|Some of the writing group enjoying garden party|
One evening, the local free newspaper popped through the letterbox. And it was one of those serendipitous moments. I had a quick look through and noticed an advert for a new writing group starting in a nearby small town. It was the only time the advert appeared and, fortunately, I'd kept the details. But I needed to pluck up the courage to go along to that first meeting where I knew not a single soul. Maybe it helped slightly that I'd had one little piece of publication, so I didn't feel a complete fraud!
But I needn't have worried. A couple of people knew each other but there were a few new writers like me. More importantly, they had managed to get funding for a tutor to get us started over the first several weeks, and Sheila happened to be the first person I met as I went through the community centre doors that day. Not only did our experienced tutor and writer start us off the right way, but she stayed in the group for many years and is still one of my dear writing friends. She was also a wonderful mentor in those early days when I was struggling to find my writing voice.
Then came a defining moment in my writing career. I won the Woman's Short Story competition! To say I was shocked doesn't come close to the disbelief with which I sat there. When Ian went on to rave about the story and told everyone he was buying it for the magazine, I couldn't come back down to earth. I did, however, have to read it out to the whole audience from the stage. Fortunately, my voice held out and I didn't cry at the end, although I almost did.
I'd love to say that I suddenly became a great success and my writing career took off in a big way. But I was still playing at being a writer in those days and it had to take second or third place behind family, work and OU studies. But it did start me on my way. And the most important part of all this is that I stayed a member of my writing group from that day until now. I've gone on to write lots of published short stories, articles, children's stories, poetry and now novels. I've given lots of talks to other writers on market research, I've adjudicated competitions and I've served as president and secretary of the writing group.
Would I be at this stage today without my encouraging, supportive writing group? Probably not. For that was where I learned the craft of writing, heard professional writers share their knowledge, took part in competitions and workshops and met so many other wonderful writers. When I stand on the SAW stage next March as an adjudicator of a short story competition, I shall be remembering that it all happened because of walking in the door of that writing group all those years ago.
We end our sessions with a wonderful garden party at one of our members' homes, where we all take different food for the buffet lunch. It's a measure of the social aspect to our friendly group. I do encourage other writers to find a good, supportive local writing group. It might be the best decision you ever make!