Book clubs really are the best, aren’t they?

People with a common interest—reading—coming together to talk about books, ideas, and issues. Also, possibly to drink some wine, eat some cheese and catch up with some friends. It sounds like heaven to me (I always especially enjoy the cheese part).

Earlier this year I boldly started up a new book club, aiming to meet every second month with some friends who live nearby, but we only managed to meet once before the coronavirus shutdown happened. We read The Weekend, by Charlotte Wood, which we all enjoyed.

Yesterday, though, I was invited to speak at someone else’s book club, and it was an absolute delight. Shoutout to Bayside Library, in Melbourne’s southeast, and the participants in the inaugural Zoom meeting of the group.

The group was facilitated by a fabulous librarian* and we spent a very happy hour talking about Elizabeth Macarthur, historical bias, research and the parochial way each Australian state views history.  NSW, for example, tends to focus on its early, Georgian history while in Victoria the emphasis is on the gold rush.

The Bayside Library book club was necessarily quite focussed. Online meetings don’t lend themselves to chit chat and we only had a limited time. My preference, though, is for book clubs to be quite informal. Chat about the selected book, by all means, but let’s also talk about other books, and about other things, and about life in general. For me, I guess, it’s really just a nice excuse to regularly catch up with people whose company I enjoy.

Interestingly—and in my experience unusually—the Bayside Library group was also keen to talk about the craft of writing.

They asked me terrific questions about structure, narrative and scene selection. In response, I hope I was able to offer some small insights into the writing process. Why I chose the opening paragraphs. Why I decided on a time-based structure, largely following the events of Elizabeth’s life (except for an early flashback). How I strived to include engaging scenes when all I had was reams of exposition. Or how I wrote about (or didn’t write about) the years about which the research was silent.

I can’t speak for the group, but I found it all hugely enjoyable!

It helped that I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the craft of writing lately, because Writers Victoria have asked me to run a single-day workshop called Writing Other People’s Lives. At this stage it will be held in June, via Zoom (I think). I’ll write a separate post about it in the next week or two, when I have more details.

Given that Bayside Library’s online book club meeting was such a success, I’ve been inspired to meet with my own, new book club online too.  We’ll try to come together in the next few weeks.

How about you? How are your book groups coming together during this period of physical—but not, I hope, social—isolation?


* Yes, all librarians are fabulous, I know. But it bears repeating.