Cotswolds Meet

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Our last meet was over 2 years ago but we did finally manage to agree on a date and place for this, our most ambitious to date. After many changes, our final group consisted of 10 of us, some 'official'  bookworms members, some partners and a couple of friends. It took place in the middle of October in a beautiful Cotswold farmhouse near Winchcombe, Middle Stanley Farm. This turned out to be the most perfect house and location and a good time was had by all. 

Friday

My husband Martyn & I picked up Alex at Cheltenham station in the afternoon. On arriving at the house we were soon joined by Gina, Neil, Elaine, Nick and Dave and all chose our bedrooms, of which there are 6 (plus a TV room with futon) and explored the other rooms, which included a cellar with a pool table and old cider press. We met with the owners, Chris & Finella, who were also helping us out later in the evening. We'd planned a murder mystery party but sadly, 2 of our group were unable to join us at the last minute so Chris & Finella had agreed to step in and take their parts. Everyone had brought food and drink so we proceeded to make ourselves at home and make a few preparations for the evening's entertainment. One or two of the assembly were somewhat nervous as one of the  party unveiled his collection of knives....... Here we were, in the middle of nowhere, with a load of people most of us had never met before, planning a murder party and here before us were enough weapons to kill us all!

The house

Cider press

Checking out the beer

What's for dinner?

The first of many

The King of Nibbles

When Sandie & Denise arrived, they were met by a very strange assortment of 'personalities' before rushing off to become two equally odd people, who were soon joined by Chris & Finella. Once we were all assembled in the lounge, the game began. In The Murder at the Manor, who had killed Lord Gettisjustdesserts? There was a slight delay when it was found that Herb had partaken too enthusiastically of the fruits of his garden and Cecil, being a great actor, undertook the additional role, made easier for the rest of us by his constant removing of hat and depiction of yokel. We ate and drank well and there was much hilarity before Nick M. N. Bookem and Naomi Heinz both correctly accused Speedy of being the murderer. Prizes of books were donated to all three, courtesy of Tiscali.  We all retired to bed - who knows how many people put a chair against their door that night?

Ian A.M Quick (Speedy), Semi Less, Flash X.Posure

Rev Trew N. Good, Mynza Double, Semi Less

Herb Atious Border

Naomi Heinz, Dr, Quinne Ine

Ima X.Quisite, Mynza Double

Ima X.Quisite, Flash X.Posure

NickM.N.Bookem, Cecil Bidet Mills

Cecil Bidet Mills, Eza Dedern-Gorne

Semi explaining about her melons film to the Rev

3 unusual suspects

Flash sampling the goods

No beans tonight for Ms Heinz

and 3 more

 

Saturday

The morning was spent in various pursuits. Neil and Dave played tennis, Sandie & Denise went off to explore the locality, Nick finished his book and the rest of us walked around the beautiful grounds and found the lake, and were rewarded after a walk to the end of the very long drive with a good view of the steam train going by.

Middle Stanley Farmhouse

The lake

Tennis court

Autumn colour

One of the horses

The Toddington steam railway

We later walked to the Royal Oak pub at Gretton, Chris having told us it was a 10 minute walk. All I can say is, he must be a very fast walker! It took us about 40 minutes and we later measured the distance to be 1.6 miles each way. Admittedly we were all gossiping on the way. It was a pretty good pub although the food tended to be more of the quantity over quality persuasion than my personal tastes prefer. On reaching 'home' we met with crime writer Rebecca Tope, who had agreed to come and talk to us about the process of writing and of her own career, which has been varied to say the least.

Since the weather was so unseasonably warm and beautiful, we elected to sit in the garden for our chat. I didn't make notes at the time so this report is based solely on my memory, never reliable! Rebecca started writing at a very young age and feels it to be something she has to do. She'd written about 8 novels, none of which were in the crime genre, before getting published. As well as writing, she has been employed as a relate councellor, ante-natal teacher and undertaker's assistant, all providing information which has been useful in her books. She explained to us that it took about 18 months before she knew that A Dirty Death would be published, and rather than the usual request to cut a book, she was asked to include a sub-plot and increase the word count. Since then, she hasn't had to do too much re-writing before publication. She wasn't published until she was over 50 and has been producing books regularly since then - in fact she writes them more quickly than the publishers require. Rebecca explained to us some of the complications of agents, publishers, book agreements, print runs and so on. The harsh reality is that you have to sell your books very quickly and unless there's a huge demand, further print runs are very rare. It's also difficult to get books into paperback - you need a certain number of sales first, or a huge public demand. A writer's lot is a hard one - few earn enough to support a comfortable lifestyle, which surprised us since with 7 novels published in fewer years, we would have expected Rebecca's writing to be self-supporting. However, it doesn't earn her enough despite a modest lifestyle so she has other strings to her bow. Because books go out of print so quickly unless they are hugely popular, writers earn much of their living from library issues, so don't feel guilty about borrowing rather than buying. We heard that Rebecca writes 1000 words everyday, usually in the mornings, and she also told us something of the way in which she works. Rather than research a place first, she uses her imagination but later checks out any facts which need to be verified. She tends to base her characters on people she has met - we'll be looking out for ourselves in future books! One of her series of books is concerned with the funeral industry, and her favourite character, Maggs, features in these. We asked a lot of questions and Rebecca was very open with her answers. I was delighted that I'd managed to find someone so interesting and so forthcoming to come to talk to us and we all felt we'd made a new friend. It started to get a little chilly so we retired to the dining room where we had tea and unveiled the incredible cake that Alex's mother had sent with him. It tasted as good as it looked and went down well with a cuppa while Rebecca signed books for us. We were sorry to see her go but she had a further engagement that evening. I think Rebecca enjoyed herself as much as we did and she sent me the following message 'I had a lovely time yesterday, and am grateful to you for inviting me.' Like us, she fell in love with the place and felt it would be an excellent choice of venue for one of her writing workshops.  

Listening to Rebecca Tope

Checking out some of her books

Book discussion?

The cake kindly provided by Alex's mother

Book signing

Cutting the cake

We then set about various activities, playing pool, chatting, listening to music and so on. Neil had brought his guitar and he and Dave played a set in the lounge although I'm afraid I missed Dave's contribution. It was all very civilised. We ate a makeshift meal of more of Nick's Nibbles and leftovers before some of us retired to bed and others to watch England qualify for the European Cup Finals - luckily highlights as I was exhausted by that time.

Sunday

We were awoken to the smell of bacon sizzling away in the Aga, Sandie & Denise having promised to cook us all breakfast. It was a delicious meal and set us up for a few hours before lunch. We even managed to squeeze all 10 of us around the kitchen table. The chefs then bid us goodbye and left to visit relatives on the way home. With the exception of Martyn, myself & Alex, everyone had to be at work the next day and so packed up ready to leave after our lunch break later that day. We set off for a browse around Cheltenham where some of us succumbed to buying yet more books. Then we went to Winchcombe, a delightful village where we had an excellent lunch at the Plaisterers Arms. They'd obviously been warned about us as they gave us our very own dungeon-style room! The food was extremely good and a fitting end to a great weekend with friends old and new. Those that were leaving, left, and the final three of us walked along the road to Sudeley Castle where we spent a very enjoyable few hours. 

Breakfast

Plaisterers Arms, Winchcombe

A last lunch

and very good it was too

Sudeley Castle

Sudeley Castle

 

We returned to the house for a few more games of pool, before watching Henry VIII on TV and then  crashed out. 

Monday

We took Alex back to the station and then Martyn and I drove on through the Cotswolds to Stratford where we were to spend the next 2 nights. Stopping at the delightful village of Broadway en route, we had an excellent lunch at the Lygon Arms and browsed the shops and art galleries. We had a wonderful time in Stratford, seeing 2 Shakespeare plays, Richard III and Cymbeline, a fitting end to a fairly literary weekend.

Footnotes

Post-meet comments from the 'worms':

I must get a grip on reality, that's what weekends in spooky big houses with funny carry-ons do to you.

would tend to agree that weekends away from reality can do strange things and it was great for me to forget about my worries and responsibilities for once, I think that may have shown quite
clearly!!

it restores my faith in human nature to know that there are still some lovely people around

diverse and interesting weekend!

I think my most enduring memory will be sitting on the terrace on Saturday afternoon in the glorious sunshine   really enjoying the chat with Rebecca whilst steam trains puffed by.   I was almost waiting for the Famous Five to run by and ask for "Lashings of ginger beer".  I found her descriptions of the writing way of life captivating and was so surprised that I, who hardly reads a novel, could relate to it. We were very lucky to have such wonderful sunshine.  I also enjoyed the evening chilling out and playing music ( as well as the England qualification).  The murder mystery game was fun but a little long. I enjoyed meeting Chris and Finella who seemed to be such fun. 

I enjoyed it - there, I've said it!

So that's it until the next one. I really enjoyed organising it all and was so pleased that it worked. It's a gamble to throw together a group of people who may not have met in 'real life' but everyone got on fine and the house was perfect in that there was room for people to do their own thing if they wanted to. Here's to the next time. 

 

 

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Site last modified on 2nd October 2011

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