We recorded a podcast with a writing group last night.
The Solihull 'Pub Club'. Sounds like just my sort of group. In truth, it was a different breed of writing group to anything I've been to before.
I like writing groups, I think more people should attend them. They get you out of the house. They get you socialising with other people AT THE SAME TIME as encouraging you to explore your imagination and make something up. What could be better?
I've attended one or two groups over the years, I was a member of one group that met in a pub in Stourbridge every Wednesday evening for around three or four years. It was a Batham's (brewery) pub too, which was nice. There would be 6 or 7 of us at most meetings, and we'd take a room upstairs at the back of the pub and set each other 15 or 20 minute writing challenges, before reading out what we'd written.
A favourite method of ours was for one person to name a place then another person a location, a name, an item, a year, perhaps an article of clothing... The only rule was, there would be as many items named as there were people attending that week's meeting. Then we'd all have to take what had been named, the ingredients, and turn them into a story.
Oscar Ford was a spy in Siberia, 1974. All he had to survive on were his wits, a faded pair of cut off denim shorts, and an out of date Blockbuster video card. Go.
Veronica Smiles spent her days working as a receptionist at an insurance brokers in Budapest, and her nights in a red turtle-neck jumper playing the ukulele at the 1925 jazz club. Or she did, until Jeremiah walked into her life. Go.
We'd read what we'd written out at the end of the allotted time, taking it in turns to go first. Everyone would listen to your reading (the bit which I found hardest as I hated everyone staring at me and 'judging' what I had written while I was reading it out) then at the end, pretty much without fail, they'd tell you what they enjoyed about it and how good it was. You know, try to say something nice.
Occasionally, when people really laughed or really made an effort to say just how much they'd enjoyed a particular thing, you'd be pleased enough with something you'd done to take it home and work on it, to try and make it a 'proper story'. But for the most part, all we were really doing was filling up another note book with another short piece of fiction that would never become anything more than the short piece of fiction it already was.
And that was fine.
Hell, it was fun. It was challenging and interesting to compare each others' stories and see where the items had taken us all, what stories we'd made of the ingredients we were given. On reflection, it could probably be argued that that kind of writing group is more a study of the members of the group, by the other members of the group, than of the quality of the writing itself.
The Solihull Pub Club however is a different kettle of fish.
These guys take what they're doing seriously. Not in an over the top, boy, this is awkward, kind of way, but in a good and supportive way. There's guidance. There's the venturing of opinions on someone's work, but with a real sense of the critique being given to improve the piece, not to point score.
It feels like a safe place to read something out because you won't get empty platitudes about how good it was. You'll get genuine pointers on what could perhaps be done better, or phrased differently. And it will all be done with the caveat that the advice being given, is just the opinion of the giver. Take it or leave it.
There's no 15 – 20 minute creative tasks here, instead, each member of the group brings with them a piece of whatever it is they're working on at home. Their 'main' piece of creative writing. The first time Gemma and I went along and joined them, at a pub in Solihull, the segments of writing we heard read out were clearly part of something bigger. The other members of the group could contextualise what they were hearing, acknowledge it as part of a whole peppered with readings from previous meetings. So they can critique the work based on its place in the canon.
And the format works.
Deborah Install, for example, had her book, A Robot in the Garden, published in April 2015. Dennis Zaslona has a middle grade (8-12yrs) book about to hit the Amazon market in October 2016. Many members have had short stories published or are gearing up to finish what they're working on and start sending it out.
I think that's what I liked the most about the group. Because they're all going on the same journey, trying to get published and established as a writer, inspiration is all around. If you're feeling low on confidence about your work, look around you; they've all been through it. Feeling great about it and things are going well? They've been there too. Unsure about a particular part of the process? Ask the group, somebody has been there and done it and can help. Have you been there and done it but are currently feeling a bit low about where to go from here? Speak to the group, remember how far you've come.
Basically, a great bunch of people doing something they love allowed TBF to join them and share their story for a while, then put it on a podcast. TBF really enjoyed the experience, and we hope you enjoy it too.
(The podcast will be out towards the end of October, as will Den's book. There'll be a reading of some of Den's book on the podcast, and links to a couple of readings from other members too. There'll also be links to all the members of Pub Club (well, those who want to have links published anyway) and a link to the group's website, where you can read some of their work)