Cheeks prickle. Eyes brim.
Breath sparkles on woodsmoked hair.
Soundless streets bed down.
By Josephine Coleman
Cheeks prickle. Eyes brim.
Breath sparkles on woodsmoked hair.
Soundless streets bed down.
By Josephine Coleman
Phew! Harpenden Writers have had another busy year and we’re in a reflective mood as we approach our AGM on 5th July (we always meet on the first Friday morning of each month).
Our programme sticks to an academic timetable, running from September through until July. We kicked off the season with a focused writing session to encourage members to do concentrated bursts of writing in a communal setting, but in silence; quite hard for us as we all enjoy our gatherings which are great opportunities to share thoughts and discuss our various writing projects and challenges. We had set a theme to encourage creativity, ‘Transformations’, so that members might have work to submit to Janet Berenson, a local writer/tutor, in advance of her visit to our group in the October. Janet was able to critique the work that was submitted both in poetry and prose form. We encourage all sorts of writing in our group and support our members whatever level they are writing at, whether it’s with a view to publishing or for personal satisfaction.
November was a Read Around with the optional theme of ‘Behind the wall’. These sessions are a chance for everyone to read out work in progress, or share a short piece written specially on the suggested theme – even if it was a means of just getting those writing juices flowing. As a group we aim to promote best writing practice, providing mutual support and constructive criticism; these Read Arounds are a great way to ensure this. And so are the sessions led by the Guest Speakers and Tutors we get in, particularly as their views on our work aren’t skewed by over-familiarity. This protocol works brilliantly also for our annual Prose and Poetry Competition. The optional theme for this year was ‘Subversion’ and our Judge was local poet John Mole. The entries are always passed on to the judge anonymously, so he would have had no idea whose work he was reading, critiquing and ‘scoring’.
December’s meeting was the ‘Writing a Monologue for Radio’ workshop, covered in a previous blog. Then in January’s meeting, which was also our annual New Year Party, we had a visit from Carol Hedges, a local crime fiction writer. Carol is always honest about how much work goes into writing and getting published, but also about how much one is likely to make out of doing so – the moral of the tale? Don’t give up your day job too soon!
In February we were due to welcome former Harpenden Writer, Author and Tutor Suzie Dean back to the group to deliver a talk on short story writing but unfortunately, we had to postpone it to March due to the dreadful wintry weather conditions and traffic chaos. We made up for that lost meeting with another trial session of our exciting new ‘Meet-to-Write’ initiative in early March. Envisaged as a floating hub, Meet-to-Write is an opportunity for Harpenden Writers to gather regularly outside of our monthly meetings, to simply write. The aim is to create a friendly space to meet for timed, focused writing. Generally, we arrange for three half hour segments, each incorporating a break of a few minutes for a chat and comfort break. Our next one will take place on Saturday 22nd June, 9:45 am at the brand-new Park House Café, Harpenden.
I digress – our April meeting was the occasion of the Big Announcement of who our winning writers were for 2019. John Mole gave a wonderfully inspiring talk. Actually, he waxed lyrical about writing and reminisced about his own career. We wished we had recorded the whole thing. We didn’t, but you can hear snippets of the morning’s proceedings on dropbox here and here.
The meeting we held on the first Friday of May was another Read Around. The optional theme this time was ‘Disposal’. Some of us gave writing in flash fiction style a go, another improvised a limerick, with hilarious results. Not sure why, but we always have a laugh at these meetings. In June, Michael King gave a Poetry tutorial and encouraged us to think about the role of the Poet Laureate in the light of Simon Armitage having taken on the mantle. And as I mentioned earlier, the July meeting on Friday 5th will be our AGM followed by a Read Around and our Summer Party. We welcome newcomers and are always happy to have you come along to try us out. We charge just £18 a year currently for annual membership, then £2 per meeting you attend. Non-members pay an attendance fee of £4 for a Read Around or £5 if we have a Guest Speaker. Our Meet-to-Write sessions are free to attend as we have no permanent home for them, but we ask that you do purchase refreshments from our host venue on each occasion.
If you would like to come and write in silence alongside us, a few Harpenden Writers are planning to Meet-to-Write for a couple of hours on the morning of Saturday 22nd June, from 9:45am in the Park House Café, Park House, Rothamsted Park, Leyton Road, Harpenden Town Centre. You can let me know in advance or ask any questions by leaving a comment here or email this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Jo Coleman
On Friday 7th December 2018 it was my privilege to run another workshop for the marvellous Harpenden Writers. Having already explored with them the art of sketch-writing back in 2013, this time we were to tackle monologues, specifically those created with a radio audience in mind. In preparation for the workshop, I invited the writers to listen in advance to one of Alastair Cook’s Letters from America: ‘How ice cream changed America’. Thanks to the digital archiving of many of these BBC radio programmes, this was a simple matter of sharing a hyperlink to this.
Although this is not the dramatic form of monologue that we might think of when reminded of Shakespeare’s famous speeches and soliloquys, I wanted everyone to consider the importance of holding the attention of an audience using just a single voice. There is also a significant difference between delivering (or performing) monologues on stage to a present audience who can – let’s assume – see the way you move and can read your facial expressions, and presenting a monologue on the radio. We discussed how radio is considered to be an interactive medium, conversational almost, even though we as listeners don’t actually have the opportunity to enter into a live dialogue with the voice we are hearing, unless of course we have phoned in to contribute to the programme.
What is it about radio, a medium that feels so intimate and yet leaves so much to the imagination, that we can exploit when we create stories, reports and short feature entertainments for an unseeing (and unseen) audience? This was the question that we examined during the first part of the morning and the writers seemed encouraged and informed by their brainstormed responses in the workshop later.
From beginning to end, we shared memories and recommendations of famous dramatic monologues such as those by Joyce Grenfell, Peter Sellers’ Auntie Rotter, the performances of Bernard Miles, and renowned works that have been performed as radio monologues such as Willy Russell’s ‘Shirley Valentine’. It is interesting to note that amongst our members there are some who are not acquainted with Alastair Cook or those names just mentioned. Clearly, we’re not all representative of one particular generation, nor do we share identical cultural tastes. What richer recipe for creative inspiration could one ask for?
After coffee break and as a festive treat, I read aloud John Betjeman’s ‘Christmas Nostalgia’, a Radio Talk from the collection ‘Trains and Buttered Toast’. Then to warm-up for the workshop we played a game of Consequences which, believe it or not, yielded some bizarrely viable storylines.
The writers were then challenged to write a side of A4 or 300 words maximum; something that could be read aloud in no more than 3 minutes. They were free to choose their form: a short talk, memoire, rousing speech or eulogy, a re-telling of a dramatic episode or a fictional short story, even something poetic. We had time at the end of the session for a handful of the monologues to be read out by their authors; there were some gems, I can tell you.
The plan is for the Harpenden Writers to hone their pieces and then meet with me again so that I can audio-record them reading the monologues aloud, with a view to broadcasting them on-air with a local radio station. So, watch this space, or should I say, keep your ear to the ground!
On Thursday 12th April 2018, representatives of Harpenden Writers presented their work to an audience of Harpenden’s University of the Third Age in The Trust Hall, Southdown. The Chairman of the local U3A branch, Doug Nevell, had come up with the idea because of the current interest in creative writing being expressed amongst their membership. The hope is that they will set up their own writing group to add to the existing list of activities that this thriving organisation offers its members. Doug is also a new member of Harpenden Writers and clearly feels that we are a good model and that the U3A may be able to pick up some tips of how to organise a writing group and how to sustain it.
Reading aloud from our recent 20th anniversary anthology, The Words, the Harpenden Writers were warmly welcomed by a full hall of U3A members. Stephen Lloyd, our Chairman, opened the presentation with some words about the writing group and handed over to member Marilyn Chelache who introduced each reader one by one.
Joyce Bunting went first with a charming autobiographical poem entitled Dad’s Walking Stick, which clearly resonated with the audience comprising of mainly retired folk. This was followed by a most amusing poem with the lyrical quality of a country and western song by Viv McManus, Harpenden Country Music. There was a lot of chuckling in the audience as Viv’s sardonic humour sank in. Next was Margaret Gregory with a moving poem about a woman who has dedicated her life to cleaning her church, The Weekly Service. The emotive imagery continued with the next work by Derek Smith, a densely described poem about a shoot, called The Pheasant’s Lament. Although the audience had been asked to wait until the end of the whole presentation of readings, many were finding it hard not to applaud after each piece was read out aloud by its author.
The writers ploughed on with their reading, each being introduced by Marilyn using their biographies from the anthology. Another moving autobiographical memoire was shared by Hild Browning, September 3rd 1939. In this, she tells of the time that she and her family heard that war had been declared, during a birthday meal for her mother. Sylvia Steer followed this with a wry take on modern romance. Her poem, Disenchantment, certainly tickled many in the U3A audience. Returning to a more sombre theme, Peter Risley’s prose, War Memorial, captured the attention of one and all, with an account of the annual laying of the wreath in Wheathampstead attended by an ageing war veteran. Then to lighten the mood again, we had Barry de Foyle’s poem, The Trumpetbird, taking a satirical look at the behaviour of a certain world leader. And the finale was a hilarious letter, Dear Mrs Travis, written and read by Frances Kirkland, in which the hapless Grecia Loins (Mrs) recalls an utterly disastrous stay in a guesthouse. By this stage the audience could not help themselves. The applause was instinctive and rapidly gained momentum, and the writers were bowled over by the audience’s reaction.
After Stephen Lloyd wrapped up the presentation and announced that copies of The Words were available to purchase after the meeting, the floor was opened up to questions. U3A members wanted to know how we do our writing; do we workshop everything or write privately at home? How do we find our inspiration? Is there always a set theme for every readaround or may we write and share what comes to us? Do any of us write short stories? What do we use, paper and pen or pencil or computers? Do any of our members get published?
The panel of Harpenden Writers ably answered all those inquiries, displaying their dedication to writing and the fulfilment as well as enjoyment they experience through pursuing this hobby amongst friends. As Stephen explained, we may be amateurs, but not in the sense that we do not take our writing seriously or are not striving to do it to the best of our ability, we are amateurs because we love doing it.
To find out more or to purchase a copy of The Words, visit our website.
Every other month or so, Harpenden Writers meet to read aloud their work in the round. It can be fresh off-the-cuff written over breakfast that morning, or an on-going project that’s hit a sticking point. It can be a piece of writing honed a while ago that fits the optional theme or it can be a published piece and therefore a cause for celebration. Constructive criticism is always available if required and indeed requested, but there’s no point-scoring. We are generally precise with our editing suggestions, well-meaning with our responses, and positive with other comments.
The writers group exists to encourage, support and inspire local aspiring or already successfully published poets, novelists, journalists, essayists, playwrights, lyricists – in fact, you name it. We’ve seen a great range of writers in our meetings over the last 20 years.
Much of our members’ best recent work is showcased in our recently published Anthology, available here. A group endeavour, spearheaded by our volunteer committee and the anthology project team, this book is testament to what we have built up between us over the two decades of our existence.
So, for this blogger thinking about the “builders” theme this month, I want to widen the definition. When I think of builders, I also think of construction. And when I think of what they can construct, it’s not only buildings and bridges and so forth that I picture, but it’s the environment created within and around such structures. By ‘environment’, I mean not just the practical utility but the aesthetic character of a space; what it feels like to be there; the aura and the atmosphere.
This brings me right back to Harpenden Writers and our mission to bring together those who want to write and those who enjoy thinking about it. With the aim of sharing and celebrating unique works built out of words, we have also constructed a safe, friendly and intellectually stimulating environment, conducive to this activity.
Most of the time, this environment we have constructed around our shared interest in creative writing is intangible. But when it does manifest itself as we gather at our monthly meetings, in the Friends’ Meeting House, in Harpenden, there’s no doubt that we’ve all been builders together in this rather special community.
Local authors and poets from Harpenden Writers will be gathering in Harpenden Books at 48, High Street this Saturday morning, between 10.30am and 12:30pm. They will be on hand – not all at once, but taking it in turns – to talk about the collective efforts behind the publishing of the Anthology and to share personal stories of their own contributions to the volume.
So, come along to this welcoming and inspiring local book store, to hear some of the writers read out their work from ‘The Words’. There will also be opportunities for you to ask for their autographs too.
‘The Words’ is available in Harpenden Books for £6.50, and is also on sale on our website and from other local stores Serena Hart and Thorns.
Discover more about Harpenden Writers, what we do, who we are and how long we have been going. If you can make it on Saturday, we shall see you in-store. Failing that, check out our Facebook page.
And for a flavour of how our Book Launch Party with the Mayor went on 3rd November, you can listen to a Soundcloud audio feature on our Facebook page too.
As the Anthology Editor, Terry Jones, has written on our blurb: “…who was it who said that the purpose of literature was to help us better to enjoy life or endure it? Expect pleasure in these pages but also some pain. There are sure to be laughs along the way …”
On the morning of Friday 3rd November, we hosted our Anthology Launch Party at the Friends Meeting House on Southdown Road in Harpenden. We had switched from our usual room to the larger one for the occasion, and the committee had laid out several neatly packed rows of chairs in the main Meeting Room. They had a publicity banner up outside the front of the building, and in the smallest room, the Library, they had set up the sales desk with piles of our shiny new books on display. At the front of the Meeting Room, where the speeches, the readings and the cake-cutting would be taking place, was another well put-together, colourful display board for the Anthology.
By the way, we find Friends Meeting House to be a really convenient and very comfortable space for our regular meetings and would recommend it for other groups and events.
As more and more Harpenden Writers and their guests arrived at our Launch Party, so the buzz in the room grew. Indeed, by the time our Chairman Stephen Lloyd delivered his welcome speech, the car park at the side of the building was full and there were only a couple of spare chairs at the back of the Meeting Room. The proceedings were being filmed and audio-recorded and a few people were also taking photographs. Membership Secretary, Rania and the publicity team have been posting images on our our Facebook page , check them out
A short audio report of the event has been produced and is to be broadcast on Radio Verulam on Monday morning, 13th November, sometime between 9am and 12 noon. Quite probably around the time that Harpenden Writer and former committee member/Chair, Jo Coleman is being interviewed live over the phone by Phil Richards at 9:30am. If you miss it, the radio station does have a listen-again facility. And the audio package will be posted here on this blog as well, at a later date – after it ‘falls off the shelf’ at the Radio Station. On Thursday 16th November, on Radio Verulam’s West Herts Drivetime show, Anthology team member and co-designer of ‘The Words’ Derek Smith will be interviewed live by Danny Smith (no relation?!). Tune in to 92.6FM or listen online, at 5:30pm to hear this, and again it may well be on the station’s Listen Again webpage.
Once the video we took has been edited, we will endeavour to share it on our Facebook page, for posterity. But we can share some of the highlights of the morning with you here. We had a number of very special guests at the Launch Party, including the spouse of some recently deceased Harpenden Writers. It was lovely to welcome them and see that they are still interested in our activities. In particular though, we were pleased to see Ray Bell in the audience, whose wife Mo was a former chair. ‘The Words’ – this, our second major published Anthology, is dedicated to her memory.
The Anthology team have produced a 132-page volume, with 56 contributions of poetry and prose from 25 of our authors. Terry Jones, the editor of ‘The Words’ and chairman of Ver Poets was another special guest at the Launch and, in his speech he explained the criteria he used to make his selections:
I was very, very happy to do it … because I love reading…I read each piece before I made any decisions twice …I’d just read it and try not to form a view, just kind of let it flow into me… then I would read it again and ask myself, am I enjoying it, is it telling me something … true about the world?
Another very special guest of course was Madam Mayor of Harpenden, Councillor Rosemary Farmer. She had been invited to attend the Launch ceremony in her official capacity and she listened to several of our readings, then delivered a genuine, heartfelt speech to congratulate us. She praised the high standard of the volume and added:
I’m absolutely sure that one of the great advantages of belonging to a writers group, such an excellent one as yours, is that you all get the mutual encouragement, the incentive, and support to get writing, and who knows where that may lead.
‘The Words’ is now available for purchase, at £6.50, from our website and from local stores including Harpenden Books, Serena Hart and ‘Thorns of Harpenden’. In addition, on Saturday 18th November, between 10.30am and 12:30pm, there be a book-signing event with readings from ‘The Words’ at Harpenden Books on the High Street.
It’s an exciting time for Harpenden Writers, as we’re about to launch our second, properly published book, with an ISBN number and all. Our Anthology team and the HW committee have been working diligently on the project for months. There had to be enough support from the membership, for starters, to provide sufficient work from a wide cross-section of us, at an acceptable standard (honed and polished, in other words). There needed to be a budget and a sustainable costings schedule. We had to find ourselves an independent editor to assess the work, assist with the selection of pieces, suggest themes around which to structure the collection. A publisher and reliable sales and distribution methods were required. We should work out a strategy for ‘banging our own drum’ through marketing and publicity, a launch event, trumpets, bells and whistles…you name it.
And it’s all come together. Not bad for a local writing society with a small voluntary committee and anthology team. Their commitment to this project proves how important they each feel it is to mark the 20th anniversary of Harpenden Writers. It’s a testament to everyone’s sense of belonging to the group. It’s not simply about taking an opportunity to self-publish (without the personal risk), but more a chance to be part of a collective endeavour which we are share with others; with our friends, family and acquaintances. A way of revealing “Look, this is what we get up to on those Friday mornings!”
Over the years, obviously, members come and go, move away or move on. But we’ve also, literally, lost a fair few. There have been several funerals recently where Harpenden Writers have gone along, with some great memories and anecdotes to share at the wakes. We’ve made genuine connections with our fellow local writers. We’ve formed special friendships. This anthology is dedicated to one such Harpenden Writer, who joined the committee to help with our previous anthology, ‘The Works’, ten years ago. As chair for quite a few years after that, Mo Bell demonstrated a humble but effective leadership.
Local groups and societies rely on people such as Mo who are prepared to go the extra mile, to carry the responsibility for thinking through what needs to happen in order for the meetings to take place, for there to be refreshments, speakers, and motivational writing targets throughout the year. This anthology then is also a testament to all those Harpenden Writers, past and present, who have contributed to the on-going success of the group.
‘The Words’ is out. And that’s not a grammatical error. On sale imminently. Watch this space!
Over the 20 years we’ve been running, Harpenden Writers has attracted members at different levels of writing achievement and working across a variety of genres. We have published authors and poets amongst our ranks, some are prize-winning. We have journalists and researchers. There are people who work or used to work in related industries such as teaching, publishing and marketing. But in many careers and walks of life, words are used, thoughtfully employed, specifically chosen and placed with others in order to make sense and to have an impact on others. And it is this shared interest in selecting and arranging words that binds us together.
Whatever our need or desire to write, we find encouragement in the group. It’s a supportive environment in which to express ourselves and even to improve upon our skills. Whether a member is learning how to write poetry after being an engineer writing technical reports for 40 years, or experimenting with the post-modern novel form after decades of successfully following convention, the group can embrace and facilitate a wide range of styles and a multitude of interests and aspirations.
Our calendar of monthly meetings tends to feature Read Arounds of members’ own work alternating with talks by guest speakers. Read Arounds often feature fascinatingly diverse pieces of work. There are occasions where the committee sets a theme to inspire or guide a writing exercise specifically for that week or to direct our choice of work to bring along and share out loud in the circle. We can read an entire work, such as a short story, book chapter, article or poem, or an extract of longer pieces, depending on the length and time allowed that week. The chair of the Read Around manages the time allotted to each of those hoping to read, and keeps a note of who has read and the title of that piece. It can be material that we’ve only recently begun creating and would appreciate feedback on, or equally it’s an opportunity to present completed work. The group is always happy to provide constructive criticism, if requested.
Members also form small, informal working or friendship groups who gather regularly outside of the Harpenden Writers meetings, for more rigorous feedback or editing sessions. The whole idea is to enable local writers to widen their literary circle, to get to know other writers, connect with like-minded people and be encouraged to write; be it to write better, produce different material or just to write more.
The talks that we have had from Guest Speakers over the 20 years so far, have covered topics ranging from writing folk music to digital self-publishing, from travel-writing to Haiku formation, from comedy script-writing to public performance techniques. We have welcomed speakers from the worlds of fiction writing, poetry, book editing, magazine publishing, on-line publishing, theatre, journalism, television and radio and more. Some of our members simply enjoy the stimulation of hearing stories of the professional lives and experiences of our speakers, whilst others are inspired to try new things and venture down new paths.
There’s something for everyone at Harpenden Writers. Traditionally we’ve met on the first Friday morning of each month, taking a summer break in August. We know the weekday morning doesn’t suit everyone who might be interested in joining a local writers group. But we’re aiming to build our online community too, and who knows, if we can muster enough new members to extend our calendar of activities to include events at times that would better suit full-time workers or carers we will.
In the meantime, we shall keep you posted about our anthology launch – which is taking place next week. And do pass by our Facebook page one day: https://www.facebook.com/HarpendenWriters/
Harpenden Writers is a local club that began around 20 years ago following the closure of a WEA creative writing class. We began by meeting in members’ homes but fairly soon, we had the wherewithal to book and pay for a suitable meeting place for our monthly gatherings. We became a regular fixture at the United Reformed Church meeting rooms. We were upstairs and there was a mums and toddlers group that gathered downstairs. The exuberant and noisy nature of the well-attended toddler group only became a problem for us when, several years on, we needed to change rooms and moved downstairs, to enable a couple of our more infirm members to attend the meetings. We tried putting polite signs up on our door, which did not really help. We had some young mums in the group, aunts, uncle and grandparents, as well as recently-retired teachers at the time, so we all knew only too well, how hard it is to ‘sssssh’ excited little ones.
We coped with sharing this venue to an extent but for a group that spends a lot of time listening carefully to each other reading aloud and discussing our work in the round, it wasn’t really an environment conducive to concentrating. It had been a very pleasant, centrally located venue but we looked around for somewhere else.
Advised against relocating to the Harpenden Trust Centre in Southdown, which would have meant battling against the sound of amplified music, dozens of adult tapping feet and much chatter and laughter, we discovered the meeting rooms at the Friends Meeting House. The Quakers Centre on Southdown Road in Harpenden perfectly suited our requirements for ensuring accessibility for our members, guests and speakers. Centrally located near the railway station, this venue has its own small car-park, is near some handy 2-hour on-street parking and within easy access of a couple of public car-parks.
The acoustics aren’t brilliant in there, due to the vaulted ceiling. We suppose that one of the practices of Quakers is to sit quietly in each other’s company and to contemplate the world and life and so forth, but of course, we tend to do that out loud. And another children’s group has started meeting in the room on the other side of the building, but there is a library between us and we are only occasionally disturbed by chatter or excitement in the entrance hall. Some of our current writers group members are hard of hearing, and do struggle more than the rest of us to keep tuned in, but it is excellent practice for us to speak up and to enunciate properly.
This, we have found is an important element of being a writer; to be confident in presenting one’s work in public. Sharing our work with each other, as well as beyond our group, has provided us with some really useful learning experiences and many joyful memories. With our second ‘proper’ publication soon to be launched, we are putting our work – and ourselves – out there. Quite a nerve-wracking exercise! In the run up to this significant occasion, we will remember on this blog, how we have printed and presented past collections of our work. We invite you to join us on our writer’s journey.