Stephen returned to room one to find that Ted and Harriet had finished setting out the chairs. Half a dozen members stood in a group chatting quietly as they waited for the meeting to start. Stephen walked across to join them but was called over by Harriet.
'I have a message for you from Deirdre.' She fumbled in her bag and bought out a folded piece of paper. 'This is her number, could you give her a call?'
Stephen took the note, scanned it quickly and put it in his top pocket.
'Of course I can. Any idea what it's about?'
'I think she is considering climbing into bed with the Devil,' said Harriet.
Stephen looked at her quizzically.
'I believe that she has finally decided to get a computer.'
'Blimey,' said Stephen. 'That's a turn up for the books. It's a little late for The Quilt, though, isn't that all written by hand?'
'It is,' said Harriet. 'It fills seventy four exercise books.'
'Maybe she's finished it and wants to start something new,' said Stephen.
'Perhaps,' agreed Harriet. 'She's over seventy, so her next project won't be quite the epic her last one was.'
'Forty years is a heck of a long time to spend on one project,' agreed Stephen. 'She'll need to get herself on an IT course, there are one or two that are free for pensioners. I'll ring her from work in the morning.'
'I think Janice will help her with the computer, she's young enough to understand them.'
Harriet pulled a stack of forms from a box and placed them in a neat pile on the row of tables in front of her.
'Voting forms,' she whispered.
'What are we voting for?'
'You'll see soon enough, I don't want to steal Margot's thunder.'
Harriet looked up as another group of people entered the room.
'This is a very good turn out,' she said. 'Almost as many as we get for the regular meetings.'
Stephen studied the group but couldn't see anyone he recognised. Then Jackie Collins entered, followed by the mini driver. He waved to Stephen then took a seat on the back row, the woman sat down next to him.
Stephen left Harriet to get on with her preparations and walked to the back of the room. He offered his hand to Jacky who stood up to shake it.
'Hello again,' said Jacky. 'Exciting times, eh?'
'It's only an ideas meeting,' laughed Stephen. 'Nothing may come of it.'
Jacky pursed his lips and shook his head.
'The revolution has begun, believe, Stephen, believe.'
He turned to the woman in the next seat.
'Georgina, this is Stephen King, Stephen, Georgina Manson.'
'We spoke earlier,' said Georgina, quietly. ' Mr King had his hands full at the time.'
Stephen coughed and sat down. Georgina smiled to herself and looked to the front.
Harriet checked her watch and whispered something to Ted.
'She'll be back in the bloody bar,' replied Ted, louder than the meant to. 'I'll go and find her.'
As Ted got to his feet the door burst open and Margot breezed into the room like a Diva taking to the stage. Ted sat down again and winked at Harriet.
'Hello, people, sorry I'm a little late, we had a bit of a problem but it's all sorted now.'
She shot a glance at Stephen and mouthed something. Stephen shook his head, unable to understand. Margot mouthed the words again, but Stephen still couldn't work out the meaning.
'She's lost her knickers,' said Georgina, helpfully.
Twenty five pairs of eyes focussed on Margot.
'We know why you're late now then.' said a voice.
'Not me,' Margot spluttered. 'Dot...the art class model.'
Stephen shrugged his shoulders and held out both hands.
Margot strolled to the front, placed her clipboard on the table, nodded to Ted and Harriet, then sat down heavily. Ted got to his feet and faced the membership.
'Before we begin, could we all to stand while we remember, absent friends.'
Half the members stood immediately, others took their time getting to their feet. Ted closed his eyes and clasped his hands.
'Absent friends,' he said.
'Absent friends,' mumbled the crowd.
Ted stood in thought for a few moments then cleared his throat.
'I now call this advisory meeting to order and ask the club secretary to address the membership.'
A young woman on the front row clapped as Ted sat down. Margot got to her feet, swayed slightly and put both hands on the table to steady herself.
'Fellow members,' she began. 'It has come to the attention of the committee that a section of the membership feel that they have been excluded from the decision making processes of the club. In order to rectify this situation, the committee decided to send out an email questionnaire asking for the thoughts of the newer members of the group. We have had time to study the responses and this meeting has been called to answer some of the points raised and to put a plan forward for the future.'
Margot picked up a sheet of paper and squinted at it.
'I have a few announcements to make, but first we'd like to give you the chance to air your views. What would you like to see change?'
'You can get rid of that absent friends, nonsense before every meeting for a start,' said a voice from the second row.
The members mumbled in agreement.
'And make it first come first served in the car park,' said another.
'Less in the way of bloody poetry competitions,' said a third voice.
Margot held up her hand for silence.
'Could you please raise a hand if you want to speak, then identify yourself to the group. The meeting will degenerate into chaos if everyone just shouts out arbitrarily.'
A tall man wearing a t-shirt and jeans got to his feet.
'My name is Josh Steading and I agree with the member who called out a moment ago. Why should we have to stand to think about absent friends, when we have absolutely no idea who these friends are, or why they are absent? They could be down the pub or at the bingo for all we know.'
'It's called respect,' said Ted. 'The people we are remembering have passed on.'
'But we never met them, so how can we remember them?'
'The same way we remember the war dead,' replied Ted. 'You never met them but they deserve your respect.'
'Indeed they do,' replied Josh. 'But they died fighting for their country. They weren't just members of a local writing community. I fully respect your right to remember them, but you shouldn't expect people who have no idea who they are, to honour them in the same way.'
Ted got to his feet to a argue the point but Margot interrupted him.
'Absent friends, is a custom that has been practiced in the club for as long as any of us can remember. It's a tradition.'
'It's ludicrous,' said Josh.
'Get rid,' said a woman in the front row.
'Moving on,' said Margot. 'Who else has something they'd like to bring up?'
'Let's have a vote on it,' called Josh. 'All those in favour of dumping absent friends.'
Josh threw up his hand, twenty five more followed his example.
'See, the revolution has begun,' whispered Jacky.
Stephen felt uncomfortable, it was one thing modernising the club, it was another thing entirely to wipe away all of its traditions.
A red haired girl with a ring through her top lip got to her feet.
'Tracy Reed. I'd like to talk about manuscript reading nights,' she began. 'Why is it that only a select group of members ever get to read?'
'That's one of the things we have already agreed to look into,' said Margot. 'We understand that the way readers are selected at the moment, might be seen by some, as the committee practicing a modicum of favouritism.'
'More like bloody nepotism.' said Tracy. 'That old bird who writes about her knitting gets to read every week, then the Darby and Joans line up behind her. No one else gets a chance.'
'Knitting?... Oh, Deirdre, it isn't knitting, but...'
'I turned up for eight bloody sessions on the trot and didn't make it onto the list,' she complained. 'Meanwhile, Old Spinning Jenny takes us from the great depression to the start of the second world war. I used to go home and have nightmares about suffocating under a giant quilt after a meeting.'
A dark haired woman in a long knitted dress stood up.
'I'm Belinda Dray. I agree, I gave up after five meetings, I got sick of hearing that old bloke whine on about India.'
Ted choked and reached for the water jug.
Four more members got to their feet and began to talk at once. Margot held up both hands and asked for calm.
'As I said... AS I SAID, manuscript reading nights are to undergo a transformation. We have plans to make the process more democratic and we're going to hold an extra reading night and have the competition nights, bi-monthly, instead of monthly.'
'That will mean less competitions,' moaned Tracy.
'Not necessarily,' argued Margot. 'There will be the same number of competitions, we'll just have the presentations every two months.'
'Less bloody poetry comps,' shouted a voice.
'Hear hear,' said another.
'Has anyone other than the old guard, ever won a competion?' asked Belinda.
'Not to my knowledge,' said Josh. 'Some of the winning entries are atrocious. Who judges them?'
A shaven haired man in the front row stood up.
'Marvin... Marvin Gresty. I move that the members appoint a new judging committee. All in favour?'
Twenty five hands were raised.
'We could vote in a whole new committee while we're at it,' said Marvin.
Heads nodded in agreement. A dozen conversations started at once.
Steven turned to Jacky with a look of horror on his face.
'This is going too far, Jacky.'
'It's democracy in action my friend.'
Margot was having trouble making herself heard over the commotion.
Ted got to his feet and tried to quieten the crowd but was shouted down. Everyone was on their feet arguing about who should be on the new committee. He turned to Margot and shook his head in defeat. Margot slammed her clipboard down on the table as hard as she could but got no reaction. Harriet began to cry.
'This is horrible.'
'I think we may have to abandon the meeting,' said Ted.
'What was that?' asked Margot.
Ted stopped mid sentence as Stephen's voice rose above the clamour.
'STOP THIS...STOP THIS NOW!'
The angry voices were hushed.
'What kind of way is this to decide anything? You claim to want a democratic organisation, then you shout down everyone who has a differing view to your own.'
Stephen walked to the front of the room. The members watched him intently.
'I joined this club because it is, A, local, B, established, and C, according to its publicity leaflets, a community of writers of all ages and abilities. I have since found all of this to be true. The problem lies not in the club's membership, but in how power is distributed.'
Stephen held out his hand towards Margot, Harriet and Ted.
'These good people, among others, have had the unenviable task of keeping a local club with a dwindling membership, alive. They have managed to keep it going through some very difficult times. They should be applauded for that, not castigated. The main problem seems to be, that the power to make change is held in too limited a circle, therefore the committee has ceased to be representative of its membership. People have become angry and frustrated because their voice isn't being heard. This matter is finally being addressed, but we, as the younger half of the membership, shouldn't expect all our demands to be met, nor should we expect any changes we do make, to be pushed though immediately. We should remember that more than half of our members are not represented here tonight and their individual opinions carry just as much weight as ours. This dispute should not be allowed to turn into an, us against them, young versus old, civil war. I know for a fact that there are some older members who want change every bit as much as we do. Others will be happy to go along with the majority view; there is no need for animosity.
There are bound to be people, on both sides, who feel that change has gone too far, or not far enough. If that is the case then we will have got the balance just about right. I am for change, but I am against throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This club has been in existence for over one hundred years, it has had many a famous novelist in its ranks over that time and I'm sure, given the right circumstances there will be more to come. We should always be looking for ways to improve the club, but we should respect some of the traditions too. We should be looking for evolution, not revolution.'
Stephen turned to Margot.
'Madam secretary, the floor is yours.'
Stephen returned to his seat with applause ringing in his ears. Jacky patted him on the back as he sat down.
'That told 'em.'
Georgina looked at Stephen through watery eyes.
'That was wonderful,' she whispered.