‘Twas the night before Christmas: a Party and Awards Evening – 9 December 2020

Gathered round our screens, we waited for the Sanquhar Santa (aka Jeanette our President) to read us a story, to give us some cheer, to reassure us about whichever Covid Christmas ghost might haunt our festive prospects. Instead, we were encouraged to time-shift – between a balmy May evening and driech gloomy one of mid-December.

As Jeanette unwrapped our present she promised us a trip back in time to our postponed evening at the Savoy Park. “Just imagine …” Yes, we had missed applauding the proud receipt of a certificate or trophy, a walk in the garden, the rummage of a raffle, maybe even a Pimms.

And, as our past few Christmas events at Waterstones have coincided with storms, gales and once even a flooded store, maybe we could discover a silver lining to this particular cloud while at home, in the dry and safely behind a screen.

It’s a hopeless task to reflect on everything that happened over the evening – so much, so much, almost too much, even controversies and almost fisticuffs.

There were Zoom backgrounds that made a pleasant and curious change from seeing so many Bily bookcases behind politicians, epidemiologists and at-home reporters on the television, although nobody tried to outdo Linda Bauld with that matching vase of flowers over her left shoulder.

Encouraged to bedeck ourselves with festive spirit, there were flashes and exposures, pixxies, bling and penguins. Antlers, hats and tinsel boas and halos made their appearance, as did at least two pairs of pyjamas, curiously positioned lights on assorted flashing sweaters and even a hint of festively coloured underwear. Some blamed pink G&Ts for rosy-cheeks, some played fast-and-loose with Elf & Safety, and the obligatory Yorkshire sheep bleated “Baa Humbug.” It was a good job there was no need to parade down the High Street before taking part as we would normally have done.

Last year’s awards were announced by one of last year’s Presidents. Trophies were flashed and certificates waved – or various pieces of coloured A4 filled the screen. I think we’re still getting used to what passes for Zoom-applause – were some of those yellow digits thumbs or single fingers? The final AWC honours board for 2019/20 is at the end of the blog to keep you reading – so don’t just scroll down.

Then, our tinsel-toting teacher Carolyn brought us back to the straight and narrow, encouraging some best read recommendations. Hilary Mantel’s final opus – The Mirror and the Light – was her own highlight, but a challenge was almost immediately thrown down. I owned up to it being at the bottom of my list, as the first book read as we went into lockdown. Things can only get better was my conclusion. Others at the top of AWC members’ reading piles were:

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Ambrose Parry’s Way of All Flesh

Tim Harford’s How to Make the World Add Up

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Booker-winning Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

And finally the visceral exploration of isolation and loss in I am an Island by Tamsin Calidas

As our visiting speakers so often advise – it’s important to read.

In time-honoured fashion, Chris’s quiz followed by testing not only our bottomless pits of musical tastes, general knowledge and useless trivia but also our memories. Whether Greta had a better recollection of last year’s questions which surprisingly reappeared, or she spends all her evenings listening to film music, who knows. Suffice to say, Greta conquered all whilst others argued and a heated debate raged between Rockall supporters and ardent Ardnamurchans. The most basic quizzing principle had been lost sight of – that the quizmaster is always right, even when he’s wrong.

Raffle winners displayed their cheesy grins as they “virtually” walked away with sunset prints, hampers and photo calendars and we could all be pleased that £166 had been raised for the Scottish Book Trust’s Christmas Appeal to provide books for children through such channels as foodbanks.

Then, just to prove that some of us have still been writing, the finale was Michael Malone’s adjudication of our Christmas Flash Competition, at which Alison Craig was victorious and Yvonne given “honourable mention,” which I suspect is akin to being “mentioned in dispatches” in military terms.

Before we all sought the “Leave Meeting” icon, glasses were raised to the Sanquhar Santa for all her efforts over the last few months to steer us through the clichéd “new normal.” She deserves the occasional sip of Babycham.

Finally, let’s make sure the award winners have been noted in the following 2019/20 competitions:

Book review – Catherine Lang

Novel – Damaris West

Women’s short story – Rhona Anderson

Scottish article – Gill Sherry

Poetry – Greta Yorke

Children’s fiction – Damaris West

Drama script – Carey McCabe

General short story – Damaris West

Non-fiction article – Gill Sherry

Flash fiction – Gill Sherry


Archie Quigley Novice – Jeanette Driver

Dorrith Sim published writer – Gill Sherry

Ishbel Robertson overall points – Damaris West


And to cap it all, we were able to celebrate and congratulate Joanna Murdoch on being awarded her Masters in Creative Writing.

Now we’ve just got to knuckle down – there are plenty of SAW entries to be done, dusted and drafted, to say nothing of our own.

All the best for Christmas – and let’s give ourselves a pat on the back for all these new skills we’ve been learning.

Nigel Ward

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