‘Sit! Sit! Sit!’ Edna Fowler beams at us all warmly whilst smoothing out a few ripples in the waterproof tablecloth that she always uses when making her rosewood dining room table available for our weekly Didsbrook Writer’s Group meetings.
‘Welcome everybody. I trust we’ve all had a productive 7 days? I’ve never stopped. Talk about a purple patch!’ She laughed and her voluptuous breasts wobbled in synch.
The words Dulcie Darling and the Elephant’s Trumpet by E. D. Fowling 3 of 3 are emblazoned diagonally across the front of her bulging fuchsia pink ring binder. Edna is convinced she is going to be Didsbrook’s answer to J. K. Rowling, hence the rather suspect non-de-plume.
Shortly after she finished the fifth rewrite she collared me in Hargreaves, Didsbrook’s old-fashioned purveyor of meat. A queue of customers had formed, spilling out of the door and into the street. Didsbrookians prefer to pay twice as much to watch Mr Hargreaves hack off their chosen Sunday joint with his cleaver and give the hermetically sealed equivalent from the supermarket the cold shoulder.
Edna is a thespian and her theatrical tones took flight in the small shop with its sawdust-covered floor.
‘Once my book is reviewed.’ She boomed. ‘And you will be reviewing it too won’t you Lucy dear?’ I managed a feeble smiled and nodded. ‘It will be all over the press and the Internet. Fans would be arriving on my doorstep asking for autographs. I appreciate that attracting thousands of fans to Didsbrook would do wonders for the local economy, as I am sure Mr Hargreaves here would agree …’ Mr Hargreaves looked up, smiled vacantly then slammed his cleaver into an inert carcass as Edna continued. ‘But, although I know they would mean well, they would take up too much of my time whilst I’m writing the sequel. So writing under my pseudonym is essential.’ Us aspiring writers need to keep the faith and I so wish mine was as strong as Edna’s.
Edna’s future bestseller is about a meddlesome teenager, who just happens to have magical powers. Every week we are subjected to Edna’s theatrical readings of Dulcie Darling’s endless enchantment, as she extracts herself from tricky situations. In a world of wizards, Edna may well conjure up a publishing contract and I wouldn’t need to read it to review it because it’s been read to us so many times during our group meetings, I’m word perfect.
We all seem to have a problem providing Edna with an honest critique and I get paid to write reviews. Edna doesn’t hold back when it comes to critiquing our work, so maybe we all sense it would be the end of our group if we were all brutally honest. The last time Edna asked for feedback on Dulcie’s remarkable escape from Holloway prison, we were all rendered speechless.
I have a pen name too, the much less convoluted Jane Jones. My self-rechristening came about after The Didsbrook Echo asked me to cover events within the community and it was very important to me that my mother should never know who slated her production of Les Miserables at the Town Hall. Fortunately, my mother dismissed Jane Jones’s savage review as part of the highs and lows of being creative.
‘What a shame you didn’t have chance to review it Lucy.’ Convinced her erudite daughter who had spent three years at Roehampton studying Creative Writing and Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, would have been much less brutal.
After that, hiding behind a pseudonym when reviewing the work of people I care about, that lacks lustre, has been invaluable. Nobody, apart from my co-conspirator and editor of the local paper, knows who the hard-nosed Jane Jones is, including my fellow writer’s group members. I pride myself on writing honest reviews, but Jane Jones will be credited for bursting Edna’s bubble when she reviews Dulcie Darling and the Elephant’s Trumpet and I won’t have to leave the country.
My mother treads the town hall boards with Edna and told her she had a daughter who wrote a bit, so I was asked to join the group about a year ago. I readily accepted, although a little deflated when I found out that I had been asked to make up the numbers. The doyen of the group and somebody I greatly admired, the multi-published Jocelyn Robertshaw, had died the week before.
Last week Basil, who sits on my left and has had many journals on various species of Insecta published, committed the deadliest crime a writer’s group member could commit. He dropped off whilst Edna was reading. He could have been listening intently with his eyes closed, but when he started snoring his crime was exposed.
Cecil is the only other man in our group and is writing a novel, based on his own seat-of-his-pants missions in his Spitfire during World War II. I suggested he write it as a memoir, but I got shot down in flames when I mentioned it. I think he sees himself on the same bookshelf as Ken Follett.
Daphne has four published novels to her credit and is working on a fifth. For me, Daphne’s readings of her beautifully written pieces are the highlight of our weekly meetings.
Barbara is our local badger enthusiast, currently compiling her life’s work with British badgers. I fantasise about her being Didsbrook’s only hippy in the 1960’s as she wears multi-coloured hair extensions and says far out a lot. I imagine her going home after our meetings and smoking a joint. Something I find very appealing but, as I still live at home with my mother, the opportunity to get stoned will never happen, as she gets a whiff of most things within a 20-mile radius. I had plans to move to London after I graduated but felt obliged to move back to the family home after my father died, so my mother wouldn’t feel quite so bereft.
Charlotte is more my age and has very red cheeks, especially after she has read us her piece for the week. I don’t know why she gets so nervous, she writes well, although she has nothing specific in progress, apart from the unexpurgated tales of living with her Tibetan Mastiff Bruno.
The effervescent Beryl has taught PE at the local secondary school for many years, including me. She would send us out for a five-mile run up the A51 and follow us in her topless MG shouting words of encouragement. She is due to retire soon and has been working on a novel which, from the rather steamy pieces she has been reading to us, she could well be Didsbrook’s answer to E. L. James. She captures everybody’s attention when she reads. Basil and Cecil are as animated as we ever see them and I am sure I am not alone in wondering if Beryl is drawing from her own experiences. If she is, it’s high time I moved out of my mother’s.
‘What have you bought to read to us tonight?’
‘I thought I would read a piece from my novel …’ I say with a degree of pride.
‘Novel?’ Edna is surprised. ‘I’m so glad you find our weekly meetings inspiring. When did you start writing it?’
‘Five years ago, just after I finished University.’
‘That is so exciting!’ Daphne is always enthusiastic and her comment is echoed by mutual murmurings. ‘I would love to read it and would be happy to give you all the help I can. What’s it about?’
‘That would be brilliant … thank you. It’s called Turning Tables and it’s a romantic drama about two people who have both known the pain of loss and the sting of betrayal who are thrown together under very difficult circumstances … ’
‘What a novel idea, dear.’ Edna chuckles.
‘It will be interesting to see which of us gets into print first.’ Daphne not only writes well but she also has very generous heart.
‘We’ll be all ears Lucy dear, when it’s your turn to read.’ Edna interjects. ‘But try to keep it down to about around 500 words or, by the time we get to Cecil, it will be time for you all to go home. I’ll kick things off tonight and read you the final chapter of Dulcie Darling and The Elephants Trumpet. I’m sure you’ll all be thrilled to hear that I’ve finished it.’
‘Call me!’ Daphne mouths across the table and I nod, as a telepathic sigh of relief passes between us as Edna launches into Am-Dram mode and begins to read.
I sit back in my chair with my eyes closed, ready to recite Dulcie’s adventures silently in my head in tandem with Edna, as Basil whispers in my ear.
‘I would be grateful Lucy dear if you could give my foot a good hard kick if I show signs of drifting off. I don’t want to incur the wrath of Dulcie Darling’s creator for the second time.’