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Friday, 19 April 2013

Group therapy for writers

I’ve been trying to form a group of writers in Durham, where I live. I did attend one such just before I took off for Nebraska, about two years ago. It turned out to be their final meeting. It just folded. No idea why. Nothing to do with me, I hope.

Why would I want to form a group? Well, simply to have a loose network of people who, to use a hackneyed phrase, talk my language. Years ago, I used to teach a number of writing classes, daytime and evening, for what was then known as Adult  Education. Some worked very well; others fell flat. You simply never knew what – or who – you were going to get, nor how well the group would gel. What started out as my Hornsea (East Yorkshire) class in 1989 was an interesting case. One night, about a year or two in, I looked around at the level of expertise, and the commitment, and told everybody I’d rather step out of the teacher’s chair, call it a writers’ group and meet up at the Rose and Crown.

I moved away in 1999, but they are still going strong, and I believe that one of our number still maintains a journal in which she has recorded attendances: who showed up, and who read what – because that was at the core of it at that time, reading your work aloud and receiving feedback. They’ll be celebrating their 25th anniversary next autumn, and I expect to be there to share the evening.   

So, my search for a group: the long and short of it is that, despite being fully engaged in writing professionally, I miss having other writers at hand. What I have at present is a thinly connected string of contacts, widely scattered – from here to London, to the western States and back – with whom I can discuss my work, theirs, and the state of the industry, usually by phone or email, once in a while face to face. Three of my main correspondents are people I met through writing groups I was involved with, either as a member or a teacher. They’re a great help, but we don’t get to share a beer together, or at least, very rarely. Writing is by its nature a solitary business, and with the rapidity of the changes sweeping through the publishing industry today, intelligence is vital – as is moral support. 

So, I’ve been chewing this over for some time. I did make contact with a group in Newcastle a few weeks ago, but that entailed quite a round trip for me, and it seemed that the three members I met were all into genre fiction. Nothing wrong with that, but I would’ve preferred a more mixed bag. Last weekend I attended a Society of Authors (North) event at Durham University and, in between the poetry readings, took the opportunity to chew a few ears. Result: eight or nine people who are interested in meeting as a group: venue, format and timetables to be discussed. 

Okay, I’m changing gears now – or making a handbrake turn; possibly both.

I have to report that we have made some progress with the poly tunnel, although not a lot. Indeed, in order to go forward we have had to go backwards. The two end sections of the tubular steel frame, which appeared identical, were subtly different and - you guessed it - we managed to erect them the wrong way round. That meant dismantling rather more parts than we would have liked, and in the process discovering that the bolts we were supplied with have a common weakness: apply any sort of torque and the threads simply shear off. Ho hum….

Next up we will attack the doors. Did I say ‘attack’? I mean we fit them. Then we wait for a set of circumstances which has become mighty rare in England these last few years – to whit, a warm, still day. Given that combination of meteorological conditions, we will fit the huge sheet of polythene, open a bottle of bubbly and move in. 

Despite the dreadful weather of the past eighteen months, the soil down at the allotment appears to be in reasonable condition. I have been digging it over in sections and find that (a) it’s not as sodden as I expected, (b) it actually crumbles (not bad, seeing that it sits on a bed of heavy clay), and (c) it has a large population of fat, wriggly worms. Add the chorus of blackbirds that greeted me the other day, the cooing of a pigeon, doubtless anticipating a harvest of our greens around July and, well… I was tempted to admit to a fragile spark of hope. Watch this space.