What Harriet had brought us was the latest edition of the Parish News.
“I picked it up from the Church on the way here,” she said. “It hasn’t been circulated yet, so you are the first to know. Page 18.” she added. “It‘s an article about Charlene‘s writing group.”
It went like this:
“A CUT ABOVE!
AXIS, A NEW LITERARY GROUP, AIMED AT THE SERIOUS WRITERS IN OUR COMMUNITY , IS NOW UP AND RUNNING, AND MEETING IN THE CHURCH HALL EVERY MONDAY MORNING AT TEN.
THE GROUP AIMS TO BRING FIRST CLASS TUITION TO THOSE WHO WISH TO CONCENTRATE THEIR WRITING ON THE IMPORTANT THINGS IN LIFE, ILLUMINATING TODAY’S SOCIAL AND MORAL VALUES – AND AVOIDING THE EXPLICIT AND THE UNPALATABLE WHICH CHARACTERISES THE APPROACH ADVOCATED BY OTHER WRITING GROUPS UNDER THE GUISE OF MODERN OR CONTEMPORARY WRITING.
THE LEADER OF THE GROUP, CHARLENE MONKTON HAS A FIRM ADHERENCE TO THOSE VALUES WHICH MATTER TO MOST OF US. A NATIONALLY KNOWN AND PROLIFIC AUTHOR OF BOTH FICTION AND NON FICTION, SHE WISHES TO SHARE HER EXTENSIVE EXPERIENCE AS AN ESTABLISHED WRITER WITH THOSE AMATEURS KEEN TO GET STARTED ON THE PUBLISHING LADDER.”
After the room had quietened down, they all looked at me.
“Nothing surprising there,” I said sounding milder than I felt. “This is just reflecting what Charlene thinks of herself.”
“She can’t have written this,” Jill was apoplectic. “We all know she can’t spell.”
“There’s a lot of input from the Vicar in it,” Harriet pointed out. “All this stuff about social and moral values. Axis is holding its meetings in the church hall after all. .”
“But what’s this about the explicit and the unpalatable which characterises other writing groups, – presumably that’s us?” Phyllis asked, offended.
We all looked at Harriet.
“Well, Charlene told everyone that the Circle produced disgusting work with profanities and explicit sex in it, and that Jay encouraged it.”
We all looked at Dick.
“What?” he demanded.
“That’s because we broke from the Book Club,” Jill said, defensively. “They said our selection of books was pornography. And they’ve never let us forget it”.
“What books is that?” Dick asked, with his pen ready.
“There are a number of people in Axis who are willing to listen to the worst about The Circle and Jay in particular, ” Harriet said, delicately. “And Charlene is quite willing to oblige. What I do find surprising is that the Vicar is so willing to believe it.”
They all looked at me.
“Oh?” I said, non committally.
“You haven’t had any fallings out with the vicar as well, have you?” Duncan asked.
“Who else has got it in for us?” Nicola asked, squaring her shoulders.
“Well, Glenda Harris-Bourne, the chairwoman of the Village Ladies Society,” Harriet said, and stared at me. Shit, I thought. Not Glenda as well. “She’s also quite ready to run you down, Jay.”
“The last I heard, she wasn’t speaking to Charlene, after Charlene instigated that coup to oust Glenda and install herself as Chairwoman of the Ladies Group. ” Phyllis put in.
“What’s that?” May asked, having missed most of it.
“Well, Glenda’s had a total about face, “ Harriet told us. “Jay is the villain of the day.”
“How come you upset so many people in the village??” Anthony asked, fixing me with a hard, all too shrewd stare. I didn’t know what personality he had adopted today, but this really annoyed me. I decided to ignore him.
“Is Marilyn Taylor on their membership list by any chance?” I asked casually.
“Someone else you fell out with?” Anthony persisted.
I ignored him again.
“What, the barmaid in the Red Lion?” Harriet asked. “No. Why?”
“Oh, no reason,” I backed off. If village gossip followed its usual course they would all find out soon.
Duncan, rousing himself to utter a gem straight from my Social Comment; How far you can go handout: “If we concentrated on the social and moral values of life, without sex and the unpalatable as contrasts we’d never sell anything.”
“We never sell anything anyway,” Nicole snapped.
“Only because we never send anything off,” Jill fought back.
Steven, so far silent, said thoughtfully: “I always admired Charlene for speaking her mind, but it does occur to me, that she has rather over stated her qualifications here. For example: prolifically published; established national author: and extensive experience.”
“Extensive collection of rejection slips,“ Nicola snarled.
“From what I recall, she’s only ever had those two short stories published in People’s Friend.” Jill said. Nobody mentioned the recipe that went wrong.
“We only ever had her word for it,” Phyllis put it. “I buy it every week and I’ve never seen a story by Charlene Monkton in it.”
“Perhaps she used a pen name,” Steven, ever generous, suggested.
Everyone laughed raucously. “Not Charlene,” Harriet spoke for everyone. “If she had a story published she would have her name written all over it. Ten feet high.”
Anthony cleared his throat. I gave him a hard stare, in case he came all over shrewd again. But he had apparently gone into legal mode. “Some of this is libellous by implication. Should be sorted in a court of law.” He then proceeded to take notes on a yellow notepad.
“ I can’t see how Charlene could take them in,” Jill said. “Everyone knows Jay is a professional writer.”
“Jay’s a damned good tutor,” Nicole stated with a flash of her eyes that dared anyone to challenge her. Nobody did, I ’m gratified to say.
“That’s not a problem for Charlene – she’s quite capable of giving herself a reputation as a first rate teacher,” Harriet said, with a glance at me and tapped the Parish magazine again. “See Page 22.”
We all turned pages, and read.
“AXIS; CHARLENE MONKTON’S SUPERIOR WRITING GROUP – PROGRAMME 2012.
HERE IS THE PROGRAMME OF LECTURES I HAVE WRITTEN SPECIALLY FOR BEGINNERS.
1. GETTING STARTED. HOW TO IMPRESS YOUR EDITOR.
2. STATING YOUR VIEWS; SOCIAL COMMENT AND HOW FAR TO GO.
3. RESEARCH, STYLE AND CONTENT.
4. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT; STORY STRUCTURE AND DEVELOPMENT
5. WRITING FOR READING ALOUD; HOW TO INTRIGUE YOUR AUDIENCE.
6. DIALOGUE; HOW TO WRITE LIKE WOT PEOPLE SPEAK LIKE! “
This time the group did not erupt. Instead one by one they raised their heads and gasped at me. I was so flabbergasted I couldn’t trust myself to speak.
“But that’s … those are the titles of the hand outs you have given us!”
Jill burst out. “She didn’t write them … Jay did!”
“Even the titles are the same!”
“Charlene hasn’t got the nous to even envisage this kind of programme,” Duncan observed.
“Let alone the spelling capability.”
“And these are the articles you told us are going to use in your book!” Phyllis gasped.
“Theft of copyright! ” Anthony announced with a spark of satisfaction.
They stared and I sat in shock.
“Exactly.” Harriet agreed with a certain amount of relish. “She’s got a big folder with photocopies of all the handouts that Jay has ever written for the Circle! And she’s giving them out telling everyone that they are all her own work.”
Copyright Denise Leppard