Minutes of the meeting at La Rosa Hotel on the above date.

Present: Adele, Gina, Harry, Jenny, Jonathan, Karen, Kaz, Maria, MicheleIan (chair).

Apologies:  Gill, Lesley, Malcolm, PeterPip.

Topic: Members’ work-in-progress.


Matters Arising

Ian welcomed attendees to the last meeting of the year. For those seeking Christmas presents, a selection of books published by members was laid-out on a side-table for perusal after the meeting.

Michele reported that publication of a Covid Diary this month, written by the disgraced MP Matt Hancock, had been announced today. The meeting felt that, far from upstaging Adele’s less tendentious diary, this announcement could actually validate it.

Members’ Readings

Michele —  read a further instalment of her novel in-progress: The Undesirables, set in Southern Africa during the Boer War, 1898-1902. Peter Bowen, the new civilian superintendent of Camp Irene, a concentration camp hastily set up by the British military, meets the new doctor, formerly of the Russian Red Cross. He has been directed to the camp by the unsympathetic British authorities, who have no incentive (yet) to provide funds for vital infrastructure at the camp, such as a hospital. Perhaps the growing incidence of typhoid, dysentery, etc., would succeed with the British government where basic humanity has failed with Kitchener’s troops.
Elsie, hearing of the first stirrings of improvements in camp conditions, tries to comfort Anna with the news. But Anna, weakened and increasingly hopeless, asks who is to un-burn the devastated farms and un-slaughter the cattle?

Ian — read a further extract from Who Knackered Aragorn’s Catamite? – a totally unpublishable thriller/whodunnit set in the Fourth Age of JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth. It is 50 years since the end of the Ringwars. Goss, the bastard son of Gandalf, is a private detective investigating the murder of the King’s favourite. Accompanied by Goldberry en-route to Hotel Doom in the former Mordor, Goss visits Grishnakh, the head of GUB, the orc secret police serving King Elessar (Aragorn). Grishnakh loans him a trusty agent called Ratbog as guard and guide through Udûn, but warns him to keep a careful eye on “that girl” he’s brought along. Goldberry, regrettably, doesn’t take to Ratbog at all – and they fight.
Michele volunteered the information, little-known in Tolkien Studies, that she has been to a village in South Africa called Hobbiton, the name predating JRR Tolkien (who was originally from South Africa.)

Maria — reported progress with the English version of Kilton Castle, her fantasy tale set in mediaeval Cleveland, originally written in Russian and translated by herself. She was grateful for the Group’s written critique, edited by Ian, and praised the rewrite by Gill which flowed much more freely than her first attempt at translation. She now has Peter to help her polish her draft.

Karen —reported progress on her novel based on the historical figure Mary Eleanor Bowes, the heiress of a vast fortune from the Durham coalfields. The meeting discussed the problems that arise with the characterisation of a historical figure, whose actions are on record. Jenny, engaged in a similar enterprise, confesses to having managed to write only four chapters, a slow rate of progress for her, but has spent a lot of time on research. She can’t get her head around the Mary Bowes she is trying to portray, and admits to not liking her. (Karen, by contrast, does.) Jonathan detects a problem here: it will be difficult to present the character in a way her readers will have patience with.

Jonathan —read an extract from a longer poem, which retells the Christmas Story with uncompromising realism from the pov of Joseph. His wife Mary has just given birth to a son in distressing conditions, and are visited in their byre firstly by a troupe of smelly shepherds, and then by a small band of outlandish travellers bearing strange gifts, who claim to have followed a star.
Karen wondered if such a treatment might be mistaken for parody, i.e. mockery. Ian conjectured that this might depend mainly on where it is published. Jesus Christ Superstar, has been taken to heart by the Catholic Church. Mention was also made of Life of Brian, though the case for that being anything else than mockery is thinner.

Harry — distributed hardcopy and continued narrating the voyage of the Mahronda to the Maldives, bringing catering supplies to the Royal Navy stationed on the island of Gan to guard an airfield being built there. On leaving the Red Sea and entering the India Ocean, flying fish land on the deck by night, and are collected in the morning for breakfast. The tense political situation in the Maldives is described.

Adele — continued reading from her Covid Diary, resuming from Monday 4 October 2021. She and Neil return by train from watching the London Marathon, in which their daughter Laura was competing. Adele concludes that London has lost all its streetlife and thereby its vibrancy, thanks to the covid emergency.
There have now been 8 million UK cases overall, wreaking havoc on the NHS.
Adele’s mother has a lump on the eyeball. Doctors’ appointments are a discouraging rigmarole. Unexpectedly they get a quick appointment, but the doctor comes out to examine the patient in the car park, which is both uncomfortable and lacking in privacy.
Adele asks: what have doctors and dentists been doing all the time behind their screens, since far fewer appointments have been made. The same question has coincidentally been asked at government level, which has seen fit to allocate £250 million for extra staff.

The meeting closed at 1:15 PM.

Following the meeting, members reconvened informally in the bar of the nearby Royal Hotel for a Christmas drink, where wide-ranging discussions took place.