A brief encounter sparks thirst for books

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As so often happens, it’s a chance encounter that yields the most surprising and rewarding experiences.

I met Sue Gulland at the funeral of a dear and talented man, who was a neighbour to us both. During the tea afterwards, she invited me to come along to the U3A Book Group, under the leadership of Anne Williams.

I like to think that these experiences are the legacy of the person whose funeral I’ve attended.

I contacted Anne and after meeting up, was given a copy of the Book of the Month. I set about reading the book, which was Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye, an American born in Tallahassee, and who grew up in Tampa, Florida.

Vanessa came to England looking for adventure, and now lives in Oxfordshire with her family.

Anne had explained that she was arranging a Skype call with the author, hoping that it would give depth to the discussion, allowing questions and discussion to take place between the author and the group.

When we were all gathered together at the Book Group meeting, the discussion about the book quickly got underway. It was animated, detailed, controversial and questioning.

We looked forward to meeting Vanessa and asking her to explain various aspects of the story and characters. Anne brought her laptop into the room and sat Vanessa metaphorically ‘on a chair’. Questions came thick and fast after the initial introductions.

The book was classed as historical fiction and based on several true events that took place in the USA in 1935.

It all started with a newspaper article Vanessa had seen about the hanging of a black veteran from the First World War.

Researching the event, a task she loved, prior to writing any of her book, she found further information about a massive hurricane in the Florida Keys.

The racial tensions that existed in America following the return of veterans from Europe after the 1914-1918 War, and the ensuing tragedy of these veterans, all added up to an amazing story.

Vanessa, when asked about the detail in the book about the hurricane, explained that she had experienced smaller hurricanes when she was a child.

When asked about the characters, she explained that she kept a list and periodically ‘killed ‘characters off, or alternately ‘kept them alive’….this list changed all the time. She made the distinction between tragedy and gratuitous tragedy to explain this action as she wanted to leave the reader with hope following the destruction caused by the hurricane.

It was a fascinating insight into the process an author goes through when writing a novel. After further questions about the title, the area, the characters and the plausibility of the plot Vanessa explained that it was often the true elements of any story that people struggle to believe, rather than the fictional pieces she writes.

I found the whole experience most rewarding. I was particularly delighted to be able to award the book a score along with the other members.

I discovered from the library that there are 24 book groups in the Wetherby district. I had no idea there was so much reading going on. In fact Wetherby has the most book groups of all the Libraries in Leeds City Council’s Community Library Network.

Between the Library and the book groups there is a well organised system in operation. The Groups are affiliated to the library which allows them special privileges; they pay nothing for reservations, have a six-week loan period, and access to the library’s Special Collections among other benefits.

This is a very symbiotic relationship as the Library benefits from the additional issues, and the book groups can access between five and 18 copies of their required book. In these testing times for local libraries it has to be a real bonus. Do pop in to your local library and see what else they have on offer.

If being active is more your thing, you’ll want to know that the 2016 Wetherby Bowls Club season is about to get underway at Grange Park. New members - free coaching 2pm on the following days; Monday - Crown Green; Tuesday - Flat Green; Thursday and Sunday - Crown and Flat.

For more information please visit the website www.wetherbyu3a.org.uk