Off I went to my second AGM ready to volunteer to be Folio Editor. Was I in for a surprise. Roy Plumb, then President, announced he was moving to West Wales. Gladys and Harold had given up coming to meetings, due to ill health. Ken Travis no longer wanted to be Secretary. Instead of coping with the wayward folio I suddenly had the responsibility of the entire Circle handed to me.
Membership was dwindling. The old members were dying. I started the idea of planting a tree in memory of each one. There must be a sizeable wood somewhere. The Circle wasn’t attracting any new members. Once the last of the Old brigade had gone, I was left with five. Drastic action was called for. I scrapped the secret ballot together with the clock and most of the antiquated rules and started dragging the group into the second half of the 20th century. I advertised in Libraries, newspapers, bookshops. I devised a printed programme, organised speakers and story competitions in which the local winners all got a year’s free membership, whether they wanted it or not. That’s how John Mayall (Rik’s Dad) arrived. That was a good day. Another was when Angela Lanyon turned up to see what we were like because the local Arts Council had told her we were useless but she wanted to decide for herself. Slowly we grew, we got stronger. We did bigger things. A Golden Jubilee anthology, short story competitions and bi-annual conferences.
I’ve forgotten many of the hundreds of writers and would-be writers who attended meetings over the twenty years of me being secretary. They came and went but we had a good ‘core’ membership – people I could rely on.
I’ll never forget The Old Brigade but, of course, there were others too.
There was Ken Kewn who wrote his Western, Massingham, in the cellar because it was the only place he could get away from the wife. Or Val who, when she read, always made me want to sit back and put my feet up because we all knew we were in for a treat, or David, the roofing specialist who wrote about insulation and paint for a trade magazine and gave one piece the title of Coat On A Hot Tin Roof. He also happened to be our only member ever published in Potato Monthly.
I’ll never forget sharing a few bottles of bubbly with the group when my first book came out, or the friends who turned up at Waterstones, for the book signing of my second, when I didn’t do the signing because I was the ghost-writer, and we nearly got thrown out of the Crocodile Cafe afterwards because we were being so lively.
I learned so much, made a lot of friends, had a lot of fun and, hopefully, passed on lessons to new members, but the time was right to leave. The group needed new ideas and, after two decades of leading them, it really was time to go.