When a group of north London writers meet each month for a chat, coffee, and cake – what else is on their agenda? Constructive criticism? New Ideas? An exciting project? And maybe, more than one prospective romance…? Eavesdrop on the monthly meetings of the North Finchley Writers’ Group, follow some ordinary people with a love of story writing, and an eagerness for success. Discover, along with them, the mysteries of creating characters and plot, of what inspires ideas, and how real life can, occasionally, divert the dream…
Angela Knight’s House – Friern Barnet, January 2019
‘Anthologies are very popular at the moment.’
Angela Knight kicked off the monthly meeting of the North Finchley Writers’ Group following the usual business of apologies for absence. Quite a few today – hardly surprising, given the time of year and the cold, and until recently wet, weather. We were meeting in her house in north London’s Friern Barnet, so it was her honour to facilitate the proceedings.
Angela is petite, mid-forties. Hypnotising green eyes, natural blonde hair. She usually dresses in t-shirt and jeans but was wearing a baggy brown jumper and long floral-patterned skirt tonight. Very Bohemian.
‘I’ve read a couple of anthologies,’ I agreed.
‘But they aren’t proper –’ Monty Donaldson. He clicked his fingers in the air to indicate inverted commas, ‘”Books”, are they?’ One of us who had not been published.
‘Oh?’ Angela queried. ‘Really? Why do you say that, Monty?’ Those two did not see eye to eye. In fact, it was rare for any of us to agree with Monty because he was such an insufferable bore.
Monty was not put off. He never was. Sarcasm and irony went scudding over his head like clouds in a gale. ‘I mean, a book is a story, a theme, lots of characters and incidents. Action. Beginning, middle and end. Short stories are, well, nothing more than that. Short and cute. No real substance.’
‘Tell that to Ray Bradbury,’ Zak Nichols murmured from where he sat in an armchair nearest to the blaze of a real coal and log fire. I knew from experience that he’d have to move soon, or he’d roast.
‘What do you think of that, Rob? Anthologies are compiled of short stories, which you write for a living, after all.’ Angela turned directly to me. The glint in her eye told me that it wouldn’t worry her in the slightest if I started a real argument. Indeed, she was practically encouraging it. The minx.
‘I’ve contributed to an anthology of stories about Richard the Third, enjoyed other such historical-based anthologies. Most of the great writers in the world have started off with short stories,’ I pointed out. ‘Bradbury – as Zak said – Dickens, Margaret Atwood. One way of honing your craft. Especially if you are waiting to hear from a publisher about something you’ve submitted.’ A little dig, of course. One that took wings but also flew over Monty’s head. As usual.
But alliance with Monty came from a surprise corner. Charlotte Caroll.
‘I sort of agree with Monty,’ she put in hesitantly. She flushed slightly beneath her immaculate coiffured hair, and nodded to Monty.
Hello! Have we got something here? Virginal Georgian heiress infatuated with slick talking Chicago private eye?
‘You do?’ queried Alicia St Simon. Peroxide blonde. Older than she looks. ‘You do surprise me!’
Charlotte flushed again, and it was not just the heat of the fire burning her cheeks.
‘Well,’ she stumbled. ‘Er, let’s look at what Rob just said. None of the rest of us write historical fiction. I write Regency romances and that’s completely different.’ She was blustering and we knew that she knew that we knew. As the old song goes.
‘Who said anything about historical fiction?’ Angela remarked, sitting back in her chair and crossing her legs. A glimpse of ankle. I smiled to myself, put that into an historical context and smoke it!
‘Well, no one, but I thought that’s what you meant.’
‘And if we were, what makes you think you couldn’t write something historical?’ Jean Hart entered the discussion, pulling up the sleeves of her pink, fluffy jumper, as if she were getting ready for a fight, although it was probably only because the room was getting rather warm.
‘My setting might be Regency but the theme is romance. Beyond clothes, horses, carriages and balls I use very little historical fact. Austen wrote Pride And Prejudice which was set during a very big war between England and France, but she barely made mention of it! Battles and things are of no interest to me. Warfare is not my subject.’ Charlotte replied haughtily. She had a point about Jane Austen.
‘Nor mine.’ Monty would not be left out. ‘How would I fit my hard-nose PI Marty Diamond into a story set in, say, the English Civil War?’
Very badly. I bit back the retort and helped myself to another handful of peanuts from the glass bowl on the coffee table.
Angela caught my look. Knew what I was thinking. We were often on the same wavelength, more so when it involved goading Monty.
Angela steered the conversation back to the original point. ‘I did a little bit of looking into this before I selected it as a topic, and there are a lot out there. All sorts of topics. World War I, World War II. London. I came across a blogger who has a feature on her book review blog every December, when she invites her reviewers to contribute stories inspired by songs.’
‘I like that,’ I grinned. ‘And there you are, Monty. Private Investigations. Dire Straits.’
‘I could always email her and ask if we could borrow the idea, if we decided to do something similar.’ Hilary Jackson, one of our “mature” members, and our Arthurian expert.
Angela leaned forward, smiled prettily. ‘Hold on! It was only meant to be a discussion topic, not a pitch for actually doing an anthology. A bit of fun, I thought.’
‘It is fun,’ Hilary continued. ‘I’m really warming to the idea.’
I glanced, discretely, at everyone’s faces. Charlotte and Monty were not impressed, but the others were sitting upright or forward, full of eagerness. Had we hit upon something by accident?
* * * (After the meeting…)
Time to go home. There was a bustle of fetching coats, gloves and scarves, exclamations at the cold beyond the front door. I begged the use of the loo and, by the time I returned, everyone had gone.
We stood just inside the open front door, Angela and I, looking out at the frost riming the garden path and the tops of cars parked in the street beyond, admiring how it twinkled beneath the bright street lights.
‘I’m really sorry, Rob,’ she apologised. ‘It was meant to be a light hearted discussion but it got rather out of hand. I never meant…’
‘I know,’ I said softly.
It was a moment that I never wanted to end. Her kiss was less passionate than it was affectionate.
‘You’d better go,’ she sighed. ‘Steve will be home soon.’
‘I know. So am I.’
She opened the door and, when I glanced back, she was still watching me, her hands clutched around her arms. I waved and then she closed the door.
I rubbed my right temple as I walked to the car. Lit a cigarette. There was no doubt that Angela excited me. Her very presence in the room made me want to be around her. But she was in a relationship. And so was I.
Liz and I had our ups and downs, although lately there have been more downs than usual. But we came through them.
We always did.
Thank you, Richard Tearle, Helen Hollick and The Coffee Pot Book Club
About the Authors
A Word From Richard Tearle :
“To the writing community, whether they be traditionally published, indie or aspiring.
You make the rocking world go round…Writers are such a wonderful community – supportive, helpful and ever willing to give their time and expertise to one humble chap such as I. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Richard – December 2020
A Word From Helen Hollick:
It was with great enthusiasm that I encouraged Richard to write this, his first novel. His enjoyment of creating a good story, I felt, should be shared to readers and writers, everywhere. Unfortunately, at the editing stage, Richard became ill, involving hospitalisation. In discussion with his son, rather than abandon the project or put it on hold, we decided that the best course of action was for me to continue with getting this book published on his behalf. The characters, plot – the story – are all Richard’s immense talent, I merely tidied up and added the final polish, coming in as ‘painter and decorator’ to Richard’s main role as architect, designer, and builder.
Connect with Richard:
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Universal Link: https://getbook.at/NFWritersGroup