Last night I went to the writing group in Battersea for the second time. I won’t go again. I left angry.
I was late. There was a bottleneck at Kew Bridge. There often is a bottleneck at Kew Bridge.
By the time I got there they had started. The organiser had already left. The co-organiser was charing. He was one of the people I thought I would eventually have trouble with. There was clearly some kind of rivalry.
I found a seat. Only three people had put their names down on the meet.up page. There were ten people there. Some of them were new. Some of the regulars just hadn’t been at the last meeting.
We read round the room. I couldn’t concentrate. I have that problem before. It does not mean that I think what I am listening to is bad. it means I am bored. I think it is dull.
One young woman who had been before and read something before but who wasn’t there last time read from what appeared to be the draft of a young adult coming of age novel set in Algeria. The chapter was about young girls getting involved in a divination ritual. The young woman was quite competent.
The others were either incompetent or silly. A couple of them were writing personal stuff. That’s more difficult to do than people think.
The comments would have made sense if what was being commented on had any value. It didn’t. The comments represented an extraordinary over-valuation of some pretty trivial stuff.
A couple of people who couldn’t write tried to tell the competent young woman that her vocabulary was too elaborate. They seemed to be saying ‘Write like me.’
The chair left me till last. It was deliberate. He didn’t make eye contact. I thought it was what some people call ‘passive aggression’.
Before I read the chair had a go at me. What did I want from the group?
We had had that conversation before. I ended up being more openly aggressive. I said I wasn’t interested in feedback, critiques or workshopping.
I wanted to read. I wanted to read a whole chapter. I wanted to read without getting stressed. I more or less managed it.
The man who had made intelligent comments last time said it reminded him of Eisenstein. The competent young woman said it reminded her of a Portuguese novelist. Other than that I might as well have been reading into a vacuum.
One man said he didn’t want to read it. I told him the story of how I came to write the novel: the story about the young woman who was raped in prison.
That was a very aggressive thing to do.
I was angry. It’s an angry book. I wrote it out of anger. I was angry with the group. I was angry with what was going on in the room.
It’s not about amateurishness. It’s about seriousness. I will defend my book against all comers. I believe in it passionately.
I have nothing in common with those people. I need to find readers and make contact with other writers. I won’t do it there.
I went back to Clapham Junction. I heard saxophones. I thought the music was coming from the windows of an upper storey. When I crossed the road and looked back I saw a band on the corner.
I went back. I took a photograph. I didn’t put money in the instrument case.
They were performing in public. I was on the street with a camera. i didn’t have to pay.
I was under no more obligation to them than to the members of the writing group.