This is a serial I began writing in 2010. Sixteen chapters were written and published on a blog. It proved to be quite popular and I’ve been asked many times if I’ll finish it and turn it into a book. I think the time has now come to do that, so, I’m going for publish the first four or five chapter’s on here to see if there really is an audience for it. Thanks for reading. Comments appreciated.
‘Will stared down at the lifeless body of Sir Charles Montague and smiled thinly. It was over, his tormentor was dead. He pulled his sword from the neck of his victim, wiped it on the grass and sheathed it. He looked at the brightening sky, the sun said noon, time to make for Durberry Vale, Elizabeth, and the rest of his life.’
Stephen King looked up from his manuscript and surveyed the hall. The audience of mainly elderly members stared back at him. The silence was deafening. Then from the table behind him came a solitary clap.
Margot Sugden, the writers group secretary, rose to her feet.
‘Thank you for that, Stephen, I’m sure we all found it very interesting. Not many members read the last chapter of their novel on their first manuscript reading but there’s no rule that says you can’t.’
She held up her list and squinted at it.
‘Now, whose turn is it? Ah yes, Deirdre, do you have more from ‘The Quilt? You do? Excellent!’
Stephen made his way to the row of empty chairs at the back of the room and sat down with a sigh.
A white-haired woman turned to face him from the row in front.
‘Awfully good.’ she whispered. ‘For a first timer.’
‘Thank you,’ said Stephen, ‘I don’t think it went down too well.’
‘I think it needs work,’ she replied, ‘quite a bit actually and people tend to read novels from the first chapter here. But you’re writing and getting an audience, that’s what counts.’
She paused, popped a mint into her mouth, thought for a moment, then offered the packet to Stephen.
‘You will find it will take a while to become accepted here. We’re an ancient bunch with a very old-fashioned mentality. We probably see you as a bit of a threat at the moment, but we’ll get used to you…eventually.’
Stephen took a sweet from the end of the roll and smiled.
‘I’ve only written the last five pages of this particular novel so far, ‘I thought if I got the end done, I’d know where I was heading with the story, if you see what I mean.’
A warm round of applause greeted Deirdre as she took to the stage. Mary’s voice dropped to a whisper as she was shushed by the members in front.
‘You ought to be writing horror stories with a name like yours. I’m Mary Clark by the way.’
‘My English teacher said the same thing at school. Nice to meet you, Mary.’
The old woman turned away as the hisses became more urgent. Deirdre was on her feet and people wanted to hear the latest chapter of her epic tale.
‘Jemima Donnelly sat on the cold, damp wooden seat in the air raid shelter as the German bombs crashed around her, on her knee was the family quilt that had been passed down through the generations. Jemima worked by candlelight, she was good with a needle, her hand was steady even if her nerves were not…’
The group filed out for a drinks break at eight pm. Stephen held the door open to allow Mary Clark through, half a dozen members took the opportunity to get to the bar first and pushed through with her. Stephen stood patiently and held the door as the entire membership left the room. He received one or two nods and a smile for his trouble.
He walked down the stair with Margot and Harriet, the club’s chair.
‘Deirdre’s Quilt piece was well received,’ he said.
‘Always is,’ replied Margot. ‘She’s one of our stalwarts is Deirdre.’
‘She read from it last meeting and the one before that I seem to remember, everyone seems to know the plot. She must have been writing it for quite a time.’
‘Years, ‘ said Harriet. ‘The Quilt was started in 1790 by an ancestor of the present heroine. She made the first square while waiting for the guillotine during the French Revolution. Deirdre’s been working on the same story for forty years.’
‘It must cover a few volumes by now then,’ said Stephen.
‘Reams,’ agreed Harriet. She writes it all out in long hand you know. She doesn’t use a word processor.’
Stephen opened the door to the bar and followed the women into the room. Margot retrieved a hanky from her bag and blew her nose noisily.
‘We sent a letter to a publisher on her behalf once, but they wanted her to have it typed up before they would read it, so she didn’t bother. It would cost her a fortune. It must run to a few thousand pages by now.’
The two women stood at the bar and fiddled with their bags. Stephen took the hint.
‘Could I get you a drink, ladies?’
‘G and T for me,’ said Harriet. ‘I’ll be sat in the corner.’
‘Just a half of lager, for me,’ said Margot. ‘I’m driving.’
Stephen carried the drinks over to the corner table and carefully placed them in front of the group leaders.
Harriet downed half of the gin in one go then nursed the glass close to her chest.
‘Bliss,’ she said. ‘It’s amazing how stressful these manuscript meetings can be.’
Margot sipped her lager and nodded in agreement.
‘Competition judging is worse though.’
She got to her feet, glass in hand.
‘The suggestions box is on the bar should anyone have any ideas about how to spice things up a bit and make these evenings even more enjoyable. There are postcards and pens on the tables and anonymity is assured. We’ll read one or two ideas out at the end of the meeting.’
Half a dozen members reached for the pens. A few others whispered their ideas to each other.
Stephen turned to look for a chair and felt twenty-five pairs of eyes boring into the back of his head. There were no chairs available so he turned back to the group, sat on the end of a table and sipped his orange juice.
‘So, how long have you all been coming here?’ he asked.
Twenty-three conversations began at once, none of them requiring a reply from him.
Stephen drained his glass and walked to the bar. He put down his empty glass and stared into the mirror behind the optics. On impulse he picked up a couple of postcards, wrote on the back and dropped them into the box.
He was surprised to hear a voice behind him.
‘Never mind them, they’ll come around.’
Stephen turned to find Mary Clark looking up at him.
‘They’re not over friendly, are they?’
Mary popped a mint into her mouth and began to suck.
‘They are frightened of change, that’s all it is. Things have been the same for so long that they know exactly what to expect at every meeting. They know where they fit into the pecking order. They all turn up to applaud the winners on competition night and they all get a chance to read their latest tome at the manuscript meetings. They feel secure; some of them have been members for over fifty years. Over time their writing has improved, sometimes not by much, but they know they’ll always get a sympathetic hearing here.’
‘I didn’t,’ laughed Stephen.
Mary patted his hand.
‘Give it time. You’re new and you didn’t start your story from the beginning, they aren’t used to that. Add in the fact that they were expecting a poem from Valerie Sharp but got your medieval murder mystery instead, and you can see why they weren’t quite as receptive as they might have been.’
‘I’m not that new, I’ve been to five meetings now, this is my third manuscript meeting. It’s the first time I’ve managed to get on the reading list though.’
Mary’s voice dropped to a whisper.
‘Don’t let on that I told you, but you only got on the list because Valerie rang in to say her partner has had a funny turn. If she had turned up you wouldn’t have read tonight. You were our substitute reader so to speak. I’m surprised you even got that spot to be honest; Martin Stanley normally brings something in for emergencies like this. He must have forgotten his folder tonight.’
Stephen looked over at the crowd in the corner; twenty-five pairs of eyes stared back.
Mary popped another mint into her mouth and turned her back to the group.
‘They work the reading list out weeks in advance. There is limited time you see. The older members like Deirdre, Ted and Valerie, get to read every time. Others like Ted’s grandson get to read at least once every couple of months. You shouldn’t have been down to read for a long while yet. I know it doesn’t seem fair, but we have to look after the established members, they are the lifeblood of the group, without them we’d have folded long ago. The good news is that once you’re on the reading list, you stay on it. You’ll get to read your stuff at regular intervals now.’
‘I’m not sure I want to after tonight,’ laughed Stephen. He nodded towards the group. ‘Are any of them published?’
‘Oh yes, Ted’s had many a letter in the Westwich Herald and Margot once had an article published in the Guardian.’
She put her hand to her mouth and looked around to make sure no one could hear.
‘An article in the Guardian is the pinnacle apparently.’
‘Anyone had a book published?’ asked Stephen.
‘Valerie had a couple of books of poetry published in the sixties. Ted insists he had a book published just after the war but no one can find a record of it. In the sixties and seventies, we had half a dozen published authors on the books, but they either moved away or died. At one time, we had over three hundred members, now we’re down to about sixty. Some only turn up for competition results night or when it’s their turn to read.’
She popped another mint into her mouth.
‘I’m not addicted to these; I’ve just given up smoking.’
‘Well done, I gave up a couple of years ago, it isn’t easy.’
‘It isn’t when you’ve had the habit for fifty years. It’s like a bereavement.’
Mary crunched her mint and took Stephen’s arm.
‘Come on, they’ll be going back up in a second.’
She looked up into his face.
‘We do have some younger members, if you stick around, you’ll get to meet them. They always turn up on competition night; they’ve won quite a few too. Some of them are very good, even Ted has admitted as much. In private of course.’
Margot got to her feet and clapped.
‘Okay people, let’s get back to it.’
The members filtered out onto the stair well and began the slow climb back up to the meeting room. A few dropped postcards into the suggestion box. An elderly man grabbed Mary’s arm as he passed and began to lead her out of the bar. He glared over his shoulder at Stephen.
‘I know your game,’ he hissed.
The man let go of Mary’s arm and walked back to Stephen.
‘If you think you can worm your way in by giving free drinks to the committee, you can think again. We don’t like pushy types around here.’
Stephen laughed and shook his head.
‘I’m not trying to worm my way into anything.’
‘You’ve had a reading and you’ve only been here two minutes.’
‘I was lucky, someone got ill.’
The man pointed to his right eye.
‘Lucky or not, I’m going to be watching you, very carefully.’