Minutes of the meeting at La Rosa Hotel on Thursday 10 January 2019.
Present: Adele, Jonathan, Ian (chair).
Apologies: Mike, Louise, Pip, Jenny.
Topic: Members’ work-in-progress.
Our member Daphne, who runs the alternate-weeks group, is now out of hospital and back home. There were issues about converting her flat for better aged-person use.
Adele — read a short story entitled Little Louise and the Staithes Witch. A pre-teen schoolgirl is convinced that her Aunt Ina, whose repulsive face and physique is described in colourful detail, must be a witch, and by implication responsible for the disappearance of babies in the Staithes area. Matters come to a head during a panic attack, in which Little Louise imagines that she is being chased by the witch, plus her two cousins (whom she had thought of as her friends and far too pretty to be Aunt Ina’s daughters), who have seemingly just killed her mother and are boiling her up in a witches’ brew.
The meeting tried to anticipate the market for the story. Adele had a Young Adult audience in mind, but Ian thought it was classic horror, fit for Podcastle once it had been published elsewhere.
Bearing in mind the gruesome nature of some of the Brothers Grimm fairytales, not to say Roald Dahl, the group bent its collective mind to considering just what sort of thing rendered a story unsuitable for children. Unwholesome sexual content went without saying, and obviously didn’t apply here. Jonathan considered it to be properly an editor’s decision, since that is final (for the market concerned). Ian added that it was wise to choose an imaginative editor, and not one who had a rigid idea of his readership and was concerned to stay firmly within its comfort zone.
The meeting concluded that the story had elements of ambiguity, moral and factual, typical of adult horror stories. Ian felt that the unsettling nature of Doppelgänger stories, in particular, have much to do with the absence of a moral compass, or adequate cues to reassure a child that the events described haven’t happened and cannot happen.
Ian — continued reading The Last of the Time Cats, the latest in his Spookie and Dyspepsia series, which he had begun at the previous meeting, but at 7,500 words, over 1 hour’s reading time, had been too long to finish in the time available. This tale addressed itself firmly to the 7-14 years age-group. But, like Adele’s story, Ian had misgivings about it – and so, it emerged, did the meeting.
Ian confessed to having no clear notion of just what red lines the story had crossed, although the issues it encountered had much in common with Adele’s short-story. It was a little too convincing, in ways which could unsettle a child. Adele suggested (and Ian accepted) that the story had taken a darker turn since its first instalment. Dyspepsia narrowly avoids over-exposure to ionising radiation in an apparently barren spot in the Western Desert, and Spookie the Cat confronts her folly in heedlessly putting batteries into a golden cat-statue, which has animated the mummified remains of Puss purr-Miau, the last of the Nine Cats of Eternity.
There was also the matter of how deeply to quantify the feasibility of making a water pipeline out of camel skins to enable an army to cross the Sinai Desert, which according to Herodotus was actually undertaken by the Persian king Cambyses in preparation for the Battle of Pelusium (525 BCE), the first successful invasion of Egypt by land. Ian had been far too ambitious in trying to present such material to a junior audience.
Much the same could be said of the basic fable, which exposes the fragility of the space-time manifold itself to a successful attempt by King Amasis to turn ancient Egypt into a nuclear power in order to counter the Persian threat.
The meeting ended at 1 PM.