I was asked by a local reading group to discuss my novel The Witch’s Tree (Elena Collins) at one of their meetings. I accepted immediately. Not only is it always a wonderful opportunity to talk about books, but the fact that everyone had taken the trouble to read The Witch’s Tree and wanted to chat about it to me was so nice.
Besides, my next novel is The Golden Oldies’ Book Club, about a reading group who meet in a library, so visiting a group of readers in Somerset who meet once a month to discuss their opinions of different books was a great opportunity to research. I was welcomed into a wonderful house with roaring fires, and ushered to a long table where several other women sat, books open, ready to talk. The food caught my attention immediately. The Witch’s Tree had inspired a spread of themed food. There were biscuits shaped like fingers with long almond nails, twiglets as broomsticks, such an amazing spread. And the discussion that came next was so fascinating. It helped me so much to create the chemistry of the book club in my novel.
In The Golden Oldies’ Book Club, I chose a different classic novel for each book club meeting, deliberately orchestrating the discussion so that, when each character mentioned an aspect of a character or an event, he or she was in fact talking about themselves. The first novel is Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and the members discuss whether Tess was a victim. Danielle, whose husband is a cheat, is furious that some of the men think what happens to her is her own fault. The second novel in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the members discuss the sad fate of Esmeralda and Quasimodo. When the group talks about Madame Bovary, Aurora decides that love can never make anyone happy – she’s still regretting letting the love of her life slip away. And Wuthering Heights sparks an argument between Anthony and Mark over whether Heathcliff or Linton is the best match for Cathy. But are they both really thinking of Mark’s wife, Verity? Poor Jeannie can only feel sorry for the character of Nelly Dean, who spends all her time looking after everyone else. And when Ruth reads Lady Chatterley’s Lover, she realises she has been wrong about love all her life and determines to do something about it immediately.
I loved meeting the local book club – there was a really good atmosphere, being one of a group who share a common interest, and I loved listening to others’ viewpoints and working out what makes readers enjoy a novel. The welcome was warm, the food was delicious but, most importantly, I was really inspired to write.
Here’s to book clubs everywhere. Long may they continue. What a great way to spend an evening!