Minutes of the meeting at La Rosa Hotel on Thursday 17 October 2019.

Present: JonathanSue, LesleyJennyBMike, Malcolm Johnstone, Ian(chair).

Apologies: Adele, PipRoyLouise, Graham.

Topic: How we write.


Matters Arising

Sue handed round a flyer from the local library entitled “Book Bingo!” The idea was to complete five squares in a row, the squares having instructions like: Read a book set in the past, or Read a book that was made into a film. The completed “bingo card” will go into a prize draw in January 2020 for a book token. The competition is intended to encourage people to read more books.

Ian presented the apologies he’d received, saying he had heard from Jenny Hill, whose voice had improved following homeopathic treatment, and who was feeling much better.

How We Write

In place of the group’s normal activity: members taking turns to read from their work-in-progress, the meeting chose to follow up an idea raised at the previous meeting. This was to explain to each other the topics we choose to write about, and how we go about the task, finding time and summoning the necessary enthusiasm.

Several members keep specialised files in connection with their writing…

Mike makes detailed notes on each of his main characters: their physical characteristics, occupation, age, personality, likes and dislikes, significant things that have happened to them and relations to the other characters. He made reference to his current humorous novel in-progress, following the career of a GP called Seymour in a small village in the West Riding of Yorkshire whose mother, deciding he needs looking after, comes to live with him and sets about finding him a new wife. The novel offers great scope for imaginative insights into the other characters based on the invariably interesting symptoms they present with in Dr Seymour’s surgery.

Sue keeps a “Tags” file, containing tag lines such as “Damn; that should have worked!” Snatches of conversation devoid of attribution or context can occur to her anywhere and at any time (she recommends carrying a notebook and pencil everywhere). She writes down such “tags” until she discovers what they’re all about and can fruitfully employ them in her stories. She writes once each day and likes to work outside. To get in the mood for writing she recommends leaving an unfinished sentence. Something else to get her in the mood: work to music. Not varied music: she always plays the same piece, the idea being not to entertain or divert but to re-establish the tone or the mood which is to permeate her writing. Ian suggested that incense might work well for some people. Once Sue has started however she’s immune to all distractions and interruptions, sometimes forgetting to go to work. Her ideas for stories typically arise from some sort of incongruity, but she stresses the need to enforce consistency when writing. Nevertheless she recommends “banishing the editor” – the inner figure that stifles creative output at source – and getting it down on the page before paying attention to where it needs rephrasing or correcting.

JennyB writes historical novels, and strongly recommends making oneself aware of contemporary historical events. Also, to avoid anachronistic names, find out what given places were actually called at the time. Thus, in the 17th century, the North Sea was called the German Ocean. Jonathan confirmed that this name stretches back at least to Roman times, when it implied no exceptional size to the body of water in question. Ocean was the fabled river that ran all round the edges of the (known) world, and its conjectured course would have taken it past Britannia and the North Sea.

How do writers go about developing their idea? Lesley never knows if a short story is going to turn into a full-length novel. She gains inspiration from Arthurian legends, suspecting that if her present-day hero could go back to the reign of King Arthur (if that monarch ever existed) he would find a far different world from the popularly imagined one of mediaeval castles, knights-in-armour, heraldry and chivalry. This led to some interesting proposals for solving the problem of describing a world unfamiliar to the general reader. Sue, writing speculative fiction, is forever faced with the need to introduce her reader to an “alien” world (in the general sense) without having to cram history, geography or astronomy down the reader’s throat. She suggests making her leading character a child or a foreigner, someone themselves unfamiliar with the target world and therefore needing to ask around for names and explanations.

What are good books on writing? Ian recommended On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (you don’t have to be a fan of his horror novels to appreciate his humour and down-to-earth advice). Others endorsed the recommendation. Lesley recommended Writing A Novel by John Braine.

The meeting concluded at 13:05 PM.