An excerpt from

Kitten on a Fatberg

Dan Brotzel, Martin Jenkins, Alex Woolf

Editors’ Note to the First Edition

Like many TV viewers, we were pleasantly appalled by Bleeding Typewriters, Channel 4’s notorious fly-on-the-wall documentary about the Crawley Writers’ Group. Here was a story that seemed to have it all – if, by all, you mean sex, drugs, violence, a vicious cosplay stalker, a prog rock reunion, and an alien mothership invasion.

As members of a (comparatively rather staid) writers’ group ourselves, we wanted to know more about this extraordinary collection of authors. Documentaries have a tendency to bring out exaggerated behaviour in people, so we were keen to uncover the real characters and trace the unguarded evolution of the group, right back to its beginnings as a twinkle in Julia Greengage’s eye.

The emails gathered here, then, present a true and unvarnished account of a developing dynamic – forming, storming, norming, performing, and even mourning. As editors, we saw our job as merely to facilitate the free flow of the unfolding story; to that end, we have excised material that was repetitive or merely functional, tidied up a few inconsistencies and inaccuracies, but otherwise left things as they were originally written. We conclude, of course, with a transcript of Bleeding Typewriters itself.

To our minds, the narrative this correspondence unveils is every bit as extraordinary as the documentary itself – exploding sheep’s heads, fascinator attacks, Twiglet sex and all.

D.B., M.J., A.W.

-----------------------------------------------------

From: JuliaGeeGee@gmail.com
To: Crawley Writers Group
Sent: 01.12.16, 10:37
Subject: Welcome writers of Crawley!

My dear writers

What a fantastic response to my little notice in the library!

I'll be honest, I was a tad trepidatious before I put the idea of a writing group out there, but I just thrive on creativity and so the idea of a little community of like-minded literary searchers was irresistible. 

So just imagine my delight when I returned to my little poster a few days later to see that all the little paper fingers with my email address on had been torn off! (The graffito about 'arty-farty slags' I could have done without, but still.) 

So if you're getting this email, welcome to the group and I hope the writing is flying! I propose we meet every 2 or 3 weeks, rotating around different homes or other venues (pubs can work, but in my experience all that boozy bustle can be a tad unconducive). We'll be reading bits of our work, exchanging constructive feedback – and generally sharing the pains and pleasures of this excruciating yet exhilarating endeavour we call Literature!

I propose that we meet at my place for our first gathering – it's No 1 The Larches, the big one at the start of that private road opposite the golf course with the newly – and very dearly – asphalted carriage drive (don't ask). Shall we say next Thursday, 745 for 8? Do let me know if you can come. 

I thought it might be nice if we all briefly e-introduced ourselves beforehand, so we know a bit about each other before we meet? I'm Julia Greengage, 49 (though my dear hubby insists I don't look it), and I've been an actress for about 25 years (Bad Girls, The Bill, ‘difficult fibroids patient’ in Holby etc). My husband is big in HR at the airport, and we moved here because the commute from Richmond was sapping his spirit. 

In between gigs in 'the biz of show', I moonlight as a paralegal, but my secret self has been plotting the big novel for over a decade. I've finally got an idea I can work with and a few draft chapters, and am looking forward to putting it out there!! Nothing ventured and all that! I guess style-wise I'm a mainstream fiction type, with a love of big emotions and gut-wrenching twists, somewhere between David Nichols and Judi Picoult. Well one can but dream!

Anyway enough about me. Do drop the group a line to let us know if you can come and tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Until Thursday, dear writers!

Julia

-----------------------------------------------------

From: aliceknowles@mewriter.com
To: Crawley Writers Group
Subject: Re: Welcome writers of Crawley!

Hello Julia, hello everyone. I’m really looking forward to meeting you all and getting acquainted with your work. Julia, you wanted us to say a little about ourselves. Okay, well I’m Alice and I’m 42, and between 9 and 5 on weekdays I’m a payroll clerk at Sussex College, but at every other time, and in every other sense, I am a WRITER. That is how I define myself.

In my writing life, I am currently in the planning stages of a novel about a young woman from Three Bridges who goes on holiday to Greece. I’ve been developing it for a while now, and blogging about the process on my blog AliceKnowlesWriter.com – which you’re all welcome to check out. Here’s a quick flavour:

Planning should never be formulaic or routine. It’s a process of revelation. It’s about revealing the full potential of the story you want to tell. At its best, planning is a journey of self-discovery where all roads are open and there are no cul-de-sacs or one-way streets. When I think about planning, I don’t think of lists or diagrams or flowcharts, I think of a flower with petals unfolding...

That comes from my post ‘How to plan’. I’ve also written articles on how to write, how to write about writing, how to write about planning, and the danger of planning becoming a displacement activity for writing. Julia, as you’re in the early stages of your novel, you may find some of this quite useful? 

So anyway, that’s me. Look forward to seeing you all on Thursday.

Alice

-----------------------------------------------------

From: keith_sadwicke@techsolutions.co.uk
To: Crawley Writers Group
Subject: fâh-teë sLags (aka ‘Greetings all!’ in Xęn”dährin)

Hey Julia. Cheers for this. The name’s Keith Sadwicke. 29 years of age, IT consultant and Chief Moderating Golem of Helms Deep, a Tolkien fanfic forum, where I go by the name of Wormtongue. Am currently in the midst of writing Vol 7 of my Dragons of Xęn”räh saga – Ice Realm of the Otherlings. Looking forward to sharing my latest chapter with you. It’s roughly 4,873 words, so should be okay to read the whole thing.

All you need to know for background is that the Hallia of Elberon (the forest world) are hoping to team up with the Otherlings of Greensky (the ice world) to bring down the evil Idris and his Cohorts of Myce. But little do they know that the Ilf (a kind of troll-dragon hybrid) of Kelltia (the fire world) is on their trail, eager to do Idris’s bidding.

The story picks up on an ice lake on Greensky. The voluptuous Bink Hallia is in conversation with Odos the Otherling, who’s decided to offer her a cohort of his best warriors if she’ll sleep with him. That’s how the chapter starts.

For those who’d like a bit more background, I can send you the full 10,000-word synopsis, which covers the entire saga to date. Warning: the synopsis does contain some Xęn”dährin, the main language I invented for my world. There is a glossary available, but for that you’ll have to pay, or else buy Vols 1-3 (available as ebooks from Amazon Media), which contain the glossary in their backmatter.

Cool. That’s about it for now. Look forward to introducing you all to the world of Xęn”räh.

K

-----------------------------------------------------

From: Mpranesh@gmail.com
To: Crawley Writers Group
Sent: 04.12.16, 07:12
Subject: Re: Re: Welcome writers of Crawley!  

Hi Julia 

I'll definitely be there.

Mavinder

-----------------------------------------------------

From: armory-wargrove.jonathan@nhs_dental-estimates.gov.uk
To: Crawley Writers Group
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Welcome writers of Crawley!

Hi Julia,

Jon here. Yes, I can make Thursday.

A bit about myself, as requested:

I’m the wrong side of 60 – just! I’d call myself a Seeker and have, I think, learned a thing or two in my time.

I’ve always been a bit of a rebel. At school myself and a few other reprobates formed a prog rock band and went on to a soupçon of success after we left. The King of Elfland’s Daughter was the name of our band, if anyone recalls. Couple of albums, touring – happy days (or should I say ‘daze’!).

When the band unravelled I hit the hippy trail and then, back in Albion, got involved in the alternative scene: astrology, reiki, ley lines, you name it. I lived for two years in a teepee in Wales and spent a lot of the 90s laying down ambient beats in chillout rooms at ‘raves’.

Anyway, long story short: health and other problems caused an abrupt return to ‘reality’. I’m now working at the Dental Estimates Board (the big office block in Caversham Road) as a Senior Assessor. I’ve been there 15 years now.

I began writing about two years ago, the first stuff I’ve done since penning lyrics back in the day. I write short stories about animals; think Wind in the Willows or Watership Down and you’re on the right track. They are hopefully entertaining stories which will appeal to young and old alike but they also have a message for ‘those with eyes to see’.

These dark days, allegory is sadly necessary - thankfully, those who promote tyranny lack the ability to read with the Inner Eye of Imagination! Think about State links to literary critics for example…

Anyway that’s me. I’m looking forward to meeting the group – I’ll bring a bottle of plonk!

All the best.

Jon

Jon Armory-Wargove

Senior Assessor
Dental Estimates Board

This message is sent for and on behalf of the Dental Estimates Board, an NHS Service Provider. It may contain confidential information. If you are not the intended recipient please inform the sender that you have received the message in error before deleting it. Please do not disclose, copy or distribute information in the e-mail or take any action in reliance on its contents: to do so is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful. Thank you for your cooperation.

-----------------------------------------------------

From: keith_sadwicke@techsolutions.co.uk
To:
armory-wargrove.jonathan@nhs_dental-estimates.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Welcome writers of Crawley!

Hey Jon. Can't say I've heard of your band (sorry), but just googled you. Cool cover art for your second LP – can't read the gothic font, so don't know what it's called. Was the art inspired by Tolkien by any chance? It reminds me of Arwen the elf princess on her white charger riding through the forest in Fellowship.

Keith

-----------------------------------------------------

From: peterpeterpeterpeter@gmail.com
To: Crawley Writers Group
Subject: <no subject>

The scene: a Post Office (this Post Office), one Saturday (this Saturday). A long queue of restless customers, each laden with Christmas parcels. And only two windows open. (Or rather: two windows, both open.)

At one window, there’s a man who’s just been served but won’t go away. He asks: ‘Was the postal order definitely for £15.75?’ People in the queue tut, the woman behind the counter rolls her eyes. ‘Yes!’ she says. She has obviously been asked this question several times already.

The man looks, if not unkempt, then uncared for. He wears taped-up pebble glasses, a tatty anorak, a thick off-cream cardigan that is regulation charity shop. The swirls of his dirty-white beard converge oddly around his mouth. You look at him through the prism of preconception and think –‘disability benefit, bit mad, bet he doesn’t have to work for a living’.

Still he hovers. By now, other people are being served. ‘I just want to confirm this and then I’ll be on my way,’ he says stubbornly over the shoulders of the new customers. ‘Was it definitely £15.75?’ The tuts and groans of the queue grow louder; people start to mutter. He persists: ‘Can I please just see the paper with £15.75 on it again?’ Now people are shouting out: ‘YES IT WAS!’ ‘She’s told you 100 times already!’ ‘Someone shove a receipt up his arse!!!’

At last he shuffles off.

The next man in the queue says to the counter, ‘Ten first-class stamps… And can I please just confirm that the last customer’s postal order was definitely £15.75?’ The queue guffaws appreciatively. The new customer is pleased with his joke too, so pleased that he repeats it five more times.

As I leave, the queue is now almost out of the door. And now I see that the postal order man has only shuffled off as far as the end of the queue.

He is waiting in line again. Just to check.

To ask the awkward question. To stand behind my truth. To withstand the barbs of outraged middlebrow taste. To re-present the present. To say what must be said (even – or especially – if it has already been said). To articulate my anxiety. And then just get in line… and do it all over again. This is how I see the job of Peter, writer (my real job I mean; my actual job is consulting with owner-managed small- to medium-sized enterprises on health & safety risk assessment).

And then just get in line… and do it all over again.

And then just get in line… and do it all over again.

And then just get in line… and do it all over again.

And then just get in line… and do it all over again.

See you all on the 15th.

Peter, writer

PS I note there have been offers to bring wine – can I take ownership of the snack requirement? Does everyone like Twiglets? Or something more traditional like Monster Munch? If you can just state your preferences on the attached questionnaire, I will action.

-----------------------------------------------------

From: blueyblu@blueyonder.com
To: Crawley Writers Group
Subject: Hello I guess

Blue here guys my real name is Priscilla but everyone calls me Blue. I’ll be along on Thursday don’t worry if I seem v quiet as I have difficulty in social situations until I relax which I’m sure will be soon. I have always been a writer ever since I was little – I love poetry write poetry read poetry. Favourites are Baudelaire Rimbaud mad old poets and more recent Adrienne Rich Anne Sexton Sylvia esp. Sylvia. My poetry is very intense and tells it like it is about me and my emotions and the world how the world is. It is like looking to see into myself and be honest and let it out so I use free verse which means no rhymes and academic bs. Just raw feels.

More about me – this is copy/pasted from my tumblr page ‘A Void’ (warning: some nsfw):

My name is Blue. I am Poet, Artist, Phoenix!
Loves: solitude, misty graveyards. Hates: hate.

I identify as bi/genderfluid. Pronouns: she/her. Body positive.
Two cats: Siouxsie and Robert (the Lovecats!).

As Nietzsche said “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” This is so true – look into my void!

Ps I forgot to add I work in the Heart charity shop in the town centre. You may have seen me there.

-----------------------------------------------------

From: armory-wargrove.jonathan@nhs_dental-estimates.gov.uk
To:
keith_sadwicke@techsolutions.co.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Welcome writers of Crawley!

Hi Keith

Yeah the font is a bit hard to read; the title is Glimmers of the Crystal Mind. I wouldn't say it was Tolkien specifically that inspired the cover though we were all big fans. The band’s name is taken from a Lord Dunsany novel – a bit of a lost classic. Worth a try if you haven’t read it.

Maybe send me your synopsis if you have a moment.

See you Thursday!

Jon

Jon Armory-Wargove,

Senior Assessor

Dental Estimates Board

This message is sent for and on behalf of the Dental Estimates Board, an NHS Service Provider. It may contain confidential information. If you are not the intended recipient please inform the sender that you have received the message in error before deleting it. Thank you for your cooperation.

-----------------------------------------------------

-----------------------------------------------------

From: aliceknowles@mewriter.com
To: Crawley Writers Group
Subject: About last night…

Hello everyone.

I just wanted to say, it was great to meet you all last night. Sad that Mavinder couldn't make it. I hope to meet her next time. I was blown away by the standard of work. It’s really inspired me.

Peter, I can't pretend that I understood every part of your ‘performance’, or even any part of it, but it had its own unique quality.

Keith, your story is amazing, both in complexity and length. I don't know how you can write so much! I think one or two of us struggled at times to follow every detail – there are just so many characters and locations! Also, I got a little distracted towards the end when Jon started tapping his feet and looking at his watch.

Sorry I didn't manage to bring anything of my own. As I explained, I’m still in the planning stages of my novel, and I want to be absolutely sure of its conceptual soundness before I start committing it to words.

Alice

-----------------------------------------------------

From: JuliaGeeGee@gmail.com
To: Crawley Writers Group
Sent: 17.12.16, 09:53
Subject: Re: About last night…

My dear dear fellow writers

Wow, wow and thrice wow!

Firstly, I just want to apologise for not following up sooner after our wonderful first meet. It was actually my birthday yesterday, and hubby surprised me by taking the day off and whisking me to town for cream tea at the Ritz followed by a whizz round the new Caravaggio exhibition at the Royal Academy, and then tickets to see The Book of Mormon. Outrageous! (but so clever and so funny.)

It was a wonderful day and a lovely surprise – but all the more so as I was all aglow from the first meeting of the Crawley Writers Group! And what a meeting it was. We sang, we soared, we expressed ourselves, we created anew. Things emerged which, I firmly believe, could not have been uncovered alone. Truly the sum of our writing voices is greater than its individual parts, and it was so inspirational just to be rubbing shoulders with so much artistic passion and innovation, and all of it shared so freely. Thank you, writers!!

@Alice – wonderful to hear about your project in more detail. I think it’s so clever and unusual how you’ve written the acknowledgements page and the afterword to your book without the bit in between yet! I so look forward to sharing in your planning process and perhaps even seeing some of your actual writing! (When you’re ready of course.)

@Keith! Wow again! I was totally blown away by the passion and the intensity of your reading. It had never occurred to me before that the icy elf ones would have such different voices from the fiery troll-like ones (or again the pixie-like sky beings – forgive me, I’ve never been very good with fantasy nomenclature, but I’m sure I shall learn them all in time). The different voices and accents you gave us – not to mention your expert pronunciation of the invented language, complete with your helpful opening remarks on its syntactic principles and basic inflectional forms – all brought it wonderfully to life for me. I don’t think you should worry about reading for longer than the others – you’re at a different stage to many of us composition-wise, and these things all even out in the wash eventually.

@Blue – I wanted to weep at the delicate delineations of pain and sorrow you sketched for us with your exquisite poems. Your image of the kitten with the razor blade in its mouth and the baby sparrow it eviscerates will continue to haunt me. (And how clever – and powerful – of you to make that the chorus of your epic anti-limerick!) Your writing has an incredible lived quality, as if we were being given a unique ringside seat on a mental breakdown. Do your parents live nearby by the way? You know, I’m often around in the day if you ever fancy a cuppa and a chat – just drop me an email.

@Peter! Extraordinary. Listening to your work I marvelled anew at the diversity of everyone’s voices and the courage it takes to stand behind one’s unique vision – especially yours! It took me quite a while to realise you were reciting to us the trail of the emails we’ve been exchanging… only backwards! And then to segue into reading the labels from the various lotions and potions you found in my bathroom! So innovative. Have you read any David Nichols by the way? He can be quite experimental, can’t he?

@Jon! Your apocalyptic vision of a new right-wing world order made me shudder with rueful recognition (retrospectively, at least, as I’d not been clever enough to grasp it all on first hearing) but also very soppy at the same time, as you’d cleverly re-imagined the key characters/conspirators as lovely ickle beavers and otters. Shades of Animal Farm, perhaps? More power to your polemical and yet endearing elbow!

@Mavinder – see what you’re missing! We’re so sorry you couldn’t make it and we’d so love to see you next time.

Talking of which, we’re now heading into the Christmas madness, so how about a meet in middish Jan – say Friday 20th? Very (very!) happy to host again, unless someone else would like to? Please drop the group a line to let us know you can come and if you’d like to host.

Until then – have a cool yule(!) and see you on the other side

Julia xx

-----------------------------------------------------

From: keith_sadwicke@techsolutions.co.uk
To: Crawley Writers Group
Subject: Cool sesh

Hey all. Keith here. Ace meeting the other night.

@Jon, I was well impressed with your world-building. Beavers and otters that talk (and drink and fight). What’s not to like? It has graphic novel all over it. Others read stuff into it about right-wing populism, Farage, Trump, etc. But for me it was just a cool yarn. And your voice when you read is like Saruman from LotR, all deep and meaningful. I could have listened to you all night. Do you go to Comic Con ever? I could get you in cheap, if you ever want to. They have publishers, agents and stuff, it’s a good place for contacts.

@All, I’ve decided to take a leaf out of Pete’s book and go a bit meta. I’m giving each of you short (I know, not like me ;) ) reviews in the character of Odos the Otherling. It’s in Xęn”dährin, which I’m sure you’ll all soon be speaking like Greensky natives.*

Jon: Cøöł

Julia: Lųv-lęë

Pete: WãNč-hà

Alice: BlôcHđ

Blu: Slâ-shyä RīsTs

Until next time then, folks, may you all grow like gronions with your heads in the earth (traditional Elberon farewell).

Keith

*Alternatively, you can purchase the full 50,000-word dictionary for just £4.99 from my website, xendahrin.com

-----------------------------------------------------