Welcome to my interview with Derek Smith, from Newham Writers' Workshop.
Hello Derek. Can you please tell us a bit about your writing group?
Newham Writers Workshop, meets at St John’s Church, Stratford, London E14, Thursdays, 7-9 pm.
How many members, on average, does your group have?
12 - 15
Who are you and what is your role within the group?
I am a published writer, and one of the co-ordinators of the group.
How are your sessions structured?
People book in advance to read. We read 3 to 5 pieces per session, depending on the length. Should someone who has booked not have something, then someone unbooked can fill it. One of the co-ordinators chairs the evening. At the end of the reading, the writer does not speak until the group has given its criticism. Then the writer has the floor. We try to offer supportive criticism, useful for say a rewrite but not bland praise which is useless for anyone who wants to improve their writing.
Do members of the group get a chance to run/lead a session or part of a session?
We have four co-ordinators. These are voted in (we are a co-operative). Any one of them can lead a session. We don’t offer it everyone as not everyone has the necessary skills, and poor chairing can kill a session. We have four, so we are not dependent on one person, who, if they got run over by a bus, could lead to the demise of the group.
What types of things do you cover in your group?
Short stories, novels, writing for children, poetry, journalism, plays, film scripts, biography and other creative writing.
What have been some of your most popular/successful activities?
In 2011 we ran a Festival of Writing with lots of writing workshops.
Do you have guest speakers at your group?
No guest speakers. We are a writing workshop, and listening to members' writing is its function.
What genres do the members of your group write?
Short stories, poetry, and novels are the main offerings.
Have you ever written collectively as a group, such as producing an anthology?
We do a yearly anthology which is open to all members. And in 2011 to celebrate 25 years, we published a 25 year anthology, called Bejewelled Street, consisting of some of the best from our yearly anthologies.
What kind of support does your writing group provide for its writers?
Supportive criticism of their work, a friendly atmosphere, and some of us go to the pub afterwards.
What is the best piece of writing advice you've been given?
If you are writing a novel, don’t keep reading what you have written. Just go back a page or two, read/edit and carry on.
What is the best piece of writing advice you give?
Listen to criticism and don’t argue.
Does your writing group have a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook?
How would someone go about joining your writing group?
Just turn up. It costs £35 a term if you are working, £18 if you are not. The first night is free, your try out night.
Thank you very much, Derek.