The Barrier Book Club

Weaving my way through fields and across causeways I headed towards Robertson’s bistro in St Margaret’s Hope last night at the invitation of the local book group. I was excited and nervous in equal measure as the wipers squeaked across the salt-smeared windscreen and the car came to rest .

The Barrier Book Club had chosen Across the Silent Sea a month ago to read. It had been giving me an uncanny feeling to know that the book was being read and digested by local readers and that I was going to get to hear directly what they thought.

In the event it was a total joy to meet everyone and listen to their responses. There was an orderly but not overly strict go around giving everyone a chance to speak about their reading experience. To hear that the book was devoured by some in a single day whereas others had put the book down because of the strong  emotions the text evoked while yet others savoured their reading until there was proper time and space to dwell on the characters and how they develop.

To be told that a situation or character reminded readers of their own experiences reflects for me the chief solace of reading – to feel I am not alone. It’s such a simple thing, yet so fundamental. In amongst the narrative, and loving one character and really ‘getting’ another, or wanting to know just a bit more juicy detail, what came across from this wonderful group was how relatable they found the events and complexities of the lives portrayed.

There were so many comments which intrigued me and broadened my perspective as a writer from a readers point of view, things like differences of opinion on Claudette and Marcus, and differences in when the penny dropped about aspects of the subplot, and reactions to the bittersweet moments later in the novel that had everyone around the table quieten and take stock. These moments of shared remembering I will cherish.

On days when I need a mixture of ‘bum glue’ and ‘rocket fuel’ to keep on writing or editing I must, I must remember the gift of this evening.

It was a dark, windswept drive over the barriers. The windscreen wipers squeaked and I smiled, and smiled, and smiled…all the way home.

Thanks for having me. Now I really must get on with that next book.

South Ronaldsay book group - Gabrielle Barnby, orkney

The Alfred leaving St Margaret’s Hope on a beautiful still dawn – NB it is clearly not like this on a stormy night in November.

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Gabrielle Barnby