On Thursday night I went to a book group meeting. Not to take part as a reader, but to talk about and answer questions about “Shadows on the Grass.”
The first thing I had to do, before the event, was to do a quick skim read of the novel. This might sound strange, but I find with everything I write, that once it has achieved its final form, being published in the case of a novel, or performed if it is a play, then I’ve let it go and in that letting go I can forget salient points of the plot, or themes of the book. So, in case anyone asked me a question I wouldn’t be able to answer, I spent the afternoon reading.
Because it was important to arrive on time and I had a forty minute drive, I left early. It was a lovely sunny evening. The sun was low and I didn’t hurry, even though at some point a strange icon appeared on the screen and our new Toyota Rav seemed to be telling me that I was in need of a cup of tea.
Having just had a coffee before I set out, I was not convinced by this piece of information, although I was slightly worried by accompanying message that said simply “Sway Warning.” Since I had no idea what this might mean, I had to pull up and leaf hurriedly through the handbook, in which it did not appear. Since it obviously could not be serious, I continued my journey, but taking care not to sway in any discernible way.
The meeting was hosted by an old friend and there was time for the cup of tea, which my Rav had kindly suggested that I might need, and a chat before the rest of the group arrived.
It’s difficult to describe what it felt like seeing people taking out my novel and preparing to discuss it as they would any other book. I was excited, warmed and also validated by being seen as not only a friend, but also a writer, because although I knew some of the group from way back when, that evening I was there in my role as the author of “Shadows on the Grass.”
I gave a brief introduction about how the novel came to be written. Initially, it was a way of finding out about the history of the country my parents had come from, but as my researches continued I drew more and more on my family history and there are incidents in the book that are directly drawn from what happened to my mother, grandmother and uncle during WW2.
None of it, however, is pure memoir. Everything I have written has been fictionalised. My characters are not based on real people and I most certainly am not the teenage Kate living through the shifting cultural era that was the 1960s. I was there, but I wasn’t her.
Names and the power of your own name, is one of the themes of the book that was discussed. Having had mine changed by the nuns at school, because they couldn’t, or wouldn’t cope with a pupil called Malgorzata Chmielinska, it is something that has always resonated with me and I find a book doesn’t flow until I have the right names for my characters.
I was also asked where I write, how often, do I mind when my editor tells me I should make changes and a host of other questions that the group had prepared. It was their preparation that made the evening work so well.
What also made it, was their warm welcome and the fact that the group knew each other they meet to talk about books.
By ten thirty it was time to wrap up the evening. I’d thoroughly enjoyed myself and set off home, still driving more slowly than usual, just in case.
I’d had a great time. The Rav and I arrived without incident and I sent everyone a complimentary copy of “The Making of a Revolutionary”, the prequel to “Shadows on the Grass” as a thank you.