It was in the nature of the Writer’s Circle that outside the core of permanent members, others came and went: some believing they were too good, some believing they were not good enough, some believing that Writer’s Circle was really just a euphemism for something much closer to their own interests. The latter were apt to be men and liable to attend only once. Most sloped away at the mid-evening interval to find a phone booth with cards offering the French Lessons that were more in tune with the horizons they wished to broaden. All new attendees fell under the suspicious glare of Deidre, unaware at this point, of the irony that, whilst she wrote of love and implied sex, she was herself, almost the very definition of an anti-aphrodisiac (whatever that might be): think of having to look at a plate of ready shucked oysters; think of the eventual fall-out from a passion-inflaming Vindaloo; think of Bernard Manning in his vest and pants*.
In truth Ms Desmond (Nee Desmond) had never been one for real-life romance. Having lived her formative years exclusively through the pages of Bunty and Jackie and later, as her hormones began to wreak havoc with her laced-in soul, Pride and Prejudice, she had consolidated in her head and loins the image of Man as Darcy, which she knew in reality no man could ever match. And so it was. No man ever did. Few even tried.
Even in her teenage prime, Deidre had been formidable. She vowed that she would never succumb to a man until he proved worthy of her attentions. She quickly learned that there was no such man. She never succumbed. Whatever the gifts she had to bestow, they were never bestowed to another – although her passions were, on occasions, fully sated in the company of Fitzwilliam – often with such gusto that eventually her mother had to sell the cat and buy earmuffs. The maelstrom of desire that swirled within her became, a churning sea of rage fuelled both by the men who failed so abjectly to measure up to her aspirations and by the women who were willing to settle for these less-than-ideal souls. That they all appeared to be so much more content than herself, it seemed, never occurred to her.
Some newcomers, obviously, did return to the fold and the circle expanded. Deidre was far more welcoming to female newbies whilst the men were occasionally too thick-skinned to be put off. The dark cold days of winter saw the numbers at their sparsest, along with the longer summer days, which saw potential members surrender to the siren call of beach and beer-garden. Accordingly spring and autumn were peak times, when the room often contained more bums than seats and more unfinished manuscripts than a journalist’s bottom drawer. Some never read to the Circle, some, almost certainly, never wrote, but despite the edginess that pervaded the room from time to time, there was friendship and laughter too. In many respects it was like a return to school – only without head lice and threadworm.
It was in its very nature that the Circle attracted single people. The only regular member to have a spouse was Frankie. Wednesdays (Circle Day) was his evening, whilst his wife played badminton with the Wilsons from next-door and Mr Pettigrew from 42 on Fridays. Dick Hart, it was rumoured, was married once, before he had a motorway flyover built on the bridge of the dearly departed’s nose. Elizabeth had been happily married for thirty years until she was widowed by a bus (driven by a young man attempting to raise a house deposit by working three consecutive shifts without break) and Louise had recently divorced a passive/aggressive nutter, who had burned all of her clothes and fed the hamster to next-door’s cat. At least, that is what she said. All of them were looking for friendship and they all found it in this little room above the Steam Hammer public house which overlooked the luxury flats that now occupied the red brick fortress, formerly the home of Chaste and Sons Foundry.
Of course, not a single one of them would ever admit that companionship was the reason for their attendance. They were all aspiring writers – even those who never brought a word to the group. None of them would be happy with the suggestion that they came here for some kind of comradeship. After all, few of them actually liked anybody else in their little literary company. The Circle was a sounding-board, somewhere to come and try out what they had written and, if they hadn’t actually written anything that week, well the others would miss them if they didn’t come along.
In fact, Deidre aside, who in truth cared more about what the Circle had to say about her books than she would ever admit, the only two members who ever wrote systematically, Frankie and Phil, seldom read to the group. What Frankie wrote made him money, but was simply not the sort of thing you read out loud to Deidre and Penny; what Phil wrote was only just coalescing into the form he wanted. It was his first novel (although not his last) and despite the image he sought to create, he was deadly serious about its creation. He would read when he was ready. He knew that a bad reception would stop him in his tracks. Of the most recent members, Richard Hart would, ultimately, become the most successful ‘author’ in the room without ever actually writing a single word himself. Both The Sun and The Star had offered to ‘ghost’ his lurid and bloody memoir in return for ‘exclusive’ access to its contents. Hart would eventually sign for the highest bidder, but not until he had checked with his lawyer. He had spent many years in prison and he had to be sure that none of his confessions would buy him more time inside. Especially since he had the nagging feeling that he recognised the newest member in the room – and he didn’t want to be interviewed by her again…
*Try Google Image if you dare.