Jane Austen's House Museum Writers' Group stitch together a meeting

8 Aug 2014

Madelaine consulted her diary, realising with a start that the first Tuesday of the new month was almost upon her, meaning that it was time for the monthly meeting of the Writers’ Group. She immediately set about emailing the other members, reminding them of the date. Remembering that, when they last met, they had failed to suggest a topic to stimulate the imagination of those who lacked inspiration, she felt it incumbent upon her to come up with a theme. Needlework had been on her mind for some days, for she had been planning craft-centred events to be held at the Museum. She added ‘Prompt: STITCH’ to the message and sent it on its way.


Nita blinked at her laptop screen. “Writers’ Group had completely slipped my mind!” she muttered to herself as she read the email.  “I quite like the prompt Madelaine has given us, though – I think I can do something with that – even though we meet in two days’ time!”


Annalie also warmed to the topic, feeling sure that she would be able to unearth a suitable poem relating to the suggested theme from amongst the creative jottings she stored on her computer. She switched the machine on. As she had feared for some time that its demise might not be far distant, she was not unduly surprised when the screen remained blank. Attempting to overcome her dismay, she searched through a cardboard folder for something she had already written and printed out.


Olive ignored the prompt for, having completed the first part of what she called her “Austen Family Chronicle”, she now looked forward to trying out the opening chapter of the second volume on her long-suffering Writers’ Group colleagues.


As Nita drew into the car park opposite the Museum, Madelaine was still in the upstairs office, gathering together the various papers she had been working on throughout the day, temporarily setting them aside. Annalie was busily closing the window shutters and putting Jane Austen’s House to bed once more. In the staff kitchen, Olive washed the cups which had accumulated there during the day before joining Nita, who had just entered the peaceful garden, where the scribes gather on mild summer evenings such as this.



As soon as the necessary drinks and biscuits were laid on the table before them, proceedings commenced. Nita was the first to share her creative outpourings. For some time she has been working on an exciting novel, set in a post-disaster period, in which England has become a place of anarchy where only the skilful survive. Women who had been considered to be ‘handy with their needles’ in normal conditions, now had to force themselves to put their talents to other uses, one of which was not for the squeamish, for it involved the repair of gory wounds, caused by marauding gangs. Nita writes vividly and her listeners found her tale engaging. As her chapter reached its conclusion they returned, with some relief, to the reality of the beautiful garden in which they sat, to the friendly robin which pecked the lawn beside them, and to the pigeons that created a stir on the roof.


Annalie provided a complete change of tone as she continued reading from the spoof blog she has created. EntitledWaitrose Ways – A Suburban Journey on Foot this episode was headed ‘Trolleys and Taramasalata …. an experiment with alliteration’ and included the words: “Now, I have a confession to make. Although I am a wayfarer at heart and have travelled to over 42 Waitrose stores…I have never, until this week, had any idea what taramasalata was actually made from”. Having revealed that it is Greek fish eggs, she concludes her blog with a recipe for ‘Taramasalata Surprise’ for which the ingredients are 1 tub of Waitrose extra chocolatey hazelnut spread and 1 spoon. Her punch line of, “that’s the surprise – you didn’t think I was going to suggest you eat fish eggs did you?” had us all laughing, an emotion that always seems appropriate in an environment in which we are certain that Jane Austen’s family laughed heartily as she read aloud to them amusing sections from her novels.



It was then Olive’s turn to read from her Family Chronicle, in which she attempts to bring the various members of the Austen family to life. The first section looks at the author’s ancestors, starting with her great-grandparents and ending with her birth in December 1775. Now it was time to relate the circumstances of her formal christening which, due to the severity of the winter, was delayed until Good Friday, 1776. Descriptions of the harsh weather conditions and the suffering they caused to the poorer inhabitants surrounding Steventon Rectory, coincided with the disappearance of the sun behind a cloud and the arrival of a chilly wind, which caused Madelaine to reach for her cardigan and the others to wish they had had the forethought to bring theirs.


Madelaine had brought two offerings, one part of a novel in which a child reluctantly joins a ‘working party’ for the production of needle cases and the other a rather beautiful poem entitled Threads of love in which she regrets losing the art of needlework in which her mother and grandmother were proficient.


The final verse reads:


 Each time I need a thread

 I open the box of cotton reels

 that my grandmother left me…

 and there,

 no matter what colour I need,

 is a bobbin (wooden not plastic)

 wound around with the exact shade

 I am seeking.



The group dispersed looking forward to their next meeting on Tuesday 2 September, soon after the Museum closes at 5.00 pm. Topic yet to be decided!


Olive Drakes



Note: Other members of the group were unable to make the meeting, though Sue promised faithfully that she had done the homework...



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