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

Harpenden Writers visit the U3A

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.

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Chair of Harpenden Writers, Stephen Lloyd, introduces the presentation

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.

HW_U3A_Marilyn3

Marilyn Chelache, bringing writers up to the mic in turn

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.