Yesterday, I kickstarted the new year by distributing my first bundle of fliers for the new creative writing group that I’m setting up in Sudbury.
I’ve called it ‘The Breakfast Writers Club’, partly because I want this to be an early morning group, but also because I’m a huge John Hughes’ fan, and I love his 1985 brat pack film ‘The Breakfast Club’, where a jock (Emilio Estevez), a geek (Anthony Michael Hall), a rich girl (Molly Ringwald), a rebel (Judd Nelson) and a compulsive liar (Ally Sheedy) are forced to spend Saturday detention together, despite being from different social cliques.
Now I’m not suggesting that all writers are misfits (although a lot of them are) or that a motley crew will turn up en masse to greet me (I can but hope), but I have been to many, many writing related events and I’ve certainly met a few, shall we say, classics:
For example, the first time I actually went out and discussed my stereotypically teenage angst-ridden scribbles with other people was when I enrolled in a creative writing module at college when I was nineteen. There was an ex-librarian in my class whose brilliant, and often eerie, on-the-bone poems appeared in epileptic bursts, hampered by the same depressive illness that had rendered her unfit for work; then there was the pyromaniac goth boy who’d been expelled for setting fire to his school, and his friend who claimed he wanted to be a vampire and was saving up to have his teeth filed into fangs – both of them wrote horror stories and were obsessed with internet roleplaying games; lastly, there was the vegetarian jewish girl who wanted to write sting-in-the-tale stories for womens’ magazines – she had a very ascerbic wit, and I honestly think she may have been the most successful student if only she hadn’t let her family grind her down with their ideas of what a ‘real job’ was.
Another instance was when I turned up early and enthusiastic at a local writer’s group in my area (this was about six or seven years ago) only to be told by an elderly gentleman with a permanent scowl, who appeared to be running things, that I was half an hour late – it transpired that they had changed the time slot some weeks before but hadn’t actually rectified the advert. That same scowling gentleman (who I later dubbed ‘The Critic’) then went on to tell me that I was ‘as useful as a chocolate fireguard’ because I hadn’t brought any samples of my work – because I believe it’s bad manners to turn up at an established writing group and thrust half your novel in someone’s face at the first meeting. He also told a terribly nice old lady in her eighties that her short story was ‘absolute crap’, and when I tried to intervene with something a wee bit more constructive he told me there was ‘no point sugar-coating it’ and ‘when something’s crap just say it’s crap’. Needless to say I wasn’t a member for very long.
There have been other groups of course: some incredibly sucessful, some not so much. When I did my masters degree at Glasgow Uni we were assigned to editorial groups at random and most of them disbanded within a few short months. The group I was assigned to in my second year was at one point the only one left standing and we actually had to start turning away other students who wanted to join! Since then I’ve tried day long workshops and weekend retreats; and coffee shop meetups with friends who wanted to have-a-go; there have also been online writing circles where you’ve had to email your work to complete strangers; and more recently I was part of an intimate all-female collective called ‘Wild Women’.
I decided to start the Breakfast Writers Club because there is currently no creative writing group in Sudbury – I understand the library on Market Hill is in the process of setting one up for the over-fifties, and I think that’s great, but I am looking for a more diverse age range (one that I’m officially old enough to attend). I’ve realised over the years that it’s crucial, for me personally, to have other writers to talk and socialise with. I have tried going it alone, but I’m really not the most adept judge of my own work; and sitting glowering at a blank laptop screen for weeks on end when I’m in a creative rut just doesn’t work for me.
I wholeheartedly believe that criticism (when it’s constructive), an audience, and a relaxed space that isn’t just your kitchen table, are key ingredients in balancing the personal and the artistic in a writer’s life; and I really hope that by starting this group I’ll attract a few likeminded individuals.