Friday, March 23, 2012

I don't want to join a writing group

(Ahead of next week's event with Ali Shaw, we've invited Gabby Aquilina of local writing group Abingdon Writers, to give a bit of background to the group, and the event with Ali which takes place in Abingdon Library next week. Take it away Gabby...)


Hi Mostly Book Lovers!

I’m scooching on over to the Mostly Books blog from my normal corner of the blogosphere (thanks for having me Nicki and Mark!) to tell you all about writing groups. Because, you know, writing groups are the new stitch ‘n’ bitch for people hankering for a new creative outlet which comes with a support group…

I feel fairly qualified to talk about this because way back in the middle of 2009, I formed Abingdon Writers with two lovely people I met at a Mostly Books / Oxford Writing Group event (hurrah for Mostly Books and their wonderful events schedule!) – Liah Thorley and Anna Jones.

Although the OWG had no room for new members themselves, the panel encouraged the audience to create their own group and so Abingdon Writers was born! The three of us soon grew to five and then eight; ten quickly became fourteen and we decided to cap membership when we reached eighteen and start a waiting list! Who knew there was all this writing talent just loitering around Abingdon, scribbling (well, typing) away quietly in recesses under stairs or bundled up in five layers of clothing in garden sheds.

We were surprised and delighted at the amount of interest in our group and, although we have had several people come to trial meetings over the last three years never to return, most of us have remained. Fearless, super-confident writers? Not nearly, although perhaps I speak just for myself here - quivering, insecure shadows of non-writerly people, more likely. Oddbodies who enjoy their work being dissected and mauled over by their peers? Possibly, although ‘enjoy’ might be the wrong emotion to convey here.

Now, I mentioned support groups in my first paragraph and here I am talking about ‘peer reviews’ being brutal and sort of vicious. They’re not, it just sounds much more dramatic that way. Constructive criticism is the reason why Liah, Anna and myself wanted to set up the group. That and support – encouraging and motivating your fellow aspiring writer friends is SO important. Finding out what real people (anyone who isn’t family or your BFF) think of your masterpiece can be a revelation and a huge confidence boost but it’s the shared experiences of trying to get that first chapter perfect or writing that darned query letter that makes you glad you have writer friends to help you get them right.

Admittedly, there have been times when I have read at a meeting and felt completely disheartened by the feedback. At first. After a day to stew over certain comments or, eek, facial expressions, you realise that actually, the group were right. That paragraph does require tweaking, more description is needed to ground the location and those two sentences about your florist-owning, yoga devotee waif of a heroine ranting about middle-lane drivers are, perhaps, a little bit jarring.

What I am trying to say (this would never do for a synopsis) is that Abingdon Writers has given me the confidence and encouragement to actually GET MY NOVEL OUT THERE. Without the AW members, my manuscript would probably have been languishing under a pile of two year old magazines until I dragged it out to use as scrap paper for my daughter to scribble on or kill flies with.

So, with one manuscript out there being ‘properly’ mauled over by agents, I have another one on the go. And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be on the bookshelves of Mostly Books – a local author done good.

Just like Ali Shaw – author of the Desmond Elliot 2010 winning, ‘The Girl With Glass Feet’ (also shortlisted for a whole bunch of awards including the Costa First Novel Award) and the recently published, ‘The Man Who Rained.’

Incidentally (!), Abingdon Writers is hosting an evening with Ali Shaw on Thursday 29th March at 7.30pm in Abingdon Library. Tickets (£4 with £3 redeemable against a purchase on the night) are still available from Mostly Books and can also be bought on the door at the event.

Now, I know Nicki has already reviewed ‘The Man Who Rained’ and pointed you in the direction of the wonderful Gaskella for another review but let me just add my two cents here:

Both Ali Shaw’s books are lyrically written, beautifully imagined fairy tales. The imagery and ideas that he comes up with are original and spellbinding. Sunbeams that turn into canaries? Aren’t you just smiling at that idea, picturing it in your head?

If you are, then you should come and meet Ali and the Abingdon Writers next Thursday! Chat with us, get a book or two signed and have a glass of wine. Perhaps you’ll even decide that a writing group is just what you need to help you get motivated and put your name down to join us. We’ll be gentle. Ish.

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