Another Harpenden Writers’ year draws to a close.

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.

Janet Berenson

Janet Berenson critiquing our work at a Harpenden Writers Meeting

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!

Carol Hedges at Harpenden Writers_Jan 2019

Carol Hedges at Harpenden Writers, Jan 2019

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.

John Mole at HW 2019

HW Membership and Competition Secretary, Rania (l), Jo Coleman, Publicity Assistant (r), with our esteemed judge, John Mole, in the centre.

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.

Park House Cafe.

The approach to Park House Cafe, from Leyton Road.

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: jofc13@gmail.com

Writing a Monologue for Radio: A workshop for Harpenden Writers

By Jo Coleman

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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 atrains and buttered toastnd 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.

monologue workshop_7 dec 2018_1

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!