Saturday, 10 February 2018

Good and bad writers' groups

I've been a member of a few writers' groups over the years, and whether a writers' group is any good  very much depends on the calibre of the said groups. Some are certainly better than others.

I was in a group that was all about hero-worship of the one published writer that commanded the throne of the writers' society. It was "my way, or the highway". I stuck around in that group for too long, and probably set my writing progress back a few years as a result.

Another writers' group with a hero-worship factor had a particularly well-off "hero" that was worshipped but was far from worthy of being published; the highly egotistical "hero" with a fragile temperament financed the group and thus there was an unwritten rule of no negative criticism of the hero, the narcissistic hero was only to be lavished with unending praise, even though the hero's work was some of the most pathetic shite I had ever heard. The one time I made a suggestion to the financier about changing a single word to improve a rhyme, I was treated like dirt for the next few meetings, because I had dared to question the hero (and thus threatened the financial future of the group). That one wasn't for me, and quite simply the group could go do one.

I was also a member of some that seemed to consist of some people trying to destroy the hopes of up and coming writers, sniping at them like opportunistic sharks whenever a writer tried anything different to what the clique ordained should be written. For example, after reading a vampire story at one such group, it was instantly dismissed snootily with the words: "Well, that'll never sell to Woman's Weekly or People's Friend." I should hope not, as I was not aiming for those markets.... Another person wrote a story intended for a horror fiction market. When the writer had read it out, other prominent members spent absolutely ages ripping it apart simply for the choice of genre. Certain embedded members had nothing positive to contribute there, as the story was mercilessly destroyed for the wrong reasons without any constructive feedback. "I don't believe in ghosts, so you shouldn't write a ghost story and neither should anyone else!"

Fortunately I have been in writers' groups that were amazing and supportive and above all helpful. Criticism was abound, but all of it purely constructive to help you progress. Some people were successful authors with nice contracts with publishers, and others not, but everyone was equal and friends. Unfortunately I moved away, but I am still in touch with a couple of members of the group, The group sadly died out naturally a few years later as people went about their lives.

So writers' groups can be good, and they can also be bad. When joining, it is important to get the feel of the dynamic of the group, to see what it's like. Are people friendly or egotistical? Does one person dominate the group? Is feedback actually of any use to a writer?

Good luck in finding a writers' group of your own.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Recommended Writing Podcasts

Last summer, with nothing better to do in a seaside coastal town in the south of England, and money in my pocket begging to be spent frivolously, I spent £5 seeing a psychic to tell what I had in store for my future. I had never experienced such a "reading" before, and was curious to see what it was like. The softly spoken woman picked up on a few vague details of my character that anyone, psychic or not, could pick out in anyone really and could guess with enough vagueness. Surprisingly, she however picked up on the fact that I was creative, and was on the verge of making real progress, but I would need to find a mentor to assist me on my way to break through with making my creativity my strength.

Whether you perceive the reading as just mumbo-jumbo claptrap or not, the fact is there is always room for improvement and advice in the happy world of writing. For the last year, I have been enjoying listening to podcasts from a number of sources, but for the writing ones, there are a number of podcasts I always listen to for guidance, so you could count these as the writing gurus I have turned to.

Today I'll give you two, and save a few others for another time.

The first I'd like to suggest to you is The Creative Penn. Joanna Penn is a British writer who started writing in December 2008, when I also re-started writing, but unlike me she has pursued her writing career relentlessly and now is a full time author. She is an inspiration and every Monday morning it's great to download the podcast and enjoy after watching the latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery (priorities, sorry; I'm hooked on the adventures of Michael Burnham). If she can do it in just ten years, so can I! The format of the show is a monologue on various news and updates, followed by a big interview with a writer, usually on a relevant writing topic.

The other recommended writing podcast today is So you want to be a writer with Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait (Val and Al). An Australian duo that are just hilarious, they exchange witty banter about various news items and articles in the world of writing, with a weekly competition and to finish up, there is an interview, usually with a major Australian writer, Val's favourite bit (and mine) is the word of the week. Al never sounds impressed, but you can hear the sheer joy in Val's voice as the explores the etymological origins of obscure words in the English language. There is also a delightful and active community on Facebook where you can hang out with other writers and even Val and Al.

There you have it, two brilliant podcasts that are an absolute must for me every week. Enjoy!

Saturday, 3 December 2016

42 Christmas Special

It is an absolute joy to return this December to 42, Worcester's premier genere fiction spoken word venue. On 28th December 2016, I will be reading again with a new story called "A Cottage by the Sea". As the theme is Christmas ghost stories, much in the vein of the classic writer M.R. James, prepare to be chilled! See you in Drummonds, New Street, Worcester, at 7pm.