Notes from a Meeting

Nethergate Writer Notes

Richard Gilles account of the Nethergate Writers meeting on January 27th.

Nethergate Writers Minutes of Meeting held on Zoom, 27th January 2021

Chaired by Susan B and minutes taken by Richard.

Present:  Sandra, Susan B, Susan S, David C, David F, Fraser, Richard and Roddie

Apologies: Fiona, Abby and Rupert.

The constitution was the first piece of business to be discussed. David intimated that we might feel able to sign and return to it at a future date. Susan was party to the revision and she was happy with the result. David F. Raises a couple of points. In Item 5. Officers and committee, there is an issue with apostrophes being used to form plurals when they should actually form ownership. Fraser said they were in broad agreement with that point and David F suggested that they should be deleted. He also Introduced the subject of the Nethergate finances and was concerned about liability and should limits be set. David C said that everything was well scrutinised at the AGM. There was a further discussion about whether the treasurer should explain expenditure, but ultimately the decision was that it would be impracticable. Finance for the anthology was taken to the AGM for agreement. Susan said the committee and especially the Treasurer checked the accounts. David F concluded with thoughts on limits to any debt, with perhaps something pertaining to that being written in the constitution. Roddie said that common and serial liability was the way things had always been done. David C suggested that there should there be a vote, but it was decided to move on. Susan B asked if there were any other topics on the constitution to be discussed and there being none it was David C who concluded the discussion by saying that it was in everyone’s interest to read the constitution.

Susan then moved onto the Website update with Fraser and the fact we do not have one. There was an urgent need to move website hubs and they can walk away without issue. The website hub is out of date and frequent crashes were a problem. Fraser was continuing to liaise with Roddie, Sandra and Sue about other hubs, both local and international, with the idea that the larger corporate types would be the best bet, for they offered more services. He proposed moving over to another website, and the annual cost would be in the order of between fifty and to seventy pounds. There was discussion about what the website was for.  Personally, Fraser thought that it should be used as a showcase for examples of work and that it should not be too advanced but simple and easily googled, so that people could find it and would know there was a good site in Dundee. David C thought the price was reasonable. Susan S said a lot of work had been done by Fraser and Susan B agreed. David F said he had done a lot, with the costs mentioned being reasonable so it was well done Fraser. Fraser added he has been frustrated with the present website’s lack of quality. He will be in touch with Sue and Roddie and will make recommendations. Roddie said that Fraser has done a thorough job. Susan asked if it was time effective, as she thought that out of necessity it might have to cost more to lessen Fraser’s workload. Fraser replied that five pounds ninety-nine pence per month would be sufficient because you do not need all the bells and whistles, though some of the bigger concerns offer them without charge.  Susan B asked if there were any more questions for Fraser and Sandra brought the subject to a close by praising him for the work he had done.

Susan returned to Fraser concerning the Anthology. He had updated the authors about their work being put through the final proof. The feedback for proof-reading was that they would prefer a professional proof-reader and there would be a meeting, which would be open to ideas. Fraser is working with Roddie to iron out issues such as introduction and preface, and the differences thereof. There was a discussion about a draft letter for Andrew Murray Scott as well as the lineage of Nethergate writers’ anthologies and referring to the latter in that they had been a feature since 2007. The piece that Fraser wrote would be good for an introduction. Examples of Esther’s introductions had been sent by Roddie to Fraser to give a flavour of them in order not to burden Andrew with too much reading. There was an enquiry about whether he would he need to read the Anthology in order to write a preface? Roddie replied that he had told Andrew what it comprised, so that he did not need to trawl through the book. Reviews of Fifty Shades of Tay had been enhanced by his previous help. Fraser said it would be a good idea to find out how partial he was to being involved and Roddie thought that perhaps by next Thursday it would be good to have a sense of his interest. Susan said that a reviewer usually gets a script or rough copy at least, in order to contribute a possible preface. David F said that for proof-reading, you should get a professional proof-reader. What it costs is money well spent and it all can be discussed at next Thursday’s meeting. Roddie added that the price negotiated was a good price and it would be good to bite the bullet and get a professional to do it. Fraser continued with the theme and said that he had been apprised of the considered opinions of those concerned with the editing in that they could not do anymore. Further discussions about obtaining an experienced professional was looked into with David C asking what a proof-reader will do? Fraser said they do the final edit, before it goes to the printer. To expand on that he continued that they highlight such matters as language that is not consistent and other corrections that may be of concern to the authors. Susan S said that the final proofer receives a hard copy for their own use. The author does not need to see it again and this is the most time efficient way to do it. Fraser thanked her for the clarification. Roddie reminded everyone about the short biography for the Pitlochry submissions, and to use the same biography for the anthology. Only two contributors, it was estimated, had not submitted a biography. Fraser said he would send an email to ask them to send approval of a biography. David F was worried he would not see his final layout and did the authors concerned not need to see their pieces again? Fraser asked if David F would prefer to see his finished piece. David C recalled being in a similar situation when he spoke to the person who edited his piece and the two of them had come to an agreement about how his piece should be completed and getting the balance right. Susan S said the proofer has the final look at all the work completed and If there are any concerns, you should check your work again yourself. David F is happy if he sees his work one more time before it goes to the proof-reader. When he wrote the piece seems a long time ago and it needs to be revisited. Fraser noted the issue about contacting every author involved. He raised the fact, as an example, that the font size of one writer’s work seemed too big. Still Fraser declared that he endeavours to respect the layout and a work-around is invariably arrived at that is liveable with.

The matter of the fifty-word biography was brought up by Sandra and Susan B and the presumption was that Amy will read them all. David F enquired about Amy’s email address for any pieces still to be sent to the Pitlochry Festival Theatre Light Hope and Joy project, and members were reminded that a copy should be sent to Abby. Sandra said her minutes were of the previous 30th of December 2020 not 13th of January. It was queried if there was anything else about Pitlochry theatre to be discussed. David C said that Joyce McMillan, theatre critic of the Scotsman, often reports on the work of PFT. She has highlighted their “Shades of Tay ” project, and also outreach work they are doing with local youth groups. He had wondered if, liaising with Amy, there might be some national publicity for a collaborative project with PFT. After all, their project, in name and to some extent content, was inspired by our “Fifty Shades of Tay” flash fiction collection. Susan S said that they are not brought up on their website. David F said that it would be good if Amy could draw attention to Nethergate Writers when the time is right, and it is a subject worth returning to. Abby has been coordinating things with Amy. David C said Amy is enthusiastic and is well disposed towards us. Susan waxed on shrinking violets and wondered which of the two pieces is chosen to which Sandra replied that Amy will decide which piece is recorded? Roddie said that Richard should send his piece which he has. David C said he would prepare a short piece that could serve as the basis for an article that Amy could use if she agreed and would send it to Sandra and Abby for onward transmission if they were happy, in order to keep up the momentum. Nothing further was said about the Pitlochry project.

An update on the membership was proffered by Susan B. Sandra told those present that she would send another email to do with who wanted to be included up to 27th Jan 2021. A list of names were read out by Sandra concerning who would continue and who would not. Gillian, for example, intended to return at some point. Other names were read out of those who would not be returning. David C offered to contact Ray to see if he wishes to return. Sandra will send round an update of the email addresses. Fraser wondered that when things went back to nearly normal, could they contact people not recently heard from. Roddie added that they could not keep email addresses of those no longer involved. Susan B queried that once an updated list was available, should group members be asked for payment? Same price as last year. Roddie said the anthology should be included in the subscription. Susan B said that twenty pounds seemed pretty reasonable. David C pointed out that they were not paying for accommodation. Susan B suggested twenty-five pounds and Roddie added that the subscription was about due. Fraser said that the group should be made aware of what the fees included, for example, the website, producing an anthology, collaboration projects, et cetera.

Susan B thought that they should read their pieces but not before Fraser had to leave the meeting. Susan advocated that Aileen’s piece could be read out first and David F agreed with that sentiment. Aileen’s work, called Question Time, was duly read out by Sandra.

The story begins with a BBC announcer introducing Gardeners’ Question Time. However, He becomes increasingly exasperated because technical glitches are wreaking havoc with the programme scheduling and the polished presentation. Indeed, the protagonist seems unaware that an open mike is picking up all his disparaging comments about the subject matter of their show. As the story progresses the announcer’s contradictory pronouncements about the Fair City are apparent in that his true feelings bely the broadcasting spiel as his personal feelings intrude into the very public sphere of whoever is listening. Adding insult to injury, the Twitterati are biting at his heels, giving him up to the minute hair-splitting comments viz., famous Meikleour Hedge is perhaps not sufficiently proximate to warrant being called a Perth attraction, increasing his discomfort still further. He begins to sound increasingly fatuous as he tries to fill in dead air with trite commonalities a la Judith Chalmers in Wish You Were Here. However, truth will out, and his ambivalence coalesces into certainty when he realises the true situation.

This would be a good piece for Pitlochry because of its humour, its pace and its contemporary nature and comments furthermore were as follows:

 David F complemented Sandra on her rendition of the writing and agreed with her in that he too found it funny. Roddie, however, was confused about the humour with the producer and his wife. Roddie wondered whether only the reader was privy to the announcer’s thoughts, or a microphone had been left on for all to hear. David F said that the story explains that you can hear me. Sandra said a different voice for a different character was important. David C wondered if the stories’ credibility was being stretched. He continued that he wondered if the announcer could continue to spout this salacious invective over an open mike without somebody noticing. Susan S declared that the work is funny, and a professional actor would enjoy reading it out. Roddie agreed that cheerful pieces were good for the situation and someone added that Perth being bad-mouthed would be enjoyed by Pitlochry’s inhabitants. Susan brought comments to a close and turned to David F to read out his piece.

David’s piece “Ruminations on a Fine Pickle” is about his own grandmother’s recipe where after every ingredient he spells out its history. Whether it was onions brought by a French Onion Johnny, or cauliflowers fresh from his grandfather’s garden, or even Celery purchased from the back of a van, albeit a greengrocer’s horse and cart, and even green tomatoes from the greenhouses of a fire station. If food has a story it tastes better, in that it has been given back its history, like a painting with provenance, raises its worth, which increases its value. And this whole recipe cum life story has value too, made greater than the sum of its ingredient parts.

Once the ingredients have been entertained, it is onto the process of putting it all together and you almost have to hold yourself back from rubbing your eyes peeling non-existent onions, or boiling vinegar catching the back of your throat, or getting powdered mustard under fingernails and forgetting, but not for long because you have yet to finish with the onions. Even Britain’s Imperial past is evoked with curry powder and turmeric a legacy that’s still here today. And perhaps the sound of bottles rattling in boiling water, then dried to be filled with contents that might linger on the top shelf well into the winter months. Reading David’s piece evokes my own mother’s jam-making days with the boiling pots of hot steaming liquor turning the farmhouse kitchen into a semi-temperate rain-forest of humidity. David writes with pride about his forebears, which expresses the resilience, spirit and hope of things past and the people who may not have had much but made much of what they had.

David C thought it a great piece and added that it is extremely articulate and an original way of giving a social commentary. Roddie said it is a message of hope and said it fits in with its beautiful descriptions, and also how it contrasts with the other pieces. It is different, but it still keeps to the remit. David F said he enjoyed reading it. Susan B said it would fit in perfectly. Susan S thought it was fantastic and a great genre to go into, namely on how little things change. Very good said Sandra. David F said he could picture the story and can still taste the tomatoes. He was glad the other members enjoyed the story, adding for context, that he remembered how he used to polish the fire engine, especially the brass, and how people who worked for the coal board got free coal. County Durham was where his grandmother lived. He thanked everyone once more for all their kind comments. Susan S finished the comments by saying it was not sentimental, but a very cool and reflective piece of writing.

Susan’s B piece which was an amended version of Reunited was the next to be considered.

Reunited is a story about a woman called Leonora, advanced in years though you are not told but made aware by Susan’s adeptness with descriptive prose. The character Leonora has woken up early and begins to prepare herself as if going out on a big occasion. Yet what could be such a big to-do at this time in the morning. What adds to the mystery is when she goes out her front door, it becomes a portal to another world. She soon becomes enveloped in shades of tranquil gloom that seem to beckon rather than deter, where you can imagine her flashlight’s glow of atomised light, diminishing in an atmosphere of every thickening fog as though the further down the path she goes the more the world is dematerialising. The more the world becomes the unworldly, the more the ethereal, becomes the real. She is drawn, being impatient for what happens next, to see through a glass darkly, an expression whose sense, like this tale, lies in ambiguity.  So as in invention, so in life, everyone wants to know what is in store, what happens next, what is it like after you go for a burton or buy the farm, is there life after life? Leonora becomes aware through her senses what, it must be presumed, must be her dearly departed, which is sad. Yet what saves this story from brimming over with too much melancholy, is that it appears more like a happy arrival than a sad departure. And so, in concluding, it is not just the story but also its ambiguity that engages.  Whether this is some celestial path Leonora has taken, or whether it is all in her head is left unsaid, which leaves something for the reader to reflect on.

After being read out the comments were as follows: Sandra said it was a lovely work. Roddie liked the parts about the senses with tobacco, and the sound of the leaves, very atmospheric. David F disagreed with Susan B that it is not cheerful indeed he finds it is. David C said it deals sensitively with a beautiful subject. Susan thanked everyone for their comments. Moving on, David C volunteered to read out Joel Schwab by Abigail.

Telephone calls are great mediums for writing monologues. Especially when you do not have a loudspeaker to hear what the other person is saying. Though it is amazing how you can almost guess what you cannot hear, by the replies you can. Mind you, there is nothing worse when you are on the phone than someone grazing on your call or complaining why the badinage is taking the scenic route. Notwithstanding that aside, this piece of Abby’s is an interesting take on community relations, which seems vaguely prescient and familiar.

The story is a monologue about a father talking to his son about a neighbour called Joel Schwab about his history and him being a bit of a loner.

Ever more frequently, demographics live with demographics. That is to say that those of a generation tend to congregate together as when families stay in one place for primary school, another for secondary, and a third for further education, before finally scaling back with a second mortgage because Timmy’s severance package never panned out and needs the cash. Anyway, getting back, Joel Schwab, is not that. But because he never moved, he ended up being a fish out of water. The fact he is a bit of a fantasist would not have helped his fitting in.

Abby’s depiction of the kind of staccato delivery, you only hear on the old dog and bone, is well considered. In this, there are the three depictions of Joel Schwab with the beginning in the laying out of his back story, then a middle representing his doldrums and finally the end in his salvation with his snowplough (yes America, not snowplow) though I wonder if the kids would be so pleased having to go back to school, present circumstances excepted. The story has its humorous moments, with dad concerned with general statements when talking about “Cancer,” while mum has the keys to the specific, “what type, your mother probably knows,” but the story also has a poignancy too, as the caller reflects on how his kids would have enjoyed the snow, which reminds how fast they grow and fly the coop. But let us not dwell on the empty nesters, the boomerang generation have taken care of that, instead I would like to again commend Abby’s piece for all of the above as well as its pace and its articulate rendering of the spoken word into print.

When David had finished reading Abigail’s piece, the comments were as follows beginning with David himself:

He said that the snowblower lawnmower was a good metaphor and a good and strong image. Susan S added that being an American in Britain, people don’t listen to them because they listen instead to their accent. Roddie said, when he was in Canada, he used a Canadian drawl in order that people would listen to him and not get too involved with his accent. David suggested a slight adjustment to make it a monologue from the beginning. Roddie demurred, saying it is a monologue, and that it would be quite easy to make it clear the man is thinking about his children. David F said it is a long phone call without hearing anything back. He agrees with David C. Roddie had written to Abby to say that that they were well drawn characters with only a minor problem near the end with “carrying the shopping back” which should be the word two not the number 2. Susan B queried the use of broad Scots, thinking it was off and on and not totally consistent. David C agreed, demonstrating his own Scottish accent as an instance. Roddie built on that by saying he too thought that it should be more Scottish. Susan S wondered about men being shy but accepted that some of them are. David C said the protagonist was able to move forward when he realised not to confuse being anti-social with being shy. Susan B asked if there were any further comments and there being none it was on to David F who offered to read a revised version of Love’s funny stuff.

I used to be uncertain but now I’m not so sure, goes the old thigh-slapper, which on the face of it, seems perverse, the jest not the slap, but now it is just where we are, so no wonder the kids are confused.

David F’s second story is taken from a seven-year old’s point of view and begins with him under a table where a post-funeral reception is taking place, and apart from falling into abstraction and wondering if they were mini sausage rolls because the big ones would take some eating, the boy must be there because he feels safe. For this is all taking place in the present, with closed schools, social distancing and mask wearing and, in this atmosphere, David delves into the psychology of what it must be like when children can no longer commune as they once did. Not only are their social interactions being affected but also their mental health, for you can insulate them only so much from the anxieties that parents have to cope with, especially when they are key workers in the caring professions. So, we have dad expressing himself rather loudly at the television though perhaps he’s not quite the age for bandying words with inanimate objects. Mum is a nurse and is having trouble separating her work from home-life, it being hard to unwind when what used to be an occasional crisis is now a daily event. It is especially difficult when a close family member passes away, for children, an event like that can be hard to process. Anyway, we have a grandmother who has passed away, the schools are closed, washing hands is no longer discretionary, isolation has become de rigueur; all this must be overwhelming. Being told not to be afraid yet not being specific about what it is because it is invisible, which is like the dark, which like the unknown, which is uncertainty, which makes us anxious and anxiety makes us fear everything, while snakes make us fear only snakes.  If you don’t know what it is or how to fix it, you don’t know how to make it better.

I think David gives us a sense of all this and in a way that is in the ballpark of how a child would perceive it. Having to play with a younger sibling is fun, but when you play with those of your own age it is more fun, (if “I suppose” means anything) as it makes them feel independent and helps them hone social skills with kids not honour-bound to like them. This is well written, and as good an explication of how children interact with each other as is possible, considering they, like adults, are individuals first and generic types second.

Duly read and first out of the gate with comments is David C who referenced the first two paragraphs, saying that you learn too much about the story too quickly, and read out the offending paragraphs. He queried the voice of the seven-year-old and wondered how much they take in what other people say. Despite that he enjoyed it and found it very atmospheric. Susan S disagreed that children don’t take note of adults, because she often hears kids on the street and what they say to each other. Susan found the story very convincing and approximate with the pink bandits, who were a group young people from round about. David F said that young kids understand big words when the subject is of interest to them. David C agreed but still had issues with the way children talk to each other. David F saw his piece being much like the talking heads of Alan Bennett. David C said he had assumed it was a little boy while Roddie thought it was a little girl. David continued to elaborate on his piece in that boys can be as caring as girls. Finally, David F thanked everybody for their comments and the discussion drew to a close.

Sandra suggested that any unread pieces should be read at the following meeting and added that some pieces fall through the net. Roddie said they used to tick off the pieces to be read the following meeting. Susan observed that a small stock of writing is good when there is time to fill. It was then left for David C, who read his piece called A Small Dilemma.

I feel David’s pain and yes, what an unappreciative world we live in. I enjoyed this story and a return to this theme of anxiety, excepting that it is more specific than the pandemic. What do you do if you see children ill-served by their parents or guardians? Everybody is so mistrustful of everybody else, so much so that it is getting hard to know where to draw the line when it comes to social etiquette, and where the line between interface and in-your-face lies with people we do not know. The story is about someone who is trying to get away from the hurly burly, but it keeps following him around. David has a keen eye observing the changing nature of the body politic, and has written an evocative piece that is both rhythmic, and descriptive. The interlacing rhythm of the short sentences representing the Nordic walking guy, squeezing in a bit of bad parenting before brunch, contrasting with the more sedate longer sentences of someone more in touch with his surrounds. In the descriptions, the reader can virtually feel the windblown snow sloughing off the hill’s snow-corniced crest and biting into the nooks and crannies of his now ill-fitting track suit, since lockdown expanded his portfolio. To return to the main theme of what you should do with people that don’t take charge of their charge, which under the circumstances I suppose is to do the right thing. But heaven forfend that you should interfere in their sub-par parenting, yet this irresponsible person has already blotted his copybook by not being responsible, so any aspersions should be first laid at his door. And it is not just that you are anxious about what to do, it has also spoiled your day, for you can no longer relax and smell the coffee because you have now become a surrogate baby-sitter by default. In any event, the senses have been evoked with the sound of the wind, the sight of the monochrome tinged landscape, the feel of the cold, and the taste or your distaste, and finally the smell, or the scent in ascent, which is a stretch, yet snow does have a trace of ozone. One thing you story shows, is that writing about what you have experienced always adds verisimilitude, which makes for a more genuine and sincere composition.

Comments about David C’s piece were soon forthcoming beginning with Roddie who thought the descriptions very authentic and he recognised the hill described. David C then told the legend of the cliff and the witches thereof. Roddie posited that the word anorak was a dated term, an opinion that David C gave credence to. Susan S said you can still buy what are called anoraks at Primark, which David was glad to hear.  Susan S said she loves a good story. The piece evokes sensations which lend themselves to strong emotional reactions, a sentiment that Roddie found himself in agreement with. David added for clarification that one of the adults was the father, whilst the other was the uncle. Roddie had thought one was the stepdad and the other was the biological dad. David C could only add that one was a responsible and one was not.

With there being no further comments, Susan B drew attention to it being almost nine o’clock and is there was no time for anything else, notwithstanding the fact that her laptop was running on empty, the meeting was concluded with the next event being pencilled in for the 10th of February.

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