I'd like to welcome you to my first Writing Group interview, with Louise Gibney from Towcester Writers' Group.
Hello Louise. Can you tell us a bit about your writing group?
So you're fairly new then. How many members, on average, does your group have?Towcester Writers’ Group has been meeting once a month since January 2012. We meet at 7.30pm every third Wednesday at the town’s library, and entry is £3 (mainly for room hire and refreshments). We welcome writers from all over the southern part of Northamptonshire. Community Librarian (and Group Treasurer) Gilly Tompkins and I set the group up at the start of the year.
Our first meeting had an amazing turnout of 14 people. It took us by surprise! Since then, our group has grown, and we regularly get a mix of 16-18 people each month, with people dipping in and out of the monthly meetings. We have a following on Facebook of over 50 now, the majority of whom attend the meetings here and there. We understand that a monthly commitment can be quite a lot to some people, but we keep in touch with everyone through the Facebook page and occasional group emails.
That's pretty good considering you're less than a year old. What is your role within the group?
The Christmas 'do' is the most important bit, surely! How are your sessions structured?I am the Chair of the group. In this role I plan the annual calendar of meeting (including a Christmas 'do'!), I create various workshops to stretch our writers and encourage them to try something new (around one in every four or five meetings), and I run the website, social media presence. Membership and advertising has been through various members of the group (mainly via Facebook and Twitter) but I have also written press releases for the local newspapers, and have been interviewed on our local BBC radio station.
We start every meeting with some housekeeping – this in the past has included encouraging writers to submit a personal biography for our website, group discussions on what the members expect or would like from future speakers or workshops, and flagging up the new items on the ‘competitions and events’ board I put together every month. This board is a very useful tool as it brings opportunities to light which some members may not be aware of.
We then also break the meeting in with a ‘brain kicker’ activity for 5-10 minutes which is intended to engage the creative brain. These activities seem to be welcomed by most of the group, and it's fantastic for making sure everyone is included – even those who say they don’t write! We have done word searches, used objects as writing prompts, speed writing, quizzes on literary themes, brain teasers and word association games in the past.
After the ‘brain kicker’ we get down to business, whether it be beginning the open mic sessions, welcoming a guest speaker, or beginning the workshop for the evening.I could use one of those 'brain kickers' first thing in the morning! What types of things do you cover in the group?
Guest speakers – so far we have hosted Dave Ward from The Windows Project, Liverpool, who came to speak to us about his creative writing project with young people. He also entranced us with some readings of his own literature and poems. Future speakers include Danni Antagonist (the Bard of Stony Stratford 2012), and Andrew Smith from the OU. He will be going into depth as to how writers can develop their online and social media presence.
Workshops – the most recent workshop we did was on writing from different perspectives. One of the most useful and interesting activities we did that evening was to pick any character from the story of Snow White (e.g. one of the dwarves, the mirror, the evil Queen) and write about the main character from their point of view. Our writers were very open to sharing what they’d written, even in a short period of time when they had had no time to prepare. Very inspiring!
Our next workshop is this month: ‘An introduction to Facebook and Twitter’. This will be an evening for the members who are interested in delving into this promotional and networking tool, followed by a short open mic session. This workshop will be run by myself and is intended to give a good foundation of information for when Andrew Smith visits us in November.
What have been some of your most popular/successful activities?Open Mic Nights - for showcasing some of the work our members have been working on lately. We ask that their readings are no longer than 1500-2000 words (less than 10 minutes of reading aloud) as we have a lot of readings to squeeze into our session. Also, I think 10 minutes of listening is pushing certain concentration boundaries!
In May 2012 we ran a creative writing competition to select some excellent stories to be showcased on a public platform – Towcester’s first literary festival. “A Write Good Festival” was held in June at the library, and had a very warm reception from the local community. It was a small event, only 2.5 hours long, but we managed to fit a lot in. Aside from the six competition winning poems and short stories, Julia Jarman visited to read stories to the children, local authors had a chance to display their books and advertise places they had been published (e.g. ebooks, magazines), and a local BBC presenter opened the show for us. We also had a raffle, cakes and tea.
We haven’t done this as such, as it takes quite a bit of commitment and planning to organise an evening. This wouldn’t be something we’d necessarily resist though… We’re also still quite a new group, with a full calendar of events coming up already. However, I worked abroad for nine weeks this summer and someone kindly stepped in to Chair in my absence.Have you ever written collectively as a group, such as producing an anthology?
No, but this is something we are considering for around Christmas 2012. The pamphlets will be sold with proceeds going to the library.What kind of support does your writing group provide for its writers?
I think any sort of support is beneficial when you write, as it can be such a lonely endeavour. Where do you get your ideas and writing prompts from?We are a group of writers supporting each other, encouraging and sharing ideas and work. We do not offer any formal support as such, but we can point writers in the right direction concerning things like new competitions we’ve spotted or magazines worth subscribing to. This is all personal experience though.
Ah, where would we be without Google?! What's the best piece of writing advice you've been given?To be honest, in the beginning I Googled a lot for inspiration, but since then ideas have been very forthcoming, both from my imagination and from suggestions from group members. The more you throw yourself into the world of writing the more ideas you can get and the more contacts you develop who can help (e.g. guest speakers, workshop leaders).
Don’t stop, keep writing! I know that’s a bit simple, but it needs to be. If you don’t write, you can’t call yourself a writer.So very true. And what's the best piece of writing advice you give?
I would recommend joining your local writers’ group too, as it can be an unexpected source of support and ideas, even if you can only commit to a couple of meetings a year.You mentioned earlier that your writing group has a Facebook page. Do you also have a website/blog/Twitter?
We have a website which is a mainly static reference point really, to emphasise our presence online. This is very useful for when and if anyone Googles local writers’ groups and our page crops up. I invite any comments anyone has on how we can improved it! www.towcesterwriters.weebly.com
Our Facebook page has become a forum for discussion between the members of the group and a fantastic place for us to share news and points of interest (e.g. new competitions, blogs we feel we should share, local events). I would argue both of these types of websites are a must for any writers groups. www.facebook.com/towcesterwriters
We don't have a Twitter profile as a group, but many members tweet about our meetings and activities, so we are about on the Twitter-sphere somewhere! #Towcester is a good place to start if you want to see TWG related tweets.And finally, how would someone go about joining Towcester Writers' Group?
Thank you very much, Louise.They just need to show up! We meet every third Wednesday at Towcester Library, Richmond Road at 7.30pm. If you want more information please feel free to contact us via the Facebook page. You don’t need to bring anything but a creative mind!
Louise Gibney, Chair of Towcester Writers Group
Author of ‘Girl Meets Boys’, an internet age comedy romance novel, and regular feature writer for MK Pulse Magazine www.mkpulse.co.uk
@MissWriteUK on Twitter