Discussions revolving around the relative merits of different writing genres seldom made for an easy evening in the Circle, but revolve they certainly did: round and round and round, becoming ever more fractious and bitter. Alliances were swiftly forged and almost as quickly broken. By the middle of the session, nobody was talking rationally: voices were raised, tempers frayed, yet by the session’s end, all was light. Everybody was prepared to back-track, post-gin, and in the long term these sessions had never seen a permanent rift; although if you joined them in the moments before the bar opened, you would be hard pressed to conclude that World War Three was not about to break out. The truth is that almost all of the Club’s members enjoyed this monthly, ritual blood-letting and the opportunity to air unsubstantiated prejudices was one that was eagerly grasped by all.
Somehow it almost always began with an attack on Deidre and the relative worthlessness of ‘Romance’ as a genre. Deidre would defend herself and her domain by name-checking Jane Austen and Emily Bronte as fairly notable exponents. Frankie would point out that neither of these worthies were particularly well-known for their ‘tuppeny ha’penny bodice ripping contributions to the Mills & Boons cannon,’ and Deidre would fire back by pointing out that, if he considered an attack on her own publishers to be appropriate, it would be polite of him to name his own publishers so that they too could be held to account. Crude, but effective. Everybody knew that Deidre was the only member of the Circle with a publisher.
Phil Fontaine, who himself had a little kudos, being the only member with a professional agent, always defended Frankie who, if truth were known, was the only member of the group who actually made any money from writing. (The writing of jokes will never win you a Booker Prize but, if you are prepared to send them, uncomplaining, to the kind of comedians who are prepared to pay up front in order to claim them as their own, can put food on your table.) From here, the progress was predictable and inexorable; trenches were dug, pants were hitched and sides were taken. It was an unfortunate feature of the Circle that the divisions, themselves, seldom varied. A little variety would most certainly have added a little spice to the regular contretemps. Elizabeth Walton (Family Saga) would leap to Deidre’s defence – usually much to the dismay of the indefatigable Ms Desmond, who did not feel that she needed such support – quickly backed-up by Jane Herbert (Horror) and Louise Child (Thriller). Penny, anticipating an attack on her own literary niche, which she feared she was neither strong enough nor quick witted enough to debunk, would jump on-board later, when she was quite sure that the ship was not sinking.
Effectively the warring factions so assembled: the five regular female members pitched against the men. Frankie and Phil – almost always together, united by a shared sense of humour and the knowledge that none of it really mattered – accompanied by Richard Hart (who wrote reminiscences from his gangland past, largely involving axes, hammers and all manner of electrical equipment, most of which would have been more at home in a wood yard, and who scared the living daylights out of Terry Teasdale) Billy Hunter (Modern Playwright) and Terry himself (who realised that, if trapped in a small room, it was always wise to be on the same side as Richard in any argument that might, conceivably, be resolved via the swinging of pool cues), much to the dismay of Frankie and Phil who, if truth be told, would prefer other company. It was difficult to find reasons to feel bonded to these three men, and even more so to align yourself with them and their opinions, which, to put it charitably, veered at times towards the kind of incomprehensible and indefensible gibberish that could see them elected to parliament.
Whilst Deidre bridled easily at perceived effrontery, Elizabeth, Jane and Louise were somewhat more measured in their arguments. Together with Frankie and Phil they viewed the whole evening as a game of cut and thrust; points to both score and concede. These five disparate souls massively enjoyed sharpening their wits and searching for the kind of acid barbs that, if accurate, actually raised a smile on the faces of the ‘opposition’. Penny desperately wanted to take part, but she was horribly aware of her tendency to blush each time debate put her face-to-face with Phil and thus remained somewhat half-hearted in her participation. Everybody noticed, but nobody drew attention to it, other than Terry, who was completely without the kind of filters normally associated with social living. A man with no friends, he felt nothing but contempt for those who might attempt to befriend him and Penny was exactly that sort of person. She wanted – really wanted – to find the good in everyone: to find some reason in their past that might explain the need for aggression and unpleasantness. It was easy to find with Terry, but there was no reward for addressing it. Whatever it was that had pushed Terry towards the unpleasant, it didn’t really matter. He had allowed himself to be pushed; he had wallowed in his destination, and, as far as Penny was concerned, there was nothing to be gained from dragging the loathsome little shit out of it. She bristled each time he spoke and there was no attempt to soften her words of antipathy.
In fact, perversely, it was the heat of these occasional clashes between Penny and Terry that generally led to a softening of stances and a dampening of tempers. Frankie and Phil pointedly refused to support Terry’s attacks on poetry as an art form. Dick Hart, whose only connection with poetry was through his childhood attachment to Winnie the Pooh, had only to glower at Terry, for him to realise the error of his ways. There is nothing like the threat of a cleaver in the back of the head to soften a strident stance.
Mid-session alcohol further softens hardened stances and, when Richard Hart takes to his feet around half-past nine, politely making his excuses, but never disguising the fact that he has to be home before the ten o’clock curfew – husbanded by the ‘tag’ on his ankle – even Terry Teasdale determinedly becomes less abrasive. By the time the meetings are ready to close, even Penny has decided against vandalising his car. All alliances restored, all genres accepted. The writers back in their circle.