Minutes of meeting of Woking Writers Circle on Thursday 19 May 2022

Present:  Simona (guest), Sam (guest), Emily, Sarah, Tricia (chair), Liz, Alan (minutes), Peter, Hilary

Apologies: Heather, Carla, Greg, Amanda


Liz reported that the Book Group had read The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. Both novels dealt with the efforts of the so-called packhorse librarians – women who campaigned for and actively facilitated the provision of books to isolated and disadvantaged rural communities. This was a scheme originally initiated by Eleanor Roosevelt. Voting for The Giver of Stars ranged from 2 or 3 to 9 out of 10, which averaged out at 7.5. Jojo Moyes’s book seemed the more light-hearted of the two, hence its greater popularity. The next book reading, which will be in Woking, or via Zoom, on Monday 18 June at 7.30 pm, will be My Antonia by Willa Carter. This was recommended by Peter as a wonderful read.

Alan’s début novel, Theta Double Dot, has received an excellent four-star review from Grace J, aka GraceJ Reviewerlady. This is now on this blogger’s website, Instagram and Facebook pages. Follow this link to the review: https://gracejreviewerlady.net/2022/05/06/theta-double-dot-by-alan-dale-bookreview-austinmacauley-4/ Alan’s publisher, Austin Macauley are to post the review on their social media and upload Alan’s promo video for the book to their Tiktok platform.

Alan’s 81-word flash fiction story The Open Secret, which began life as a piece for a Woking Writers reading meeting, is now in what has become an award-winning anthology. The anthology published by Victorina Press and edited by Chris Fielden has just won the Best Anthology category in the 2022 Saboteur awards. Victorina Press won the Most Innovative Publisher category. Profits from the anthology sales go to the Arkbound Foundation, which promotes access to literature for disadvantaged groups


The homework theme was “Mayday”.       

Peter, in an interesting and thought-provoking departure from the convention of reading finished work, read some preliminary planning notes and explanatory background for a scene in his future novel. The notes were titled Tommy Chapter x. Iford Bridge and the Cattle Truck. The narrative was intended as a flashback that Tommy has, many years later, as a much older man, while gardening. The action centres on an accident involving Alf in his cattle truck. Alf has had a couple at the Lamb, in Burton. Tommy, suddenly seconds from a collision with the truck, on his Norton, sees his life flash before him, and is instantly resigned to his fate. Discussion centred on Peter’s request for advice about planning and background. Hilary asked him where he wished the story to end. All could see, simply by listening to Peter answering this question, how centrally relevant it was. A deft demonstration of the classical Socratic teaching method, it subtly illustrated the benefits of feedback. It was also felt, by some, that Alf’s inebriated state could have been more gradually seeded into the narrative, affording much greater opportunities for tension building. Alan suggested putting characters’ CVs in a file might help to keep track of them, for reference in the narrative.

Sarah read, or rather, invited five other members to read her first, most impressive and wonderfully hilarious attempt at a play. The action centres around an authentically cringe-making meeting at Get It Right IT Software, which has been convened, evidently most reluctantly, by management, to address the subject of the menopause and its implications for staffing. Peter, perfectly utilising his understated, deadpan delivery, conveyed manager Jeremy’s humourless gaucherie and jargon-ridden “beard-speak”, to the life. The audience erupted in laughter, each time his narrative returned, as if on a bungy-jumping cable, to using the whole menopause issue solely as a sales promotion device. The dialogue skilfully showed his underlying embarrassment as his only motivation. Everyone carried off their part with impressively convincing accomplishment, but it was Sarah’s eviscerating, perceptive dialogue, characterisation and humour that made our day. Various members suggested posting a performance of this on Facebook, in conjunction with, or at least for and on behalf of, some relevant menopause support groups.

Liz read a poem, entitled A Bed With Some Great Poets Of The Twentieth Century. Eliot, Pound and Yeats were among the poets referred to. Listeners admired the constantly varying rhythm, which, it was agreed, helped to maintain their attention. Another greatly admired feature was the presence of internal rhymes within the verse. Liz mentioned the poem’s role in expressing her urge to “go back into her literary self”. The discussion then turned to various opinions attributed to certain writers about aspects of writing and each other’s work. Liz questioned F Scott Fitzgerald’s assertion that “you really have to suffer before you can write”. Liz had also discovered that Ezra Pound met Yeats, and on being asked for advice, excised half the text from the draft offered for his consideration. TS Eliot, on the other hand, apparently failed to give Pound any credit for his advice regarding brevity, concerning The Waste Land.

Emily read a poem called Ode To My Wonderfully Characteristic Aunt. Her Aunt Beryl is “just like Hyacynth Bouquet”, of Keeping Up Appearances fame. Her auntie is now in her nineties and everyone admired and enjoyed the illustrative power of the writing, in particular, the sharply defined characterisation. Parts of the poem were thought to flow better than others, hence several people felt that spending a little time on rhythm and metre could well pay dividends.

Hilary read a piece entitled Braveheart, which, despite its name, dealt not with ancient Scottish resistance, but woad. Having acquired some woad seeds, her project was to make some blue dye from them. The true magic, we learned, takes place when the dye is exposed to the air, which is far from being the first step in the procedure. The “Braveheart effect” needs other actions, including smearing and various other manual operations, some of which have decidedly scatological origins. The mysterious nature of these transformative rituals was emphasised by an image on Hilary’s laptop, showing a defiantly yellow mass of flowers. Hilary then showed us a jacket, dyed with the resultant woad, to a subtle shade of pale blue. Obtaining a really deep hue requires a much longer process. Liz admired the writing’s skilful transcending of the boundary between science and poetry. Some felt that a shade more humour might effectively represent the ancients’ experiences of trial and error.

Tricia’s story, based on the homework theme of Mayday, was set in a branch of Thomas Lipton’s tea empire. Eileen, we learned, was good at figures, as affirmed by her Royal Engineers father – “anything to do with figures, she’s your girl.” She clicks with the new manager, Mr McNamee, in whom she discovers a fellow arithmetician. Romance blossoms, as they work together on the accounts, albeit under the constraints of the social mores of the early twentieth century. Despite her Baptist and his Catholic background, her minister gives them his blessing, for her to convert to Rome. McNamee is then posted to New York, but as fate would have it, they travel on the Titanic. The last reference to their shared love of figures is the macabre reckoning that shows the number of lifeboats to be well short of the passenger list. All enjoyed this story, with some suggesting that it could have been cut at the point where the couple’s fate was sealed. Tricia was encouraged to tighten the narrative to this effect, prior to submitting the piece to a suitable magazine,  for publication.

Alan read a short story called Feeder Service. The dialogue-only structure, admired for its ability to keep the reader totally aware of who was speaking, reveals the narrator, Amy, freezing at a bus stop. Her suspicions, on being approached by a probable illegal immigrant intent on begging, are soon confirmed. Launching into a much-practised avoidance routine, she elicits a genuine tale of hardship, only to reveal, right at the end, that she is in similarly dire straits herself. All admired this final twist, which led to a discussion of the inherent balance required, between an unfair withholding of clues from the reader and excessively premature and obvious revelation.

Next meeting: Thursday 16 June, 7.30pm at St. Mary The Virgin Church Hall, Horsell

Chair: Hilary / Amanda

Minutes: Tricia

Homework theme: Sunny Days

Wine: Simona

Biscuits & Milk: Carla