February’s Readround on “builders”

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.

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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.

 

 

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‘THE WORDS’ IN HAND – BOOK-SIGNING EVENT

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Madam Mayor, Cllr Rosemary Farmer, congratulating Harpenden Writers on the publication of their Anthology, ‘The Words’

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 …”

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Membership Secretary, Rania and publicity assistant, Jo

The Words out!

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.

The Harpenden Writers Anthology Team

(l-r) Hild Browning, Frances Kirkland and Derek Smith –

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.

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The Words at the centre of attention

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.

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The invitation to our book launch.

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.

‘The Works’ – to celebrate our 10th anniversary

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!

Publish and be …happy!

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.

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A small selection of publications by our members, past and present.

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.

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A couple of recent examples of our members’ self-publishing achievements.

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 – a place for writers to meet.

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.

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Carol Hedges speaking to Harpenden Writers in the Friends’ Meeting House, February 2017.

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.

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A Read Around at Harpenden Writers