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Minutes for Nethergate Writers 19th of May 2021

Apology from Sandra and Rupert.

Present were Zusana, Richard, Sue, Roddie, David F., David C., Abby, Fraser and George.

Pitlochry Festival Theatre press release sent to Courier by Roddie. David F. thought it was well done and hoped Courier would take it up. Any images asked Zusana. No, replied Roddie, at least nothing to fit the bill. Just one image would do, said Zusana. Roddie thought that he might have one from the Fifty Shades launch to send to them. There was a short discussion about the sound cloud and how many hits it had. Roddie wondered if there was any more discussion about theatre project. Abby declared that it had exceeded many of their expectations. The previous minutes were raised.  The embargo had been the tenth of May for tweaking the Anthology. The Minutes of last meeting were accepted.

Anthology. Abby was first up about the Anthology saying most responses were minimal. Roddie elaborated with some concerns. He had a quick scan about typography mismatched lines, fonts, spaces. Tomorrow is the deadline, Friday the mop-up day, which would bring it all together at the weekend. David F. had some concerns about his piece being a bit disjointed. Abby re-iterated David F’s concerns regarding font sizes. Once it was all pulled together, discussion with Stewart should take place to see what is do-able taking into account the timescale and cost. Most communications were by email. Abby had wondered if the committee should get together for further discussion. Availability from the 25th onwards for a date was suggested. Roddie did send email to Abby if Friday was okay for meet or perhaps next week though Tuesday might be a problem. Fraser joined the meeting on Zoom apologising for his late arrival. Abby brought him up to speed with what had been discussed. There was a continued dialogue with Abby about a meeting on Tuesday week. Fraser was fine with Tuesday at seven in the evening. Fraser set up a Zoom Meeting for next Tuesday, May 25th at seven o’clock in the evening with a duration of one hour and thirty minutes. Fraser will send link by Email. Roddie asked if there was anything else on the Anthology. Abby said that one thing to do was to register the ISBN. She would look into the account and will need to send two copies to the British library. Nothing else on the subject was discussed so the meeting moved on to the World Wildlife Fund.

Roddie had sent a link with a poem about how to see Scotland in the future vis a vis diversity. Susan already had a piece for that. Further ideas from members are looked for. David C. enquired whether it left scope for a group effort or was it only for individual contributions. The website was sparce on detail, added Roddie. Zusana had not looked in detail at the website. Image based contributions were a possibility. 30th of May was the deadline. Fraser said he had something he could adapt for the project. A virtual canvas for display at the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood, in advance of the UN conference in Glasgow in November is the intent. Abby continued that something that is not too long to read would be advantageous. Alexander McCall Smith, who has submitted a poem of forty lines in length, was a suggested example of what Roddie believed was being looked for. Zusana wondered if it would be good for an image as well as a story but was pressed for time. Abby wondered if a bank of images should be done for writing prompts and other uses. She wondered if they could use their own images. Zusana saw images improving the writers’ website. Roddie thought that images on a pack of cards or such like would be of benefit. Fraser said he looked up prompts online with inspiring images being productive. He continued about images and how they inspire creative writing. Roddie suggested prompts for inspiring writing with a file for containing images for the group. A piece going on the website could include an image added Abby. An image bank would grow organically. Fraser talked about expanding writing for social media and deliberated about submitting works on social media. Roddie thought that an indexing system would be of use so that images could be collated properly. Zusana posited on images being presented at start of each meeting. A convention about submitting images, said Roddie, with pictures being used for a particular purpose. Fraser will look into an image bank that can be accessed for the use of Nethergate writers. Could this be reported back on, enquired Abby? To avoid the use of copyright material was important, said Roddie.  A searchable index was something that he would look into. This might mean more work for Fraser, so he will find out how feasible an image bank would be so as not to incur too much work. To put it on a shared drive, said Abby, was fairly straight forward for someone to do, so that everyone could gain access. George joined the Zoom Meeting, apologising for his late arrival and his first request was to be on the circulation list. Fraser asked for George’s email address. The discussion continued with the suggestion about a library of images in order to inspire writers, with a Gmail account for the purpose and a shared google drive folder. Is that for pieces of work, George wondered? That is a good idea was the general response. He continued by considering the raison d’etre of group. A bit of everything, said Roddie, advancing the examples as in working with Pitlochry Theatre and preparing an Anthology. However, a free exchange of Nethergate writers work in which reviews were given, was a key rationale for the group’s existence. Critiques and observations were given by those involved in the writing process. David C. considered that critiques are used by members as a sounding board to assess their work, and as a motivational aid to writing, as well as an opportunity, in some cases, to be published.

How many people had worked on the Anthology was an additional inquiry? David C. replied that the work was done by various people to do with the group. George considered that Dundee writers’ outlets for work with poetry, novels, and short pieces were valuable and he added that he already had work published. The company of writers makes for a more amenable environment in what can be a solitary pursuit. Pamela Butchart, who writes about werewolf dinner ladies and such was Waterstones children’s’ writer of the year and was cited as an example on being published. He continued that he was happy to acquaint members on how to publish their work. There is a lot to be learned about publishing, said Fraser, including the publisher’s profit margin with the number of books that need to be sold. The arduous business of publishing the Anthology was referred to. Roddie commented that publishing your own piece is easier when you only have your own work to do. George liked people reading their work out and other people reading it. He said he used his brother as a sounding board for his own work, which was hard on him, but his brother helped him make his work easier to read. Fraser said the emphasis is to support everybody with their writing and keep people motivated. It was first thought that that eighteen writers contributed to the anthology though Abby revised the figure to seventeen. All collaborated to bring the Anthology into fruition, added Fraser, continuing that the Pitlochry Theatre project was another example of the group working in concert and are two things that are still ongoing, concluding that inspiration should be the essential element of the Nethergate writers. Roddie declared other items to highlight included contributing to journals and competitions and having your work peer reviewed by members of the group. Lockdown had sent people reeling, said Fraser as an aside, but things soon got going and Zusana, returning to the theme, added that writing is more general, and it is about supporting with feedback. David C. stated further that a lot of feedback is done through emails, and that publications have been done as a group, with the bread-and-butter fortnightly meetings.  He also advanced the notion that George perhaps could write something about his experiences writing for publication. George mentioned the writer’s almanac where there is brilliant writing about memoirs and how that is only the beginning. He added that when he lived in Spain, he gave lectures on writing.

With the discussion concluded, Roddie suggested that it was time to read work that had been sent in and offered to read Fraser’s piece, but Fraser thought that other work should be read first. So, it was proposed that David C. should read his piece called Intimations. This is a story about people and what preoccupies them as they get older.

George applauded the story. Fraser said it worked at weird and how was the training of the dog relevant? David C. said Barry is so unleashed from his moral reality that he sees the traffic speed sign as some kind of electronic vigilante taking people who drive too fast to task. Fraser thought the wasp pinioning was crossing the line. An incipient terrorist posits David C. It’s the old testament, said Zusana, referring to an eye for an eye. David F. thought the idea of a Labrador going on hunger strike was a bit of a stretch, as they are renowned for their insatiable appetite. David C. explained that it was about relationships. Barry is a bit more introverted than Dora. Roddie liked the observations on body language and liked how Dora says nothing but has something on her mind. A lot of meaning is conveyed in these short phrases. It is fun writing dialogue, said David C.  and Zusana concurred adding that his dialogue was wonderful and helped to make the characters very vivid. George also agreed and referred to the length of utterances being shorter than written sentences. As an example, he has been trying podcasts and in reading for podcasts had had to write shorter sentences for them than for a blog. Can dogs get their paws in their mouths asked Zusana? Roddie said they could. When they are grooming, suggested Sue. Abby stated that some dogs are bendier than others. David C. disclosed that he had seen a dog stung by wasp and it had indeed put its paw in its mouth. Intimations in general, is about things about to happen and about getting old, and Intimations in particular is about what may happen with Barry and his dog.

With that review concluded Roddie thought to move on to Sue’s story called The Approach of a New Year, a chapter from a story set against the background of the old Tay Rail bridge. Duly read out by Sue, Roddie invited comments. Bravo said George.  Excellent said Zusana. There is a wonderful sense of place, classic in structure, and it is easy to get absorbed by the story. David C. said Sue takes us into the characters and the atmosphere is well done and literally an integral part of what is in fact the background. Fraser said at that first he did not find the Archibald character sympathetic, but the backstory had made him more likeable. Flaws make the character more three dimensional, said Roddie. The characters fit together like a jigsaw leading up to storm and, spoiler alert, the bridge coming down. Preterm births, concerning Elizabeth’s premature labour at six months, is a delicate subject yet it was well put together. George questioned the notion of having one to penny to rub together, suggesting that the phrase accords with the saying about not having two pennies to rub together. He continued by saying that this chapter is a stand-alone piece of writing and wondered whether Archibald is in all the other chapters, adding that all the pieces of the story will come together when the bridge falls down. Roddie asked if there were any further comments to which Fraser added that the quality of the writing was proved by the absence of any problems with which the story attracted. Sue appreciated the comments which gave her hope.

Following this Roddie invited Zusana to read her story called The Bag Trees. This is a story about a hairdresser who moonlights as an environmental magician.

Powerful stuff beautifully written, said Sue. Fraser said it does not look like something you could knock out in an hour. Zusana did not know if it was suitable for the aforementioned competition. Roddie affirmed that there was too much plastic waste about, and this piece was an interesting way to bring the issue to light. Abby opined that this was a magical approach, much like Doctor Seuss, that had a hopeful sort of whimsy to it, were it not for the ending. Ending in a positive note might be good. Positive is good, agreed Zusana, but would not work because short term expediency tends to be what happens, rather than long term good. Zusana is more pessimistic about the way things are going. Roddie thought the piece had the quality of a children’s story, but with adult elements and thought it beautiful. Fraser would like to write something a bit like a children’s story. David C. interjected about the Great Scottish Canvas not being a competition before returning to the piece which he seemed to see as an allegory that serves, in a non-threatening way, to air people’s real concern about the environment and the real difficulties to be faced. He enjoyed the paragraph beginning with ‘This was even better fun . . . not the very important people,’ which he thought emphasised what the tree represents in the story. To pitch it as a children’s story is good idea for it gives the writer more leeway in the world of fantasy. He will read it to his grandchildren and see what they think about the story. Thank you, said Zusana, who was grateful for the suggestions put forward. Roddie ventured into the short termism of governments whose practices never consider further than the next election. Everything is cosmetic. Abby still found the piece fun, and she personally thinks it works for a positive future. To engage people with writing that is magical, can make magical things happen. Zusana said that she could have a range of endings, leaving people to choose their favourite. She will think about that carefully before submitting. George asked to be filled in about what it is for. The World Wildlife Fund, replied Zusana, which concerned Scotland’s future. She continued on the theme of ‘The great Scottish Canvas’ and the remit it says is to paint a picture, through various forms of endeavour, and thereby communicate to people the future of Scotland that they want to see.  The project intends to produce a book and a virtual canvas for the parliament, added Roddie. David C. too saw something about a book. The 30th of May is the deadline. Fraser sent George a link. Zusana thanks everybody for their kind comments

Was there anything else, said Roddie, or should they continue the discussion, but time was marching on and it was to Roddie’s piece that the group then turned their attention. His work is called The Three Hundredth and Ninety Fifth Day: The Shining, which is his take on the political culture that pervades Westminster, with special emphasis on the kind of person that is cultivated by populism.

A tour de force, declared David C. George, with tongue in cheek, said that he had never taken Roddie as a fan of the government. David C. said Roddie gets his evidence from the media. Fraser noted that it was self-evident that the Prime Minister is not as popular north of the border as he is in the south, but that is another story. Roddie went into some self-criticism by noting that the rhyming needed a little tweaking. Fraser thought that two choruses were superfluous, for only one needed. Roddie wondered where he could send the piece. Private Eye, was one suggestion put forward by David C. Razor Cuts, was another proposed by Fraser. Twelve hundred words limit said Roddie, but he might clean it up a bit. The piece was based on a rhyme from Glasgow which may have since been forgotten. It was like a folksong, thought Fraser. Roddie had searched online for the original rhyme but could not find it.

As time was up Roddie offered to carry Fraser’s piece, called Death is No Dominion, over to the next meeting. Fraser said he would do some more work on it. Zusana offered to do the minutes for the next meeting in a fortnight and Sue offered to take the Chair. The next meeting was pencilled in as the 2nd of June 2021. Roddie thanked everyone for taking part, for what was a very varied agenda and looked forward to seeing everyone in a fortnight.

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