Review of ‘The Quaker Cafe’ by Brenda Bevan Remmes

Liz Hoole has been living with her husband, Chase, and her family in the small community of Cedar Branch in North Carolina for thirty odd years. Although not a Quaker by birth (not a ‘Birthright Quaker’) Chase’s family is and she has been absorbed in the Quaker community and adopted much of its teaching, most particularly its egalitarian outlook.

When Judge Kendall, the father of her beloved friend, Maggie, dies, people in the white Cedar Branch community – which includes the Quakers – are startled when Maggie, a Methodist, insists on holding a funeral service jointly with the black community church. This event, which occurs about a hundred pages into the book, at first seems like just another of the many sidetracks in this storyline, but, as the novel develops, it becomes pivotal, an enormous hook into incidents which occurred years ago and which explains why there are two communities in Cedar Branch, divided along racial lines. This is not ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ light, but an unique story in its own right, well told, well put together and convincing.  And thoroughly enjoyable.

Brenda’s understanding of Quakers is thorough and insightful, and illuminating; Grandpa Hoole in his open neck shirt and Grandma Hoole in her plain grey dress with her hair pulled back, with their distinctive attitudes towards silence, on no man showing deference to another, on alcohol and sweet potatoes, at first seem like cameos. However, actually, their conflicts with modern life, with modern temptations and the way the rest of us live ours are the story.

If I were to criticise, I would point out that the story took a long time to get into its stride, with many deviations: mc setting out to seduce her husband by appearing naked in front of the television when he was watching basketball, only to find his father sitting with him; her float at the Easter Pageant going all wrong in a way which ‘you had to be there’ to appreciate as humorous. Also the title, although catchy, did not really encapsulate the story. Characters, however, were likeable, and distinctive from each other, and the reader readily gets on their side.  ‘The Quaker Café’, a first book by this author, is thoroughly recommended.

I have just studied the results from the Word Play Short Story comp 2015 and see that I’m a finalist, although I didn’t win it.  I’m very happy to be a finalist.  Time was when entering any comp was a waste of time for me.  Thank you, Writers’ Dock, Chapter SeventyNine, Sally Quilford course, Anne Rainbow’s Red Pen and all the others who have helped me along my way.   Thank you also, Patsy, and Sharon from Kishboo, who congratulated me in Tweets.  Sorry not to respond earlier but, in the last week, I started teaching again for the first time in 6 months, do marking for my previous employer and and had to pack to go on holiday in India.

So far, I’m liking India very much, and the South Indian tandoori food even more than the country itself.  When we arrived yesterday, they put garlands around our necks.  See rather bad selfie below.  In fact, that selfie is far bad that I expect lots of you to stop following straight away!

Me wearing garland in Chennai.
Me wearing garland in Chennai.

I am writing this in bed, on my iPad, in Chennai, in the dark at about 5.30am. Having not slept at all on the plane on the way over here, I woke this morning at 3.30am with a terrible headache which I still can’t shift. I blame the air conditioning, which we switched off as we walked into out room, but still, some twelve hours on, it’s effecting my sinuses. A word in the ear of all people lucky enough to live in a warm climate – make the most of it. Do not turn up air conditioning in hotel rooms so they resemble a cold English house in February. I have come away on holiday to escape the real thing.

A Bad Blogger

Cartoon about adverbsI am a bad blogger.  I know I am.  I haven’t blogged for almost two weeks and, as you know, Dear Reader, one of the big musts of blogging is to post often.  Most professional blogs, I believe, post daily.  (But, DR, honestly and truly, could you cope with me blogging daily?  Would you read me every day?  I think I know the answer.)

In my very first post, I commented on what I thought was the freedom of blogosphere, on being able – if I so chose –  to use things like brackets and adverbs, and to start sentences with And and But, to shake off the many shackles of creative writing dos and don’ts – which, as I’ve discovered, most published authors keep at arm’s length anyway.  All too soon I discovered the mantras of blogging.  In fact, every few weeks, I discover someone else on Google or Twitter setting out more blogging rules.  A few months ago, I wrote about some of the blogging rules… but I’m sure there have been many more put online between now and then.

There are also rules for posting on social media, which, I believe, we take social media far too seriously.   From my experience in being in education, I saw a lot of college/ school managers trying to get down with the kids, never a great teaching strategy, and managers in commerce and industry were doing the same.   But why?  What saddo regularly reads the Facebook page of their hairdresser?  Who is going to visit an author’s Facebook page given over, mostly or wholly, to publicising his/her book?

Don’t get me on to Twitter.  And, before you ask, I don’t do any of the others.

Twelve people have liked my current Facebook post about coming bottom in a primary school quiz and several othersFacebook 'like' thumb. commented.  If I had a book, this sort of post wouldn’t promote it.  I’m certain that the reason it’s attracted so many likes is because it’s self-deprecating, the opposite of promoting.  At its best, Facebook is about exchanging news with people we know and when it stops being that, it stops being interesting, and people stop looking at it.   (Note the reps there, Dear Reader.  And no one’s asking me to correct it and, actually, I think it adds emphasis.  Ooh, and also an adverb.)

Cat Reading KindleSo let’s scrap The Rules.  Let’s be ourselves when we blog and in social media.  Give ourselves the freedom to write it like it is and how we like.   One day, what’s on our mind (to paraphrase the prompt on our Facebook pages) will be that we have indeed written a book, and people will read that fact because, over the years, you’ve shared the real stuff – and even the soppy videos about kittens.