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Glasgow

NIGHTS IN PUBS, NIGHTS OF MUSIC

Nights in pubs, nights of music and dark beams, of golden light glinting off glasses and the golden warmth of fermented grape and hops. But it’s not about the alcohol, it’s about the craic and laughter and people sharing. The tiny woman swaddled in her cosy green cardie is worried about singing here in the Scotia Bar in Glasgow - Julie Felix, legendary singing star of the 60s and 70s, thinks people will be too busy talking to listen to her. But for now she moves chairs out of the way and listens as fellow musician Frank O’Hagan adjusts the sound levels for her. She has been doing this for half a century and is painstaking in getting it right.

A Mexican woven rug is spread on the floor, the cardigan is off, her guitar seems as big as she is. Without any warning or introduction she crashes into song - Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain, her guitar loud and insistent as she (with audience accompaniment) reaches the chorus: And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard, It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

In her youth Julie Felix’s voice was throaty, warm honey beside the pure iced water that flowed from the mouth of her contemporary,Joan Baez. Baez may have been the international star, but Julie Felix was the one people loved here - the first folksinger to fill the Albert Hall, the first to have her own television series; indeed Once More with Felix was the first colour series ever made by the BBC and was sold to virtually every country in the world.

Now the voice is darker, the honey turned granular, still warm but smattered with little roughnesses. Singing, though, is about more than the vocal instrument - it’s about emotion, energy, meaning. Julie Felix shares her passion with her audience, makes us feel what the words mean. Sometimes it’s about memory. Tonight she sings songs many of us know from our own youth - John Lennon’s Imagine; Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right; Leonard Cohen’s Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye; Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Universal Soldier. They swirl through the pub like songs from a foreign country, these anti-war songs, songs of people leaving each other and moving on in a time when love seemed free, Lennon’s song of hope for a world to come. ’Weren’t the Sixties the most magical time?’ she asks and we all shout back Yes, yes they were, but we all know that the world they promised never came.
As she introduces one of her own songs, she mentions that she was born in Santa Barbara. ‘We won’t hold that against you,’ says a man in the crowd. ‘Glasgow loves you to bits.’ Julie looks bemused, seeing nothing wrong with her place of origin and clearly unaware that Glaswegians have anointed themselves the chosen people, though later she satisfies Scottish pride by saying how much she loves Nicola Sturgeon. ‘I think she’s Mary,
Pictures by Mary Rafferty   Queen of Scots reincarnated,’ she says. (Nicola’s love life appears to be rather less messy than that of the historic queen.) The song is touching, one of the few I have ever heard where a woman talks about her mother and says simply that she is proud to be her daughter.

The theme of female solidarity continues with her version of Just Like a Woman, whichis also unlike any I have heard before. Later she says she has never sung it that way before. Dylan’s song is often condemned as sexist, but she takes the words head on, makes them personal and true. In the final verse she changes the words to first person - I fake just like a woman, a line that causes many of the women in the pub to smile in complicity, then burst out laughing. The last line, But I break just like a little girl, is deeply poignant.She’s a woman in her seventies but she makes you understand that grief has no age limit, there are no limits to loss.
                     

Her long silky hair is as dark and glossy as it ever was, her figure as neat. Her daughter says she’s a tomboy who doesn’t really care about clothes but her black shirt, adorned with a skull and embroidered roses, is quietly flamboyant. The voice, though, is vibrant and powerful and her big personality makes a mockery of her stature. There’s a moment almost of music hall joy when she gets her audience to sing along to one of her own compositions. Ooh, ooh, ooh, we all croon but the song has a serious message - it’s been written for a project called On Wings of Waste, which aims to fly an aeroplane from Australia to the UK on fuel made from recycled plastic. A brilliant idea - I have enough placcy bags in my house to fuel a round the world trip. Nights in pubs, nights of music.

The songs Julie Felix sings are the songs that say who she is - Dylan, Cohen, Joni Mitchell, the anthems of a generation who wanted to change the world. She still does, is excited about Jeremy Corbyn, wants to see an end to Trident and war, loves Nicola. ‘Maybe we’ll see a change,’ she says. ‘I’ve been marching for 50 years, hoping to see it and now it looks like it could happen.’ More Dylan, the haunting Not Dark Yet and the crowd-pleaser, I Shall Be Released.
She ends her set as abruptly as she started, too tired to go on, too excited to stop. Instead of leaving she sits in the pub, talking to the people who’ve come to see her, one from as far away as Portsmouth. And the music goes on. She listens as people round the table pick up the pub guitar and sing. She sings too, accompanied by a young man with a mouth organ who tells her he’ll pick the tune up. He does, and the combination of the low, dark voice and the ethereal sound of the harmonica has the whole place cheering.

 A special night in a special place. A special woman. Even when Julie Felix has slipped away, the music and the talk go on. People look back at all the special nights in the Scotia and remember being brought here by their fathers. I look at the people gathered round the dark oak table and think of a line from another Sixties song, I am he as you are he as you are me And we are all together.

The Orchestra on the Titanic

‘It could be,’ said the Divine Ms Anna, ‘our last literary salon as part of the UK,’ a thought which made the whole evening shimmer with cultural resonance. We were on the brink of a new future, no-one yet knew what. We were carrying the flag of revolution as we sang La Marseillaise, we were the orchestra on the Titanic, creating beautiful music in a time of destruction. Well, maybe things weren’t quite so close to death and chaos, though the last days of the referendum campaign felt like that. But being at a literary salon seemed like an assertion of the things that matter - art and sharing and ideas and people. With lots of wine, of course.

In honour of the momentousness of the occasion, Ms Anna was resplendent in floral trousers and a necklace that would not have looked out of place on Keeping Up with the Kardashians. She’d made a typically Scottish soup, delicious lentil with lots of carrots, and the literary choice was equally patriotic - The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by BBC presenter, Kirsty Wark.

I have to confess a particular interest in Kirsty’s book. It was my salvation after a gruelling day at the pool on my recent holiday in Spain. I’d been reading a highly garlanded literary novel which shall be nameless. Gosh, it was dull - writing by numbers, totally turgid, with characters who were both dreary and irritating. Had to have quite a few glasses of cava to make up for that one.(Well, all right then, it was The Lighthouse by Alison Moore.)

I hadn’t particularly wanted to read Kirsty’s book but it proved a lifeline - well researched, thoughtful and moving. Set on the island of Arran, it has twin voices, that of the late Elizabeth Pringle, a rather stiff elderly lady whose surprising life story is revealed slowly over the course of the book, and the other that of Martha, a journalist whose mother, Anna, is sliding into dementia. Both heroines are attractive in different ways. Elizabeth Pringle is typically Scottish in her stubbornness, independence of mind, and a romantic identification with the place of her birth. Martha is a typical journalist in her embracing of the pleasures of wine. With a love story, a mysterious secret, family tension and Scottish history, the book is both a page turner and has the ring of truth.

The referendum discussion started over the soup, with analysis of the various supermarkets who’d fallen in with David Cameron’s request to scare the Scots by saying they‘d raise prices if the vote was Yes. It was noted that Lidl, Ms Anna’s supermarket of choice, had not only abstained from frightening the populace but actually had a sign supporting independence outside their Govanhill store. ‘If they can operate from Germany, Tesco could probably manage to get themselves organised from Kent,‘ murmured Jackie McDonald, whose quiet Picture by @moroc                 manner often disguises the sharp nature of
                                            her opinions.

There then followed extensive discussion of the many superior and inexpensive products on sale there, including wines, three fish roast, and assorted cheeses. ‘You can,’ noted Ms Anna, mentioning a particular shopping centre and displaying a judicious amount of glee at hoodwinking the middle classes, ‘even use a Marks and Spencer trolley.’                     

Solidarity with the indy supermarket established, we re-charged our glasses and repaired to the salon, where Kirsty read a passage from her book, brushing off incipient applause by plunging briskly into her second reading. This is most unusual in a writer, most of whom, having toiled away in isolation, lap up any applause that’s going. Kirsty’s no nonsense attitude reminded me of her own character - the redoubtable and stoic Elizabeth Pringle is clearly who she’ll be when she’s old herself.

The second passage she read dealt with the exercises the Queen Mary liner did off Arran before her maiden voyage, a topic clearly dear to Kirsty’s heart. Her own grandfather was the ship’s engineer and she’d named one of her characters after him. ’I gave lots of names of friends and family to my characters,’ she said, in that distinctively raspy voice that sounds like fingernails scratching down cardboard. ’That was my private joke.’

The ebullient Jane Grove, who teaches French, said that part of the book had moved her to tears, though I won’t give away which part for those of you still to have the pleasure of reading it. But the talk inevitably drifted back to the coming referendum. Nan Gourlay, a television production manager, said she’d moved from No to Yes and was feeling sick with nerves about the whole thing. A number of us shared her feeling. Finally having a vote that counted was a huge responsibility.                                      

Scots writer Ken Wright then went into a rather puzzling diatribe about the Scots being told all their literary swans were geese and as a result thinking all their geese were swans. Kirsty said she thought it was the other way round, that we didn’t have enough confidence in our own abilities. A riot then nearly ensued when Ken condemned the wonderful and generous-spirited poet Norman McCaig for having the atmosphere of a 1950s schoolteacher in a tweed jacket. Fisticuffs were narrowly averted by Ms Anna’s gentleman caller, Steve Heller Murphy, who returned us to the referendum. He summed it up for many when he said, ‘People who have money should vote Yes because people who don’t are asking them to.’

The arrival of the cake restored equilibrium to the party. ‘This one is the apotheosis of middle class cake,’ declared Ms Anna. ‘Elderflower cordial.’ Ms Anna’s cakes are always divine, but this one was exceptionally moist and sweet. Finally something we could all vote yes to.




Sedition

                                      
Look, I'm going to be honest here. I thought it was going to be the clash of the Titans. Katie Grant and Maggie Lennon together in one room? Irresistible force meets?... well, irresistible force. There would be blood spilt on the Divine Ms Anna's floor. Her elegant literary salon would be transformed into a bear-pit, all Maileresque brawling and braggadocio.

But La Lennon, sporting a haircut as spiky as her normal personality, was indisposed this week. On antibiotics. Good grief, she couldn't even drink. She retired early, leaving the floor to the whip-thin and whip-smart Ms Grant, whose novel Sedition is riding high in the bestseller lists. It's currently 58 on Amazon's literary fiction chart, if she cared to look, which she doesn't because she reckons it drives writers mad. Having heard of a divorcé who kept comparing his novel's standing with his ex-wife's, I reckon she's right.

The evening started with soup the colour of the prospective blood on the floor. Beetroot, according to Ms Anna, impeccably sourced, of course, from Saturday's farmers' market. It was pronounced superb by the more sophisticated among us, though I have to confess Ms Anna found me staring into my bowl in dismay. I think red soup may be an acquired taste.

Katie Grant's book is set in 18th century London at a time when the French Revolution was in full swing and the spirit of dissent was fomenting in the city's coffee houses. There aren't many books which can be described as original but this is one of them, a darkly humorous brew of sex, revenge, betrayal and music that is as seditious as its title and yet also deeply touching. With its two extraordinary female heroines and a Dickensian supporting cast, it's a book that stays with you. In the kitchen table discussion Katie herself said she thought that books lingering was random, but I don't think so. The imagery, the spiritual quality of the descriptions of music, but above all, the people in Sedition embed themselves in your mind.

The reviewers agreed. One described it as the kind of book that 'bookworms burrow inside to devour with relish from cover to cover. The kind you'll secrete behind all the other books on your shelves in case friends steal it and somehow "forget" to give it back. The kind from which you'll read chosen snippets to your offspring when they're old enough. An induction into the magical unruliness of words.'

Actually, it's an induction into the magical unruliness of lots of things: rape, incest, castration, and most alarming of all, apparently, the wildlife that roosts in grand houses when left to themselves. The usually unsinkable Maggie seemed to have been particularly disturbed by a scene where curtains are drawn back in a drawing room and a swarm of bats and spiders emerge from the dust-laden drapes.

'But that's what happens!' exclaimed Katie, regaling the salonistas with tales of similar occurrences from her own family home, a once grand(ish) house (main family house now a museum and art gallery) in Lancashire. On one visit her parents reported that a wall had fallen down in a child’s bedroom. When Katie and her sisters trooped upstairs to see it, the wall had indeed fallen down and was seething with zoological specimens. Her intrepid parents, with true aristocratic insouciance, simply moved the bed a couple of feet away from the epicentre of insect activity.

                                           Picture: Debbie Toksvig

'I suppose that did breed a sort of callous jollity that is part of me and has found its way into the books,' pondered Katie. She has previously written nine children's books, one of which deals with the severed head of one of her ancestors, who was executed for supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie. The head travelled widely, sometimes in a hatbox, and spent some years in the early twentieth century in a basket on a table in the drawing room. Finally buried in St. Peter’s Church in Burnley, the tomb was re-opened in 1978 to discover that Uncle Frank's head had been befriended by another head, origin unknown. The two heads are together still.

But it may have been the ferrets that finally finished Maggie Lennon off. One of Katie's sisters apparently keeps them as pets and had let them out in the night. For reasons which escape me, Katie's children came into the room and saw these little red eyes staring at them out of the blackness. They, having been brought up in Glasgow's leafy West End, were deeply upset, but Katie and her siblings had learned it was best to laugh. 'If you didn't laugh, the darkness of life would take over too much,' she said.

Maggie was looking pale by now, though managed to get in a comment about the Daily Mail and how no decent human being could be liked by the paper. Katie, who often writes for the Mail, ignored the remark and sailed on with a description of an article she'd written about primogeniture. Sedition has generated all manner of themes for debate.

Thankfully, the Divine Ms Anna's delicious orange and clementine cake restored equilibrium and literary pugilistics were averted. Maggie had clearly decided to conserve her energies for her next opponents. She's going on a night of speed dating before flying off to Berlin to hear Rufus Wainwright. 'So I won't give a damn,' she said. Her great charm is that she never does.

Katie Grant sallied forth into the night, plotting her next book, a novel set in 1985. Sedition startled many of her friends and family. After so many children's books they weren't expecting its dark content and savage wit. Her father, in fact, grumbled to one of her sisters, 'How does Katie know about all these things?' Katie, though, is relishing her freedom to write what she wants. I don't think she gives a damn either.


The Divine Ms Anna and her Domestic Accessory

The Divine Ms Anna and her Domestic Accessory
 
 
I missed the bit about pants. Unfortunately. I’m sure it was very enlightening, though have no idea where the discussion roamed. Thongs? Those bum-cleaving shorts with the seam up the back? The return of the tanga? (If only.)
 
That’s the beauty of the literary salon, that you are free to explore the most profound philosophical questions of the age, to debate politics, the economy, history, and books, of course. Plus pants.
 
The book in question was Dennis O’Donnell’s The Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly, a compelling read whose humour and humanity outweighed the horror of the subject. Dennis, who comes from the spooky sounding 'hinterland of West Lothian,' has also written a series of novels about Jack Black, a Bathgate (yes, really) private eye. His rite of passage novel, I Am the Eggman, is set in the swinging sixties he says he was once a hippy and you can sort of tell from the natty, Jaggeresque trilby he sports on his Facebook page.
 
Our hostess, the divine Ms Anna, was sporting a disappointingly muted combination of cropped jeans and soft grey shirt, no doubt to avoid comparison with her household appliances. But she surely can't think we failed to notice her planting of a domestic accessory? her one male guest, former Herald writer Ken Wright, was wearing pink socks the exact shade of that kettle of hers.
 
After the gazpacho, fresh and tangy on Glasgow's brief attempt at a summer evening, we went through to Ms Anna's salon, where Dennis read from the book. The section, about a trip to the local garage with an assortment of inmates from the locked ward, was both funny and touching, as so much of the book is.
 
Dennis swore he'd fictionalised the characters by merging characteristics and even changing people's gender, but the pen portraits are so truthful and vivid that I can't help feeling people recognised themselves and were pleased to be included. I once wrote a book (The Cruel Game) about a year on the snooker circuit and found that few minded being lampooned or teased what people really objected to was being left out.
 
The Locked Ward raises enormous issues about how we treat the mentally ill, questions about drugs, restraints and above all, compassion. Some in the group, which this time included museum curators, teachers and the unsinkable Maggie Lennon with yet another vivid hair colour, had actually had experience of the locked ward through family and friends, so there was much discussion of the ethics of it all, the black humour of the staff, and the need for commonsense. RD Laing's theories of mental illness being a valid response to the craziness of people around us was condemned by various members of the group, who saw mental illness as just that, illness that (like any other) would need treatment.
 
I think we were all agreed on one thing, that if we were to end up in the prison of the mind, Dennis O'Donnell would be the person we'd choose to help us through it, though I have to say he occasionally regarded the group with a look of both bemusement and amusement, the sort of look we might have for his collection of eccentric patients. Probably it was the far-ranging nature of the discussion, which was not confined to literature or mental illness.
 
Plus the pants.

The Scotia Short Story Final

                         SHOWDOWN AT THE SCOTIA
 
 
It's a notoriously hard nut to crack, the short story. How do you corral life into a couple of thousand words, ensuring that you have a recognisable structure and real characters? Somehow it's easier with shorter forms like flash fiction, where everything's compressed, or longer forms like the novel, which gives you room to breathe.
 
So as I took my place with my fellow judges at the final of the Scotia short story competition last night, I knew they might not have high expectations of the standard of stories we were to hear. Drew Campbell, president of Scottish PEN, is a novelist (Dead Letter House) and writer with extensive experience of analysing other people's work through his various stints as writer in residence and now, reader in residence for East Renfrewshire libraries. Dave Manderson is a novelist (Lost Bodies) and short story writer who teaches creative writing at the University of the West of Scotland. 'The marking,' he sighed, 'takes forever.' Between them they've read hundreds of thousands of words by hopeful writers.
 
But I could see their faces relaxing as the first reader began. Ray Evans, the Scotia's current poet laureate, launched into a misanthropic, subtly written tale of a megalomaniac artist who may be about to change the political climate forever.
 
'Well, that's set the benchmark really high,' Dave said.
The Scotia, of course, is one of the iconic literary pubs. James Kelman and Billy Connolly set up a writers' group which ran short story competitions and even published a couple of collections. The tradition was carried on by Brendan McLaughlin, but had dwindled away when Mary Rafferty took over as manager. She has restored the group, which meets on the second Monday of the month, and it now features some of the finest new writing in Scotland. Recently Kelman himself was in with some friends when the group was on. He dispatched a pal to see what it was like.
 
'Same sort of shite as when you were running it,' reported his mate.
 
We took that as a compliment.
 
Even as exacting a writer as Scotland's lone Booker winner would not have been disappointed last night. We heard stories of children whose lives were buffeted around by adults, a foray into the darker side of the property market, and a delicious confection on competitive duck feeding by Linda McLaughlin, whose writing is always beautifully crafted and pitch perfect.
 
'Charming,' pronounced Drew.
 
There were, though, three outstanding stories. Paddy Hughes is a newcomer to the Scotia, a young Liverpudlian whose work crackles with energy and invention. His story, Steady Hands, encapsulated the life of a hitman into the moments before he pulls the trigger. John Savage's Meeting Danny Boy was a darkly humorous story of Christmas Eve in the high rise home of two alcoholics. John is a previous Scotia poet laureate so it was no surprise that his first attempt at the short story was so powerful. The evening's finale was One Hot Day by another Scotia stalwart, Mo Blake of the Read Raw collective. A vivacious young woman, a stuffed-shirt young man who wants to become a priest, a walk in the country, in her hands became high-spirited, subversive comedy with a serious edge.
 
 
 
 
From left, John Savage, Mo Blake and
Paddy Hughes
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We had our prizewinners and it was only left to decide the order. The structural sophistication of Paddy Hughes's story, which took a complicated back story and wove it together with the drama of watching a hitman about to commit a murder,
was technically superb and we were unanimous in selecting it as the winner, unusual in my experience of judging competitions, when people's personal tastes often clash. How, though, do you separate two brilliant stories, John's hugely powerful with a playful edge, Mo's hugely playful with a powerful edge? In the end we decided to award two equal second prizes, which sent Mary, the manager, scurrying off to get new envelopes and divvy up the cash equally.
 
 
 
 
Paddy's story featured a murderous father, who had stabbed his mother and was now dead. But Paddy's dad was very much live and proud! 'And Mum's fine too,' he said.
  
 
 
 
Pictures by Mary Rafferty
 
Interestingly, Paddy had tightened up his work since the heats, when he'd gone over his time limit and been halted by the rattling spoons of Ray Evans, our timekeeper. The previous ending had lessened the impact of the story and we discussed how useful it is to read your work aloud and to sense fluctuations in the energy of those in the room.
                                             
 
'Sometimes it's when you sense that, that you realise what your story's really about,' commented Drew.
 
Modern writers have to be prepared to read their work aloud, something which is excruciatingly difficult the first time you do it. The Scotia competitions and the open mic policy at its monthly meetings offer writers the chance to practise this necessary skill in a safe environment, where people understand how terrifying an experience it can be to expose yourself in that way. So come along, all you writers aspiring to be Scotland's second Booker winner or simply to get published. Find out if you're hard enough.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Delicious Ingredients of a Literary Salon

THE DELICIOUS INGREDIENTS OF A
LITERARY SALON
 
First, take one stylish hostess, Anna Burnside, in fabulous wedges that she confides are the sensible alternative to her 'mad shoes,' and pink cropped trousers that match her kettle.
 
Throw in a bunch of mixed professionals, including journalists, social workers, a film producer and a gardener.
 
Stir in home made pea soup, runny soft Brie, countless nibbles and copious amounts of drink and conversation and you have the recipe for a splendid evening.
 
I'd never been to a literary salon before and was honoured to be invited to talk about my novel, Myra, Beyond Saddleworth, in the divine Ms Anna's elegant flat in the West End of Glasgow. Not being familiar with salons and how they're conducted, I was a bit flummoxed to be asked to do a reading but luckily I'd appeared at Glasgow's Aye Write Festival the week before and still had the print-out of the extract I'd chosen. I'd like to say it was forward thinking that led to its presence in my handbag, but alas it was blotched with either coffee or wine stains (my two staples) and had an email address scrawled on the back. I'm sure I'll remember soon why I was to contact the lady.
 
A literary salon, according to Wikipedia, 'is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.' They've rather fallen out of fashion since their heyday in 18th century France but this is perhaps the moment for their revival, when the literati are mulling over the paradox that women are the main consumers of fiction, yet wield much less power than men. A recent breakdown of the gender balance of literary magazines showed an astonishing bias towards men, with a magazine such as the London Review of Books, for example, featuring 174 female book reviewers, authors reviewed and bylines compared to 574 male. No wonder Spare Rib is making a comeback.
 
The glittering French salons gave women the opportunity to shine. The most famous were run by fashionable hostesses famed for their erudition and brilliant conversation. Just like us Weegies really, though Ms Anna, the Glaswegian Mme de Staël, confessed that some colleagues at the magazine where she was working found her 'strong meat' because of her lack of inhibition in expressing her opinions. They clearly hadn't encountered the irrepressible Maggie Lennon, who was also there that night.
 
Anna eschewed the French tradition of lounging on her bed with her guests around her and instead brought out an eclectic collection of funky modern chairs. The other Jean Rafferty (Jean Bond Rafferty), an American who lives in Paris and whose invites to fashion shows I'm always receiving, would no doubt have been able to identify them. I just know they weren't IKEA.
 
It's an interesting process for writers to be in such an intimate setting with their readers. I've appeared at a couple of literary festivals and there's almost a protective veil between you and the audienceyou're on a platform, you have a chairperson to moderate. I know Ms Anna would have jumped in if things had got heated, but this was a more democratic forum. And there was wine!
 
'I was very stern with them,' she told me. 'I insisted they all had to read the book beforehand.'
 
The result was a group of people genuinely addressing the issues of the novelwhy did the Moors Murderers do it? why were they so reviled when subsequent serial killers have killed far more people? was their background enough to explain their actions?
 
 The group were, of course, all womenthey rather than men seem to have embraced the novel as an art form, perhaps because it doesn't require specialisation. In general women, no matter how elevated they become in their chosen profession, are still involved in the minutiae of domestic and family life. They're the ones who get off the red-eye from New York and still spoon yoghhurt into the kids or drive them into school. They never get too far from reality, so stories of human beings seem viscerally important to them in a way they don't seem to be with men.
 
Fiction ranges through every level of human activity, from philosophy to morality to passion to shoes. You can refract science or religion or love through its lens; you can use it to reflect on literary form or to reflect on eternity. That's what makes it such a useful vehicle for discussing big issues, the nature of reality.
 
And some small ones. Our inspiring hostess Anna Burnside led the discussion into unexpected areas, such as when did M take the wig* off after she met the priest who became her lover? And wasn't he hot? She also produced the most delicious banana bread which, like Proust's madeleine, stirred distant memoriesin my case, that of chewing a bar of banana split toffee and jumping over puddles after I'd got my pocket money.
 
The whole thing was a delightful experience and I look forward to the next one, which will feature a male writer whose name Anna would not disclose. That's the other ingredient of the successful literary salon, a pinch of spiceand that Ms A has in abundance.    
 
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* M didn't sleep with the priest at their first meeting. The next time they met she brazened it out and turned up with her normal brown hair. He, being a hot male, wasn't looking that far north anyway.
** Men and haircuts: they're dimly aware you've changed something but they're not sure what.
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