Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Battleaxe the writer - and the Hastings Writers' Group

As last Friday was the annual Presentation evening of the Hastings Writers' Group, I am devoting a slightly more introspective blog post to my writing efforts, and to talk about what it is like to belong to the Group.
     I've been a member of HWG for a year now - I joined up even before we moved down here full-time, partly to start to meet people, and partly to progress my writing.
     I'd done an Open University creative writing course, which I didn't get that much out of, to be honest. The workbooks and exercises were good, but our tutor was a very intense, breathy poet. His cheesecloth shirts were unbuttoned to show a positively Simon Cowell-ish man cleavage (or heavage as celebrity magazines call it - heave is about right) and I don't really do intense or breathy.  I went to one day school and there were people reading out Dark, Dark, Black, Black or more like Purple prose.
     Back then, I planned to write a best-selling novel about....housing associations, of all boring things.  I have written a few chapters, but the wheels dropped off quite quickly.  Read this opening and weep:

There was silence in the Boardroom.
A fly buzzed feebly against the window, echoed by the gentle rumbles of the elderly Chairman’s snores. The muffled cries of sea-gulls filtered through the heavy blinds, half-drawn against the setting sun.
Slumped round the big mahogany table, some of the board members and senior staff of the Haven Housing Association dozed, others shuffled their meeting papers, or picked idly at the last of the dried-up sandwiches. Most glanced either hopefully or irritably at their sleeping Chairman.  Despite being briefly roused by the sight of the curvaceous Tracey’s long and shapely legs, the Venerable David Dudley had finally let his eyes droop shut. His head rested comfortably on a cushion of chins, and his snores were settling into a regular rhythm.
Fifteen minutes ago, Ian Farrell, the Haven Chief Executive, had left the Board meeting to fetch a missing paper.  As he had not reappeared, Tracey, his PA, had been sent to find him. The smart staccato tip-tap of her impossibly high-heeled Prada sandals had receded down the corridor, to be abruptly silenced by the distant banging of a fire-door somewhere in the bowels of the rambling old office building.
Fashion-conscious new board member Olivia Paradise had noted the Prada sandals earlier, and had felt a momentary flicker of curiosity.  Few people working in social housing could have afforded them, fewer still on a PA’s salary. Stylish Olivia...

     I can't possibly begin to imagine who that feisty and stylish new board member is based on... nor can I face carrying on like that for another 100,000 odd words. Quite possibly, I am not cut out to be a novelist.
     At the Writers' Group, as well as Manuscript evenings where people read out work in progress, we have hotly-contested internal competitions where we produce poems, travel writing, historical stories, stories in dialogue,children's writing, journalism etc.
     I quickly discovered that there were many others in the group who write better than me. For up-herself Battleaxe, that was a bit of a shock. Throughout my career I have churned out research reports, good practice guides, policies and procedures, handbooks and technical articles and always thought I was pretty good at it. I assumed I could readily turn my hand to any sort of writing. Tell them what you are going to say, tell them, and then tell them what you have told them, I'd say. Fine - but that doesn't work with creative writing. One needs to be a little more subtle....
     Fortunately for my tattered self-esteem, I also found that the group included plenty of  less experienced writers, who enjoy writing, and reading out their work - and people seemed to be happy to listen. Although we are a large group - over 30 members, we are pretty tolerant and accepting, which is good. However, for 2013 we say we want to get more serious and more robust in our critiques of others' work - good too, but it is a fine line to tread...
     Battleaxe also has to be careful with herself. She is used to battleaxeing, bouncing and boring to get things done her way. That won't do with the Writers' Group. Many members are, how shall we say, 'quirky', and many are quite individualistic souls who are also sensitive about their writing. I am now Publicity Officer on the Committee.... endless opportunities for getting up people's noses....
     I'm glad I'm part of the group - it has already taught me a lot about writing, and I've met interesting - and nice - people. I discover that writers come in all shapes and sizes, from all ages, and from a wide range of backgrounds.
     Still, less of this humility. To swank just a little, for a new creative writer, I have actually done OK this year:
 - HWG competitions: third place in travel writing, second place in the David Buchan journalism competition (see Bombastic Battleaxe), fourth place in the Catherine Cookson Cup short story competition;
-  winner of a Daily Telegraph Just Back travel writing competition;
-  Good Scone Guide to Hastings published in Hastings Online Times.
I also write the bits about HWG for the Hastings Observer and do the HWG blog, see below.
Anyway, here are the winners from Friday, posing with their silverware, with group Patron, author Tamara McKinley.
 Read all about it on the HWG Blog. For Me? Hmmm - perhaps next year.....