chapter!

Wagon Wheel, aka Nigel, transported us to Sail Gorm summit via an extract from his travel article – Hanging on to Quinag: Just a Breeze? (Why am I not surprised, Nigel, with his pioneer spirit, chose an ‘Original – without the jammy nonsense, Wagon Wheel’ as his biscuit?) Capturing the tension, drama and awe of camping out on the mountain, in worsening weather conditions, to hopefully view a spectacular sunset then sunrise – ‘Some sceptical wag from Skegness would most probably have described it as bracing’ – we particularly enjoyed Nigel’s great use of imagery and humour.   Published in full online  Walk Report – Hanging on to Quinag: just a breeze? • Walkhighlands – it’s well worth a read.

Suitably refreshed by our halftime cuppas and wishing we had real biscuits (at least I did!), we restarted with Jaffa Cake – Jean. She shared a short fiction story, cleverly told through dialogue. A group of old ladies in a care home have disposed of a male doctor who annoyed them. Their spirited conversation hinted at a sinister ending. We felt Jean had captured a good sense of camaraderie and mischief between the ladies and it was suggested she could edit this story to 250 words for flash fiction competitions/market.

Next out the barrel, Golden Crunch Cream – Damaris gave us another of her fiction tales from rural Umbria – Forager.  A dark story with a moral; Fabiola, secretive and greedy, gathers mushrooms in the forest, confident about her knowledge of both edible and poisonous fungi. Or is she?  Damaris’s research on the process of death after ingesting Amanita phalloides (death cap mushroom) gave her story gruesome realism. We liked how the ending insinuated Fabiola might not be the only victim.

Then a Penguin with a poem. Maggie, our host, had written When was the Last Time?  to honour Mental Health Awareness Week at her place of work.  Maggie was concerned her poem was too long but we enjoyed each verse. The repetition of title’s question at the beginning of every verse bar one was very effective. Packed with wonderful imagery like ‘waggle-dance bumble bees’ and using the senses of sound and smell, the poem implores the reader to consider – ‘When was the last time?’  they relaxed, enjoyed nature, the seaside, the garden etc and switched off from the stress of work.

Last biscuit out the box with a fantastic flash – Fox Classic aka Kirsty. Her 250-word story was written for a competition which provided the title and theme of Five O’Clock Shadow. A fantasy setting; a girl is tied to a stake and waiting to be sacrificed while the shadow line falls at five o’clock on the sundial. Kirsty expertly cranked up the tension and threat and had us sitting on the edge of our seats before twisting the tale and hitting us with a happy never after.

Seven biscuits unwrapped, shared and chewed over in two hours. We finished bang on 9.30 pm.

Big thank you to everyone, including non-biscuits (or should they have been called Jammie Dodgers?)  Ajay, Jeanette and Matt, for comments, feedback and advice and, of course, especially to Maggie our genial host.

Linda Brown

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