Scribbles & stuff, an introduction

Four years ago, on a rainy Sunday October morning, I arrived on the doorstep of a closed café. I was supposed to be there early for a writing workshop, but the sour-faced custodian refused to meet my eyes or open the door. A few minutes later, I was joined on the doorstep by two women, all of us trying to shelter from the drizzle and muttering about the lack of parking.

Eventually, after the addition of two other women to our huddled group, the door was reluctantly opened, and we trudged inside. Upstairs we helped ourselves to tea and coffee, and a paltry selection of biscuits. The seven of us chatted amicably, mostly about the weather and how far we had travelled for this creative writing workshop. We established that none of us were in charge, and as the clock ticked on, we wondered aloud whether we had got the right day.

At last, a long-limbed, straggle-haired man with a Rasputin beard arrived. His clothes rumpled, his demeanour shifty. This was Jonathan, our tutor. After our initial shock, the group settled in, and introduced ourselves. We were a disparate bunch – one Canuck, three retirees, a headteacher and a Mother of two teenagers. And me. At the time, I was about to move back to my Mum’s with my husband and a large slightly aggressive cat between selling and buying a house. We all had something in common though, and that was that we wanted to try and use words to create something meaningful.

Between us, we had mixed experience of writing. From none at all, to recently writing a thesis, and those who had attended creative writing courses in the past and wrote regularly.

We had a wonderful day, bonding quite intimately when reading our responses from the writing exercises we were set, gently by Jonathan. We ate lunch together, and there was a lot of laughter. At the end of the day, Isobel, who we now know isn’t afraid of being forthright, said she would like to continue the relationship we had, and suggested we form a writing group. We exchanged contact details and through a series of emails arranged to meet after Christmas at Claire’s wonderful house in the New Forest. Thus, ‘The Rumwriters’ were born.

Over the last four years, we’ve grown to be firm friends. We’ve sat for hours round the big table in Claire’s kitchen putting the world to rights, watching the nuthatches, green finches and woodpeckers visit her bird tables and marvelling at the changing seasons of her wonderful garden, thoughtfully attended by Claire’s taciturn husband Malcolm. I announced my pregnancy and had a meeting at my house with a 3 week old baby. I brought my son to the first meetings, breastfeeding him and passing him around for sleepy cuddles. Now, the time and space help me have some much needed ‘me-time’ from a rambunctious three year old.

And we’ve written. Oh, how we’ve written. We started writing 800 word ‘Conrads’, a term coined by Will Self, relating to the number of words written by the man himself. We chose obscure themes such as ‘blue trousers’, ‘red shoes’ and the first line of a poem about birds. We’ve each developed in our own practice too; Claire writes beautiful touching autobiographical pieces, Lesley has a witty and wacky style, Isobel has a knack of recording details that brings a scene alive, Ally brings a poetic quality to her work and her vivid descriptions, Annie has brilliant characterisation and dialogue and Jo writes fascinating vignettes about the swinging sixties in London, and the numerous places she’s lived around the UK.

In the last four years, we’ve self published an anthology of short stories around the theme of cafés, had a couple of members complete NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), started several novels (some WIPs, some languishing on hard drives) and have been introduced to some pretty interesting characters.

For me, the safe space of my writing group has been vital in allowing me to grow in confidence and skill as a writer. We all have unique voices and interests, and I trust and rely on the honest, carefully phrased and supportive feedback I get from my fellow writers. Over the last few months, like many other groups, we have been meeting online. During lockdown in particular, we met fortnightly, and cheered on Isobel, who, living in Switzerland and with her Grandmotherly roles relinquished temporarily, has been blitzing through her debut novel. We’ve found a comfortable familiarity in her characters and are always desperate for the next instalment.

We’ve recently returned to writing Conrads, and found a new motivation and fresh perspective. Last month, we all wrote pieces on the theme of ‘heatwave’ and emailed them to Malcolm who distributed them back anonymously. We had to guess who wrote which, and, it was surprising tricky. The quality of the writing was phenomenal, and we had such fun picking out particular words, phrases or styles that we thought were the mark of one another.

So, this blog is a logical step for me. A place where I can practice, take the next step in confidence in sharing my writing with a theoretical audience and learn to let go.

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