Thursday, June 22, 2006

John Baker and a surprise

Last night's writing group talk was very interesting. John Baker was a member of the group for many years and had lots of useful things to say about writing. He began by pointing out that he could only say all the usual stuff about writing a novel: there is no one way, no formula; writers are those who write; there are a lot people who say they want to write, but don't make the time; lots of people have ideas, but don't carry them through. As he said, all very familiar, but it bears saying again, just in case there is somoneone who hasn't realised. But he also spoke about his meeting with Kurt Vonnegut. The author of Slaughter House Five visited York to lecture some time ago, and John positioned himself in the middle of the front row. After the lecture, John kept asking questions, which he confessed were rather pretentious. In the end, he asked so many questions Vonnegut ignored him, deliberately looking elsewhere to give other people a chance. But afterward, Vonnegut sent an attendant to invite John to dinner.

Vonnegut talked and John listened. The author spoke about life and writing. And the next day, they went to the Post Office to see a Counter Assistant who had caught Vonnegut's eye. The experience sounded very magical and very intense. Vonnegut and Baker still meet up, when Vonnegut is on tour. I'll always remember John Baker's talk.

Oh, and the competition ... It's just as well Martyn didn't manage to put an entry in. The competition had only two entries, so they cancelled it. I was quite disappointed, as it would have been good to hear Baker give some feedback; I think it would have been very well considered. Baker said that competitions like this were a valuable chance to get feedback. That was precisely why I entered last year, though haven't had a chance to act on the comments. But as a group member pointed out, it's hard to get something as long as novel out every year. Even though it was only the first 5000 words, really the person is planning on completing it. Hence six entries last year, and only two this year. On the bright side, I get to keep the cup another year :-)


At 4:06 pm BST, Blogger Carla said...

What a pity the competition was cancelled! Though it is nice that you get to keep the cup for another year - that seems only fair considering you missed out on it for so much of this year. I'm wondering if there might have been people who didn't enter because they thought there'd be too many entries? And it also takes a lot of nerve to hand something in to a public forum knowing that the feedback will be in public. I take off my hat to people who can do that.
It sounds like a memorable talk.

At 6:18 pm BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

It's quite a small group - or at least those who attend number around 10-12 per meeting (it was down to 9 yesterday). Plus not all are working on novels, as some mostly do poems, short stories or articles. So six entries the previous year was probably pretty good. As a member said, churning out another idea the next year is difficult. Interestingly, the cup, previous to my win in 2005 was awarded 2003. For some reason, this year they went for annually, and it didn't work For next year, I could revise SoD and see how that goes down, but I'm not sure if I fancy pushing my luck. Poor SoD has been critted to death ;-)

Frankly, I don't think I heard any feedback to any of last year's entries that matched the negative aspects I got from online hf crit groups. So a public forum holds little terror to me.

At 7:38 pm BST, Blogger Carla said...

Maybe the cup should be awarded biennially. What were the online hf crit groups, if you don't mind my asking? I was wondering about looking for an online critique group - any recommendations to consider (or to avoid) gratefully received.

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