Sunday, July 12, 2009

Small Is Beautiful: the Oxford Writer's Group

You might be forgiven for thinking that with all our 'big' events we've been doing of late, we might have got a bit too big for our boots (or at least the shop) when it comes to events, but (hopefully) that's not the case. In fact, it was a real treat - now that the miriad of cardboard boxes containing event books have largely disappeared - to shift the old tables around, crack open a few bottles of wine, and host a nice, intimate event in the shop again. On Thursday night, we held a Mostly Booklovers event with the Oxford Writers' Group, a remarkable group of novelists, poets, performers and writers - both published and unpublished - who are the driving force behind two very successful anthologies of short stories: The Sixpenny Debt, and The Lost College. We've wanted to do a writers evening for a long time, and - with OWG member Mary Cavanagh a good friend of the shop, and a member of the Mostly Booklovers herself, we asked her to arrange the evening - which she duly did, inviting fellow members down to the shop and helping us structure the evening. We took the opportunity to invite members of other writing groups along as well, and were delighted to welcome members of the White Horse Scribblers, as well as Robin and Birte of the Turl Street Writers (who have together recently published their own very successful anthology Turl Street Tales). With so many other writers, would-be authors and book-lovers together in such a small venue, there was plenty of networking going on - with one very important outcome (more on that below). The evening format was ostensibly a roundtable discussion on the challenges and opportunities of writing in and around Oxford. We'd dubbed the event "In the Footsteps of Pullman and Tolkien" but once questions started coming in from the audience, the discussion went off in a number of fascinating directions, ranging from the importance of writers' groups generally, essential editing tips, the Oxford Literary Festival and top tips on staging events. It was standing room only - literally. I'd miscalculated on the number of chairs, forgetting that we had nine writers to seat for starters, so even pressing the counter stools into service we were still several short. Apologies to the late arrivers, and thanks to those who nobly gave up their seats when we played musical chairs after half an hour... The OWG are - from left to right: Mary Cavanagh (author of The Crowded Bed and A Man Like Any Other), the redoubtable Radmila May (the editing supremo behind The Sixpenny Debt), Ekaterinburg author Helen Rappaport (who we did a wonderful garden event with almost exactly a year ago), journalist and writer Sylvia Vetta, Proper Family Christmas author Jane Gordon-Cumming, Angela Cecil-Reid, Margaret Pelling, Laura King (aka The Poet Laura-eate) and finally Gina Claye, author of Don't Let Them Tell You How To Grieve (and for a wonderful review of that book, read Dovegreyreader's thoughts here). A very diverse group of writers, but the support they provide each other, and the obvious fun they have in their various endeavours was a massive advert for joining a writers group - or starting one yourself. And several of the audience did just that. As a result of the event on Thursday, I'm proud to be the first person to announce the creation of the (as yet working-titled) Abingdon Writers' Group. Anyone reading this who lives in or around Abingdon, and would like to join - please get in touch and I will pass your name on to the founding members. It's all jolly exciting - and for anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time, you'll know that this is the kind of thing that we love getting involved in - and makes all the incredibly hard work of running our little shop worthwhile. We have a number of extremely talented writers and authors who live in Abingdon, who it's been a privilege to have gotten to know since opening the shop, and this is the first step on a very exciting journey to something big.
Thanks to Mary - and the members of the OWG - for an energising and buzzy evening, and as the lady said "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
P.S. This coming Monday (July 13, 7.30pm) we will be welcoming well-known local food writer and enthusiast of all things country pub + dog, Helen Peacocke, as she talks about her book Paws Under The Table, a collection of 40 dog-friendly pub walks around Oxfordshire...

5 comments:

  1. We really enjoyed the evening ourselves. Thank you so much for hosting it, Mark. Here's to the success of the Abingdon Writers' Group.

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  2. Yes, it was a lovely evening and just as thought-provoking for those of us on the round table, who are continually learning new things ourselves.

    Thank you for being such a splendid host Mark and best of British to Abingdon Writer's Group.

    How exciting to have been at the birth of it!

    By the way, please don't visit my blog until the end of the week as I haven't had time to write anything lately & it is somewhat out of date!

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  3. Thanks very much Jane - it was a really enjoyable event. You do all look like you have a lot of fun with the group.

    Laura - I see what you mean. There seems to be a big picture of Michael Jackson right at the top of your blog...shome mishtake surely?

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  4. I'm sorry I had to miss the event due to going on holiday (!), but it sounds like it was a real goodun.

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  5. Can I add my belated thanks to you, Mark, for hosting the event. We all enjoyed it enormously. It made us think about the group in a new light, and just how fortunate we are to be members.

    Good luck to The Abingdon Writers Group (Mostly Scribblers?) and I have emailed all my contacts to spread the word.

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