Sunday, 19 February 2017

Guest post by Helen Laycock

I'm pleased to invite Helen Laycock onto my blog today.

Back last autumn, a very nice lady called Jane approached me in the village library where I volunteer and asked if I gave readings. A friend of hers had enjoyed one of my short story collections, it seemed, and had passed it on to Jane, who had then passed it on again.

‘I loved it,’ she said, ‘and I know that my ladies would love your style, too!’ Her ladies are residents of the care home for the elderly for which Jane organises entertainment.

My ‘style’, eh? I don’t think Jane had come across my other stuff. No. Definitely not. After all, she told me that I was such a lovely lady. I shook my curls and smiled brightly, quickly dismissing any material from my two collections of dark, psychological tales about characters on the periphery of society, and thought about sunshine and flowers. La la la la la. I would focus on my light-hearted stories. Much more appropriate for the ladies (and Jane would still think I was lovely).

I decided not to select anything from ‘Light Bites’, the book she had read, as some of the ladies had also read it. Instead, I would put together a programme of carefully-selected stories which had not yet seen the light of day. I have quite a lot of new material ready to slot into three forthcoming collections – Fairytales for Grown Ups, Confessions… and (Sh! Don’t tell Jane) more disturbing stuff for a book which will have the title The Darkening. Last time I gave a talk, I broke up the story-reading with a few funny poems, a successful formula which I would repeat.

So, all I had to do was put together a programme.

‘That funny story about the cat! Yes, that always makes me laugh.’

‘But the cat dies,’ warned my husband. ‘You can’t read that. Old ladies love cats.’

‘They only think the cat has died. It’s actually under the bed eating the chicken fillets it stole from the shopping bag.’

But he was right. I crossed it off the list.

I would definitely read the one about the double booking of the Canadian log cabin in a blizzard over Christmas. Hilarious! But then Jane telephoned to ask if we could move the talk to after Christmas when their building work had finished, by which time it would be a bit of a stale subject, I thought. Back out with the black pen. Scribble scribble.

I then specially wrote an adult fairytale set in a care home for retired fairyfolk. It was funny… but would that be insensitive? Scrapped.

I did have a story which had done well in a competition and had been traditionally published. It was black humour, however, and set in a mortuary. A mortuary? What was I thinking? No. Scrapped.
More to the point, what would Jane think?

The more I re-read my stories, the more I became obsessed by details which might upset Jane’s ladies. Was a mention of alcohol appropriate? Drugs? Dating? S- (cough) -ex?

What I needed was bland. But, let’s be honest, who wants to listen to a bland story?

Finally, after weeks of re-reading, I had the perfect selection. I practised reading everything and developed an array of (rather good) character voices to bring the stories to life.

So, to the outcome:
I only got through half of my material; some of the residents were late arriving, and a few wanted to chat.

I introduced each story by briefly explaining what had inspired it and started with ‘A Recipe for Disaster’ (which will end up in ‘Confessions’). It’s about the (dastardly) lengths a woman goes to to replace the missing courgettes with cucumber when her neighbours come over for a meal – a good tip at the moment during the courgette shortage. You’re welcome! And, yes, something which I admit to doing, but, to clarify, I was a student at the time and it only involved vegetable-replacement, not dastardly deeds. This was followed by a new adult fairytale where I gave the giant a broad West Country accent, and then a funny poem which I had written after a painful pony trekking experience
– I am happy to report that I am (finally) over it.

A few ladies listened with their eyes closed. No, they had not fallen asleep… I like to think that they were imbibing my words in a state of full contentment. After checking that they wanted more, I read just one more ‘confession’ story called ‘That Sinking Feeling’, inspired by a true event from my teenage years when I was desperate for the loo after arriving at the home of my French Exchange family. It went down well. Then the hour was up.

They laughed in all the right places, clapped and congratulated me at the end. I particularly liked the phrase ‘You’re very clever’. Of course, I completely forgot to take photos, or to give out the bookmarks I had made (I left some with Jane). However, lots seemed interested in my children’s books which I had put on display, and, being completely computer-savvy, went off to order books from Amazon! I still have the second half of the talk which I can use next time I visit and I came home with a beautiful pot plant. So, all in all, a successful morning (as it should be after all that blinkin’ planning).


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Helen and Patsy ... what a fun post ... and it sounds like your stories are great fun, and that you read them with verve. I can imagine the difficulties you had selecting your stories - but it all sounds as though a successful morning was had by all ... lovely read - cheers to you both - Hilary

Bea Charles said...

What a fun post, Helen. Trying to second guess what the reader will appreciate sounds even worse than trying to predict what an editor will buy. Well done on a successful outing. You'll be on the WI speakers' circle soon.

Wendy's Writing said...

What a wonderful experience, Helen, and how lovely to be asked.

Helen Laycock said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Hilary!
It was a lovely morning, and not a bit scary like some talks can be. I think my reputation is still intact...


Helen Laycock said...

Thank you, Bea.
Yes, who knew the level of stress involved in trying so hard not to cause offence! There was a bit of flirtation involved between the Giant and Little Red Riding Hood, but I think I got away with it.

The WI? Now that does scare me...


Helen Laycock said...

Yes, it's always lovely to be invited to speak, Wendy. It makes me feel like a Real Writer!!


Paige Elizabeth Turner said...

Bleedin' heck. I want to be put into a retirement village just to be able to listen to you. What a wealth of preparation and sifting you had to do. One tip though, when I get matron to invite you, I do want all the dark stuff!!

Helen Laycock said...

Aha! Someone to cackle with...
Mwah hah hah!!

Oscar Case said...

Hahahahahahahaha, success!

Nas said...

Hello Patsy and Helen!

Sounds you had lovely time Helen. And you book sounds fun, too!

Rosemary Johnson said...

Thank you, Helen. Do you have a blog of your own?

Maria said...

That read just like a story, but I was expecting a twist ending?
I wanted one of those old ladies to stick her hand up and ask you when you were going to read a dark story for them...

Like your style, and I too like the lady above, wonder if you have time to write a blog?

Helen Laycock said...

How I love the hear the sound of hearty laughter, Oscar! And, yes, the smell of success is always sweet, too.


Helen Laycock said...

Thank you, Nas. Yes, I enjoyed it (even if no one else did)!!


Helen Laycock said...

Hello, Rosemary.
I'm not a prolific blogger, unlike some.

*looks at Patsy*

But I do have one. Well, two, actually...

I think Patsy has made hyperlinks above, but here they are again:

This is my original one which tends to have longer posts:

And on one of my websites I have a 'Writing News' blog where I sum up each month in respect of competitions and submissions I have attempted.


Helen Laycock said...

I didn't let on, Maria. I kept that 'other' Helen Laycock under wraps... until I said goodbye to Jane at the door. I was most surprised when she said she loved 'dark stuff'. I did notice a sale of Minor Discord the next day, so I think that might have been her.

And, yes, see above for blog links. As they don't look like links, you'll have to highlight them and right click to 'Go to...'

Otherwise, as I mentioned, I think Patsy has created links above.


Rosemary Gemmell said...

Great post, Helen - I too was waiting to hear if someone wanted darker stories. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they enjoyed those too!

Helen Laycock said...

Perhaps I should do a candlelit reading in a deserted monastery...

Yes, yes, and shine a torch on to my face.

Or, is that a step too far?

Glad you enjoyed it, Rosemary!


Carolb said...

Lovely post, Helen and Patsy.

Thanks for sharing the details of choosing the stories, and the actual event. :-)

Jan Baynham said...

A great post. Thank you, Helen and Patsy.

Helen Laycock said...

You're very welcome, Carol. Glad you enjoyed it!


Helen Laycock said...

I'm glad it was of interest, Jan. I always find it difficult to come up with ideas for blog posts!