The Kidderminster and District Fantasy Novelists Circle meets bimonthly in the upstairs room of a local arts centre. There are generally about a dozen people present: a couple of girls studying for creative writing MAs, a very elderly woman who has spent the past half-century writing letters to Tolkien's publishers complaining that the author stole her ideas, sundry middle-aged men, and – always at the head of the elliptical table, always the first to contribute on manuscript nights, chairman of the proceedings these past 10 years – Garth Dangerfield.
Six-and-a-half feet tall, rake-thin and apparently in his mid-thirties, Garth joined the circle the day after he finished the first volume of his extraterrestrial space-travel epic Armania: Opus I. There have been several more volumes since – Opus VIII is nearly complete – all read out unsparingly to the other members. Most of Garth's fellow fantasists are thus practised exponents of the geography of Armania, its seven moons, the mysterious tribes of poughkeepsies (a kind of eight-legged rhinoceros) that roam across its desert plain, and its centuries-old struggle with the rival planet of Pendragon Nine.
The fantasy gang are in two minds about Garth. On the one hand, as chairman, with the privilege of deciding who gets to read first, he habitually, annoyingly, picks himself. Yet on the other, there is such a thing as loyalty, and the newly enrolled member, fresh from three-quarters of an hour of Opus V: The Ascent of Plinlimmon, who pointed out that large portions of supporting detail were cribbed from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series and that Armania's talking lion bears a close resemblance to CS Lewis's Aslan, very nearly had his subscription cancelled on the spot.
Then there is the fact that in a dozen years of writing, not one of Garth's novels has been published, save at his own expense and online – proof, if any were needed, of the publishing world's indifference to exciting new voices. A newcomer to the circle would probably deduce that Armania was Garth's tragedy. But it may be that it is what keeps him going, that life in Kidderminster in a womanless house (Mrs D jumped ship five years ago) would be insupportable but for the poughkeepsies, Pendragon Nine and yrrghyskyx, the curiously vowel-free Armanian language.
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