Write To Reply

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Patrick had been writing fiction for years, when he hears of a writing group in his area he hopes to meet people as serious about writing as he is.

Patrick Miller adjusted his bag on his shoulder and took a deep breath before pushing through the creaking double doors of the old scout hut. The seven people sitting around the long table in the middle of the room turned to see who was joining them. A woman in her fifties got to her feet, smiling politely. She removed her reading glasses.

‘Good evening,’ she said. ‘It’s Patrick, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, that’s right.’

‘I’m Susan. We spoke on the phone. Come, take a seat. Welcome to the group.’

Patrick crossed the room feeling awkward and nervous. Despite his reservations he was eager and excited to get started. The other members of the group were all over fifty years old, more than a decade older than he was. Their smiles and their welcomes were more polite and curious than inviting.

The Write Track group had been meeting every Thursday evening for just over three years. Every week the members would read out their writing to discuss and critique each other’s work.

‘Cup of tea?’

‘Oh, yes please.’ said Patrick.

He was handed a pale blue cup and saucer. A woman called Joy offered him a biscuit from a tin. The room was filled with the rattling of teacups, slurping and the clattering of the tin as the members rummaged for their favourite biscuit. The atmosphere was completely different to what he had been expecting. He had been prepared for a group of serious writers, dedicated to their craft. However, the topics being discussed as they swigged their tea did not fill him with much faith. Trevor complained about the local bus service and how the 100 had been re-routed due to the roadworks near the rugby ground. Debbie interrupted the conversation to boast how her grandson had been made supervisor at the shipping company he worked at. The feel of the group was more like a community centre coffee morning than a group dedicated to the art of writing.

The others seemed to know each other well and had been clearly been attending the evenings for quite some time. There were lots of in-jokes and mentions of great nieces and nephews and grandchildren. Patrick sipped his tea and listened to the chatter. Eventually Susan tapped her teaspoon gently on the brim of her teacup.

‘Let’s get started, shall we?’

A hush descended over the group. Gael mouthed that she would tell Derek later the rest of the anecdote she had been telling him.

‘First of all, I would like to welcome Patrick to the group. Welcome to the Write Track. Just try to keep up tonight. I’m sure you’ll be fine. New members have to attend for four weeks before sharing their writing with the group.’

Patrick nodded but couldn’t help wondering when the group had last had a new member.

‘Moira,’ said Susan, waving a hand, ‘would you like to start this week?’

Moira nodded and dramatically cleared her throat. She shuffled and fussed with her papers like a prime-time newsreader. The group waited as she found the opening page in her stack of papers. Patrick wondered what her piece would be.

‘On Wednesday this week I went to the garden centre.’ she began.

Surely not, thought Patrick. He had an awful feeling that the garden centre, far from being the setting for her story, was in fact the actual subject of the piece. His suspicions were correct. Moira had written a rambling piece detailing her trip to the garden centre and listing all the wonderful things she’s seen, and the delights of the on-site café.

Patrick tried to hide his disappointment and kept his gaze on the tabletop. What Moira had written completely lacked creativity. It wasn’t creative writing. It was writing solely on the bases that she had written it down on paper. What next, he wondered, would Malcolm be reading us his shopping list?

As Moira waffled on the rest of the group nodded and made appreciative noises. When she finished, she gave a short bow, and said ‘thank you’ with all the grace and air of a Poet Laureate. The others clapped and exclaimed how much they had enjoyed her reading. Patrick simply nodded and made sure his smile didn’t slip. If he voiced his honest opinion, they would accuse him of being pretentious and having delusions of grandeur. He didn’t think that was the case. He took the art of writing extremely seriously and he had hoped this group shared his values.

Next up was Derek, a gentleman wearing glasses and V-neck jumper. He read a piece he’d written about his grandchildren. It was a step in the right direction but wasn’t particularly creative. Once Derek had finished the piece, the group applauded and enthused over his writing. Patrick got the feeling that he could have read the back of a bus ticket to this lot and they would give him a round of applause. They seemed like a nice bunch but hardly the best judges of literature.

As Patrick was hoping the next person would be a bit more creative, Jean read a piece she’d written about when she’d moved to Salford from Rochdale in the late 1980’s. Patrick sighed to himself. Her article was just so dull. If she had moved here from an exotic clime then he would have been interested what an outsider made of the industrial North West. But to write about moving from Rochdale, that was just ridiculous. There was nothing of interest at all in the piece. There was no story, no beginning, middle and end. If she’d have detailed her struggle to settle in to a new town, how she had triumphed over adversity, or if she had captured the era she was writing about, then that would have been something, but her writing was just flat, dull, boring, more of a journal entry.

The rest of the meeting continued in the same vein. Each member would proudly read their work with all the gusto of John Cooper Clarke back in his prime. The rest of the group would then applaud and declare how much they enjoyed the work. But the applause and the praise was worthless. It reminded Patrick of the time his mother had insisted that his writing was wonderful and that he really should stick with it.

‘Is that right?’ Patrick had replied. ‘Which stories in particular did you enjoy?’

‘Well, erm, all of them, really.’

‘Tell me one. Name one story that you liked.’

‘Why are you being like that?’ she’d snapped. ‘I’m trying to be nice.’

‘That’s very sweet, mother, but I can hardly put on my next submission to a would-be publisher that my mother says I’m very good, not that she’s read a word of it.’

 This writing group had the same feel about its applause and praise. If they clapped everyone and every reading, then how could you tell if what you’d written was any good or not?

After the last person, a man called Eric, had shared his views on Brexit and how Manchester was not the same as it had been ‘back in the day’, and after everyone had said how wonderful the writing was, Susan thanked everyone for coming. She also welcomed Patrick once again.

‘See you all next week. Can’t wait to see what everyone has written this week.’

As Patrick shrugged into his coat and slung his bag over his shoulder, Susan grinned and told him his turn to read would come soon enough.

Back home Patrick made himself a cup of tea and settled in front of the television. As he watched a documentary about an eccentric American author from the late 1970s, he mulled over the evening’s events. He had to admit he was disappointed and disheartened by the group. He had been hoping to mix with a serious, focused group of people, to discuss their creative writing seriously, but the more he thought about it, he couldn’t help thinking this lot were more interested in the free tea and biscuits and local gossip than literature. Maybe the writing process meant something else to this unusual group. For Patrick writing was all about escaping the day-to-day drudgery. It was his way of leaving the real world for a while. His writing was about transporting himself away into a fictional realm of his own creating. This group must have used writing differently. There was no actual story, no spark, to their work. Patrick couldn’t get his head around it. He had read lots of short stories and written hundreds himself, but this group seemed to be writing things that were not actual stories, that were not literature at all.

As he finished the last of his mug of tea, an idea occurred to him. He was reminded of the ukulele group his parents joined a few years ago. The group had been poorly organised and lacking direction. Under his parents’ gentle direction, the group had progressed, gained new members, created a songbook, launched themselves on social media and even performed at their local pub’s Christmas lights switch on. Perhaps Patrick could work a similar magic with the writing group. Could he persuade, cajole and nudge them in a more creative direction? If they heeded his advice and worked with him, they could even have an anthology of their work put together. If they let him, he would put all the time and effort in to help mould them into a creative writing group.

But how should he go about it? If he went back next week and demanded that everyone wrote something that resembled a story, they would kick him out. He sighed as the author on screen snorted narcotics behind the TV clapper board.

He had joined the group thinking he could meet writers like him, but the people he had encountered were nothing like he was, nothing like his idea of a writer.

In the days leading up to the next meeting, Patrick mulled over things. Not going back wasn’t an option. He would stick with it and see where he and the group went from there. Maybe he’d caught them on a particularly unimaginative week. Maybe next week the works being read out would be proper stories, creative tales, that would have him gripped and inspired.

And so, the next week he entered the hall determined to have more of an open mind about the group and the work it produced. Admittedly they were not writing anything remotely resembling a story, but at least they were trying, they were having a go at writing. He had decided that he would have a quiet word with Susan at some point that evening. He would explain that he loved what the group was attempting, but he had some suggestions as to how they could progress. One idea he wanted to share was that every week they had a theme or topic to write about. These themes could be anything, a summer afternoon, revenge, jealousy, the drive home, a family Christmas. It would focus the group and it’s writing into something more creative and coherent. And from there, who knew where they could progress. A website? An anthology? People in the local area reading their work. From such humble beginnings who knew where the road lead from here.

As the group fussed around the tea and biscuits like it was a Wedding buffet, Patrick sidled up to Susan. He gave what he hoped was a charming smile.

‘Alright, love?’ Susan asked.

‘Yes, I’m looking forward to tonight. I actually have a few ideas.’ Patrick said.

‘Ideas for stories?’

‘For the group.’

‘A bit soon to be having ideas, isn’t it? You can’t even read your work for another few weeks.’

She snapped on a bourbon biscuit and returned to her seat. Patrick was stunned at the rebuttal. Her tone had been harsh, all pleasantries gone from her voice. Patrick made himself a cup of tea and joined the group, feeling less welcome than he had at the first meeting.

‘Good evening, everyone. Nice to see you all.’ Susan said. ‘Patrick, you are still on your trial period. Moira, would you like to get us started this evening?’

‘Yes, Susan, I’d be delighted.’

Moira arranged her papers and with a glint of pride in her eyes, began to read.

‘On Sunday Salford Red Devils took on Wigan Warriors.’

No, Patrick thought, surely not. As Moira continued to read, his fears were confirmed. Moira had written a review of the rugby league game she had attended. If he’d have wanted to read a summary of a rugby game, he’d have bought the Evening News. It wasn’t a story about a rugby player, or a Salford fan. It wasn’t fiction. It was a straight-up match report.

‘They may have lost the game, but Salford gave a valiant performance, and the fans left the Willows feeling they had been thoroughly entertained. A cracking afternoon of football.’ said Moira.

‘You mean rugby.’ Patrick corrected.

‘Those in the know call it football. It’s a kicking game, too, and is actually rugby football.’

‘Anyway,’ Susan said. ‘thank you, Moira, that was just fascinating. It sounds like it was quite the match.’

As the rest of the group told Moira how much they had enjoyed her piece, Patrick nipped quickly across the room to grab another cup of tea, before the next person started reading. Susan visibly winced as he slid back into his seat.

‘We only have tea before the session and in the breaks.’

‘Ah, right, sorry. Probably for the best, I can’t have too many cups, I’m driving after all.’ Patrick laughed.

‘Quite.’ replied Susan.

Patrick felt like he was back in high school and had been told off for talking in class.

‘Next up, Jean. Let’s here what you’ve got for us.’

Patrick put Susan’s rebuttal of his ideas, and the ticking off over the tea, to the back of his mind. He hoped that in time, when he had settled in a bit more, and when he had shared his work, Susan and the others would be more open to his suggestions.

The evening passed by in a similar vein to the previous week. Each person read out what they had written, nothing with even a spark of creativity, following by clapping and compliments.

The following week Patrick tried not to ruffle any feathers and was deliberately and consciously on his best behaviour. He suggested nothing, said little, and only helped himself to tea at the proper breaks.

If he towed the line for another few weeks, if he sat through the dull readings with a smile on his face, then once they heard his stories and his ideas and suggestions, then they would see he was right.

The weeks went by. The meetings were the same each week. Susan ran the group with the air of a school mistress from the Nineteen Fifties. The group responded by being good little pupils. The readings from the members were completely lacking in any imagination or creativity. It seemed they were doing little more than writing down something they could, and would, say in person. One of them described a meal in a restaurant. Patrick smiled and nodded, despite thinking that they could have just told them about the experience in the restaurant, instead of committing it to paper. He went along with things, biding his time, waiting for his moment.

Finally, it was the week of his first reading. As he got ready for work that morning, he was surprised to find he was nervous about making in his debut that evening. He couldn’t explain quite why he was feeling anxious about it. Maybe it was because of the difference between his stories and the things the group shared. Maybe it was because he hadn’t read his work aloud to this group, or any group, before. He just hoped it went okay. It had to, didn’t it? He had a cracking little story prepared about a driver picking up a hitchhiker on a stormy night.

As he went through the doors to the scout hut, knowing that he was making his debut as a reader, it felt as though he was starting with the group all over again.

He found Susan sorting out the tea urn and placing the teacups.

‘Good evening, Patrick.’

‘Hello, Susan.’

‘Tea?’

‘Oh, yes please.’

The door opened and the rest of drifted in. They fussed and flapped around the tea and stirred their cups a ridiculous amount of times. Patrick took his seat. Susan slid into the chair facing him.

‘Are you ready to share your writing with the group?’ she asked.

‘I think so. I’m sure you will find it interesting.’

‘How exciting.’ replied Susan.

Jean sat down next to Patrick and explained about an incident she’d had at the supermarket checkout that afternoon. Patrick made the right noises as she detailed the issue of the wrong change and the argument with the ‘stroppy mare’ on the till. While she carried on with her anecdote Patrick got the feeling that the incident would be recounted in a written piece at the group in the future. Every writer gets ideas and inspiration from daily life, but surely, to put it into a story there had to be something remarkable in either the incident or the telling of the story. There were writers who could make filling up at the petrol station or waiting for a bus sound like poetry. He had also read a Cold War spy thriller whose most captivating scene was in a bank with a cheque being cashed. The mundane activity had such excitement in the hands of the thriller writer. This lot seemed to have neither of those gifts.

He hoped that once they heard his offering, they would realise what a story could be. Not that his stories were particularly good, but he told a tale, with a beginning, middle and end.

Susan invited Derek to ‘start the proceedings’. Derek tilted his papers in front of him, trying to get the best light. His latest piece was about his dog. The topic was fair enough, everyone loved dogs, didn’t they? He recalled seeing a film last year about a Labrador puppy and its new family. That film, based on a book, had warmth, humour, and charm. Derek’s piece had none of those things. His work was basically a list of how many walks Dingo had each day, and how he was now on raw food. There was nothing funny, charming or interesting about the piece. If Derek had mentioned something to give the reader/listener a sense of the pooch’s character then that would have been interesting. If he’d mentioned that the dog wasn’t afraid of fireworks but spooked by a can rattling along the windy pavement. But there was nothing like that at all. Patrick wondered if Susan would give Derek some hints or tips about making his writing connect with his readership. But once Derek had finished Susan simply lead the applause and congratulated Derek on a wonderful piece of writing. Derek beamed and thanked her.

Susan inhaled noisily and placed her hands on the tabletop.

‘And finally, our newest member, Patrick is going to read for the first time.’

Feeling his cheeks burn red, and feeling more awkward than he thought he would, Patrick glanced down at the printed pages in front of him. He glanced at the others.

‘This is the kind of thing I write. The story is called Escaped. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.’

Patrick began to read his work. His tale was a thrilling story, and he did his best to deliver it in a dramatic way. He tried to imitate the radio dramas he enjoyed listening to. He told his story, making it as blood-curdling as he could. He recalled a TV programme from his childhood. An elderly actor told fireside ghost stories. The actor’s deep voice and dour demeanour could have made a nursey rhyme sound terrifying.

Patrick his story and its twists and turns with all the gusto he could.

‘And it was then,’ said Patrick ‘that the hitchhiker noticed the knife in the driver’s hand.’

He exhaled loudly.

‘The End.’

He placed his papers on the table and looked at the others. When he saw their disapproving stares he realised that there was no applause at the end of his story. They were just sitting there staring at him. They looked horrified. Susan’s cheeks were red with fury.

‘That,’ she spat. ‘is not the kind of thing we are looking for at this group. We don’t come here to listen to writing like that.’

‘What kind of deranged mind comes up with a nasty story like that?’ said Derek.

‘I don’t call that writing.’ tutted Moira.

The others shook their heads. Patrick swallowed back the lump in his throat. He was completely stunned. This was the last reaction he had been expecting. His writing was different from theirs but the group were overreacting.

‘It’s just a story.’ he managed.

‘It is disgusting, that’s what it is. An escaped killer? Is that what passes for literature these days?’ Jean growled.

‘I hardly think that’s fair.’ said Patrick.

‘How would you like to be murdered by an escaped killer?’

‘It’s a story. It’s fiction.’ replied Patrick.

‘I think,’ boomed Susan. ‘we will leave it there for tonight.’

The scout hut was full of the scraping of chairs as the still shocked and offended group got to their feet. They bid each other good night, all except Patrick. Nobody addressed him at all.

‘I would like you to prepare something more suitable for next week. Yes?’ said Susan.

Feeling like a chastised schoolboy, Patrick nodded.

‘Yes, of course.’ he managed. ‘See you next week.’

Susan stuffed her papers into her satchel and marched from the room. Patrick’s limbs felt heavy as he shuffled out into the night.

Back home he drank a cup of tea on his sofa and wondered how on earth he could have got it so wrong. He had called it completely wrong. The group were not ready for his kind of fiction. Maybe he should have eased them in gently. He should have picked a more sedate tale to start with. Was his writing that offensive? Was it that disgusting? That outrageous? No, no, it wasn’t. It was a thriller. It was the kind of thing he enjoyed reading. That was when it happened. The shame and embarrassment gave way to anger.

‘How dare they?’ he growled.

That lot wouldn’t know good writing if he stapled it to their foreheads. None of them would be able to write something like that. Were they content to turn up every week and read that utter tripe, congratulating each other on what marvellous writers they were? He could almost hear them boasting to their friends about the writing group they attended and the work they had written. Dull, unimaginative drivel that only classed as writing in that it was actually written down.

He had read an original story, a thriller, with tension, drama and a plot twist, and they had been appalled as though his story about a murderer had been a true account of his own activities. It was fiction, it was art. And they had made him feel ashamed and humiliated of what he had produced. How dare they?

Over the next few days anger and indignation ate away at him. They had torn him to pieces, and almost literally tore his story to shreds. And he had taken it. He had left, sheepishly, agreeing to write something more suitable. Now he felt furious anger raging with in him. He was just a short story writer, that was all. Did the best-selling crime authors go out and commit murder every time they started a new novel? Of course not. It was fiction. He produced his stories out of his imagination. And yet these talentless dullards had taken him to task.

As the next few days went by the rage grew within him. They had said he was deranged. The more he thought about it the more livid he grew. They had insulted him, but, the deepest cut of all, they had insulted his writing. He was absolutely furious. At night he would lie in bed, thinking only of how badly he had been treated at the hands of those pretentious idiots. Writers? They weren’t writers. They wrote things down. There was a chasm of difference between that lot and writers. And they had had the audacity to attack his writing, his art. Were they having a laugh?

He paced up and down his living room, late into the evening. He would chunner and rant, shouting out. That they had slated him and his writing was like a pub team slating a first division football team.

One morning, just as dawn was breaking, and after another angry, sleepless night, Patrick reached a decision. It was such a dark decision, that it gave him chills. The group needed to be taught a lesson. He would have his revenge. He would exact such revenge, he would take the group down. He knew then what he had to do. He would wreak havoc. He recalled a line from a TV drama about the New York Mafia, he would rain a storm down upon them, the likes of which they had never seen.

He stared at his exhausted reflection on the bathroom mirror. The stark bathroom light made him look like a corpse on a mortuary slab. How very apt, he thought. He looked sleep deprived and angry. But now he had a plan. He said the word aloud.

‘Poison.’

He glared at his reflection for a long moment. Yes, he would have his revenge on the group. He had done exactly as they had said. He had listened to their awful writing for weeks, only for them to react with such disgust at his writing, the art which he had poured his heart and soul into. He was an artist, how dare they insult him like that? Did they really think he was just going to take it? How could they not be expecting payback? They would rue the day they treated him so badly.

He laughed, a wicked chortle. Who knew, maybe he was deranged? Maybe his story was the sign or a warped mind. Was that why he was taking such drastic action? Had he lost his mind over all this? Poisoning? It was a big decision but he knew he was doing the right thing. They had it coming.

Having reached his decision, his anger mutated into determination. People had been mocking his writing for years. How many times was he supposed to laugh it off? How many times did he have to smile and say nothing? Every time his colleagues called him Stephen King or his friends asked if he was still writing, with those sneering smirks, it felt like a blow. He had joined the writing group hoping to meet a group of likeminded people, to discuss writing and compare stories. But it turned out they were just like everyone else. A lot of writers went undiscovered and misunderstood in their own lifetime. He remembered reading that household names like Franz Kafka and Jane Austen had died in obscurity, only for history to remember their names and their work forever. Perhaps his writing would be discovered in the decades to come. That was a long way off. He had more stories to write, to fulfil his legacy. And he had to deal with this wretched so-called writing group. He would leave his mark on the world of literature and would certainly leave his mark on the writing group. The poisoner. What he would do this week would be spoke of for a very long time.

Patrick felt eerily calm as he arrived at the scout hut. He got there early. He had things to prepare, plans to put in place. He yanked open the doors and entered the familiar room. The scene of the crime. He crossed to the tea urn. He was there first, as intended. He had work to do, plans to fulfil.

By the time Susan arrived Patrick was sitting in his usual spot at the table. Susan looked disappointed to see him. Patrick sensed she was disappointed to see he’d returned at all, not at his early arrival.

‘Good evening, Susan.’ smiled Patrick.

‘Evening, Patrick.’

‘I’m here earlier than normal as I had a dentist appointment this afternoon. It was too late to go back to the office.’

‘At least you got an early finish.’

‘Yes, quite.’

The door creaked open and Jean entered. She shook her umbrella and grumbled about the blooming weather.

‘Awful, isn’t it? It’s not stopped all day.’ said Patrick. ‘I’ve taken care of the tea.’

He jerked a thumb to the urn and the stacks of cups and saucers on the trolley behind him. The others filed in the door.

The group fussed around the tea noisily. Just you wait, Patrick thought.

‘Are you not having a brew?’

‘Dentist.’ Patrick pointed to his mouth.

That’s it, he thought, drink up.

The group slurped their tea and chatted. Susan cleared her throat, the others hushed.

‘Good evening, everyone. Derek, would you be so kind?’

Derek nodded and began.

Having had readings from the others, Susan turned to Patrick.

‘Patrick, have you got something for us this week?’

‘Yes, Susan, yes I have. This is a first-person narrative.’

He began to read from his notes. He ranted about wanting revenge on those who had wronged him, he would pay them back, they would learn not to treat people like that.

‘That is why,’ he pointed. ‘I have poisoned the tea. None of you will survive the night.’

Moira screamed, tears streaming down her face. Derek tossed his cup across the room. Jean covered her face with trembling hands.

‘Well,’ Patrick boomed. ‘I hope you all enjoyed that.’

Susan, looking shocked and upset pointed to her teacup.

‘Is this poisoned?’ she whispered.

‘Of course not. This,’ he clenched his papers tight in his fist, ‘is writing.’

Leaving the group still reeling from his stunt, Patrick quietly packed away his things.

‘Good evening.’ he said and headed for the door.


Submitted: December 10, 2020

© Copyright 2021 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Serge Wlodarski

Patrick is very creative. Definitely writer material.

Thu, December 10th, 2020 3:51pm

hullabaloo22

Patrick was far better off without them. This is a story that illustrates how hard it can be to fit in, while showing why we wouldn't want to do so anyway.
Excellent story-telling, CT.

Thu, December 10th, 2020 6:02pm

Author
Reply

Thanks a lot for your comments. And yes that was almost word for word what was in my mind while writing it!

Thu, December 10th, 2020 12:27pm

RomanBoukreev

It's just as simple as a ground. Many people pretend to be actors, photographers, musicians, writers, but around 10% of those who think they are.

Fri, December 11th, 2020 6:16am

niah

I felt sorry for Patrick sitting there all those weeks I would have returned as well thinking maybe last week was a bad week for them.

It reminded me of when I was at primary we had to write a story of the weekend we had and I couldn't think of anything interesting we had done I didn't want to write something so boring so I asked if it had to be real or could we make something up, although the reaction I got was much better that poor Patricks, they had me read it several times, the others just wrote what they had done that weekend.

Sun, December 13th, 2020 7:23am

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