As all writers and readers know, the idea of book groups appealed widely and now there are countless numbers of groups across the country as well as, no doubt, other countries.
Years ago, I was a member of an online book group. It was run the same as other groups: one member suggested a book, we all discussed, posting our opinions and ideas in turn. At the time we were spending quite a bit of time in St Petersburg so I chose Crime and Punishment. It was possible to visit many of the places in that romantic city which featured in the narrative and also to trace the steps of Raskolnikov as he sought out the pawnbroker in her flat and murdered her. I revelled in the opportunity of posting photographs of the famous landmarks on our path to the entrance of the flat.
Today I am no longer a member of a book group but welcome the invitation to visit groups to listen to readers’ comments on the memoir and to answer questions raised by the situations in The Baby Box.
Groups vary of course. My first such meeting was attended by local friends and neighbours. Eleven people, including our host, sat in a circle in her sitting room, drinking coffee and eating cakes. Questions ranged from the personal, ‘how could I ever forgive my mother?’, to the revealing, ‘was I punished more harshly because I was an only child?’ (I wasn’t, my two brothers didn’t feature in the book since they played no part in the drama) to the technical, ‘how did you manage to write such a traumatic story?’ My answer, it didn’t seem traumatic at the time and only occurred to me that it might have been as I put the words on paper and re-created the scenes. The readers were a disparate group and the session ended leaving me with the feeling that there was no cohesion of thought or reaction.
Another group makes an interesting comparison. Our host was a writing colleague from my Chichister Uni MA days, although she no longer writes. She is a recently retired teacher and many of the group were former teachers. We met on a summer’s evening in her garden. The group formed an oval rather than a circle, possibly excluding two of the members from commenting easily but we had a full and energetic discussion. Several readers had brought their copies of The Baby Box, many pages of which were marked by slips of yellow post-it notes or, in the case of one, bright green page markers. People read aloud their favourite paragraphs or phrases, making the evening a delight for me, enjoying such flattery.
The questions were less personal, more technical even academic. Why a memoir? Why not a novel? And the comments directed at the text, ‘I really enjoyed the happy switch to the home’ or ‘those stories of the other girls were so intersting’, and ‘I must say how funny you made it all. Was that intentional?’ One question, ‘What is a construct?’ and my answer, ‘Let’s look at the first page of The Baby Box,’ is the subject of the next blog.
Certainly I appreciated how thoroughly they had prepared for the evening and we all laughed a great deal as well as shed the odd tear (me). We’d been prepped well by our host providing a tasty cold supper with plenty of fizz and white wine, which, no doubt helped towards the success of the evening, which ended with the secretary of the group confirming the next book and the date of the next meeting.
I am happy to travel anywhere within a radius of two hours travel from London to meet a book group. I don’t ask for expenses (have Freedom Pass + Railcard = Will travel) just that at least 4 books are bought directly from me (Post Free) through the page Buy the Book on my website – and that we end early enough for me to get back to London.