Posts filed under Writers' Groups

Writers' HQ is GO

Four-ish years ago I had a 4-year-old and a 9-month-old and writing time was a long-distant mythical concept never to be seen again. 

I mooched around Google looking for local writing groups in an attempt to give me a kick up the arse and some understanding angst-ridden writing peers, but I never quite found one that I felt comfortable in. Writing groups can be... a little weird, sometimes. Cliquey. Not always that inviting. 

BUT THEN. I came across Brighton Writers' Retreat, a monthly writing session hosted by Sarah Lewis - essentially a case of locking writers away in a room at New Writing South for 6 hours and plying them with endless caffeine, snacks and sandwiches. Pretty sweet.

I emailed her immediately with the opening line: 'WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?'

She had a 9-month-old too - a few weeks' different in age from mine. She was desperate for writing time, too. She'd actually done something about it. 

A coupla months later and I was Sarah's resident heckler. A while after that I started helping out at retreats in exchange for a freebie ticket. A few years later and I took over for six months while Sarah went on maternity leave for baby number 2. 

It was around then that we both made a decision. Sarah no longer had a job to go back to. I was sick of working random freelance copywriting gigs that had nothing to do with creativity. We knew the retreat worked well. We knew people wanted time and support to write. We also knew they struggled to make time, afford the time, and justify the time. 

Brighton Writers' Retreat spawned its own baby: Worthing Writers' Retreat. And then it mutated into Writers' HQ. We wrote a mahoosive application for the Arts Council and were awarded a grant to help us set up five online writing courses 'for badass writers with no time or money'. 

And here we are. About to do this shit. And all because we wanted to write, and didn't wait around for someone to give us permission to do so. 

So, in the motto of our brand new love-child, 'stop fucking about and start writing'.

Posted on May 15, 2016 and filed under Life, Workshops, Writers' Groups, Writing.


In case you didn't know, I'm currently hosting Brighton Writers Retreat while our illustrious leader Sarah Lewis is off on maternity leave. 

I've been coming along to the retreat for about three years, after emailing Sarah (then, a complete stranger) with the words: "Where have you been all my life?" Since then I've been promoted from writer-in-the-corner to chief-heckler to washer-upper to second-in-command, and am now reverently holding the reins while Sarah battles gargantuan growth spurts and indulges in guiltless glorious baby-gazing. 

Brighton Writers Retreat holds a monthly procrastination-busting writing workshop, aptly named 'Stop F***ing About and Start Writing' where writers from all over the South Coast (and sometimes even further - we recently had a visitor from Canada) convene at The Writers Place to write their little fingers off. There is a never-ending supply of caffeine and biscuits, a fancy sandwich lunch, and plenty of support and inspiration from a roomful of talented scribes. The October session is fully booked, but the next retreat will be held on the 15th of November and booking is open NOW (so go do that thing).

And to tail off NaNoWriMo we're also holding an editing workshop on the 29th of November called 'what to do with a first draft'. During the session we'll be looking at redrafting, revising and how to break away from the 'shitty first draft'. Places are limited so get your name down ASAP to take part in the plot-storming awesomeness. The workshop includes lunch, refreshments, and all the encouragement you could ever need.

A Review of Stephen V. Ramey's 'Glass Animals'

It's no surprise that I get excited about new books arriving through the post, but when I heard the familiar thunk of a book-sized package on my hallway floor and realised it must be my copy of Glass Animals, my usual happy dance was extra bouncy. You see, I get to say, "I knew Steve Ramey before he was famous," albeit virtually. I've been writing alongside Steve for about two and a half years at an online flash fiction group and to see a collection of his stories in real life shiny print is a wonderful thing. (The print quality of Pure Slush books is also very, very nice, which adds to the whole shiny, happy, bouncy experience.) Glass Animals by Stephen V Ramey

There's a recognisable sort of feeling I get when reading a Ramey story - a combination of anticipatory dread and restrained adrenaline that always delivers a payoff, just never necessarily in the way I expected. The prospect of a whole volume's worth was, therefore, happy dance-worthy indeed (think of a hobbit dancing like Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and you should have a fairly accurate visual).

If reading Glass Animals on the bus, as I did one morning, you may even look a little unhinged as you work your way through each flash, from Billy's courageous journey out of innocence in Into the Woods all the way past the point of no return with Leaving the Garden. The collection moves easily from humour and familiarity to disquieting realism, from mesmerising magical realism to everyday tragedies - all of which find their own ways of slipping into your subconscious while you're distracted by the tight, clean prose.

For me, there's also something really exciting about seeing an idea transformed into a fully-fledged story. Several of the flashes in Glass Animals originated from prompts supplied by our writing group so I feel sort of privileged that I got to see them in their awkward teenage years, fresh from the pen, before they'd lost their puppy fat and acne and worked out who they were. The adults they have become do not disappoint.

Many of Steve's characters are quite oblivious of what's happening to them which is an enormous part of the appeal (and torture) of each story. We gain an (often uncomfortable) insight into the protagonist's experiences but we are, of course, powerless to explain it to them, or save them from whatever destruction or change seems inevitable. Universally, Ramey's characters are very real, even the most absurd and outlandish of them, no matter what age or gender - he picks out and unweaves exactly what makes each one human and flawed and beautiful. Every story makes you wonder how you'd seem if sketched as one of the characters - not always a wholly enjoyable idea but one that certainly keeps those tales secure in your head for days...

The stories I can't forget have implanted themselves into my brain for completely different reasons: The Divide for its domestic profundity, Simply Salazar for its casual intimidation, Canis es Machina for Clarise (who really ought to be the star of a beautifully grim indie movie), The Mailwoman for its duplicitous gossip, Meringue for its... climax, Nora's RV for its aching urgency, Funny Stuff for the ultimate tragic clown, and, finally, Leaving the Garden, a story that has stayed with me ever since I first read its initial incarnation at our writing group.

My bookshelf has a space in between Q and S reserved for more Ramey. Yours should too.

Buy Glass Animals here.


Posted on March 1, 2013 and filed under Reading, Short Stories, Writers' Groups, Writing.

Writers you should read

These guys... THESE GUYS... they're great. You should read their stuff. They're published, unpublished, flashers, novelists, poets and mentalists. There's a web full of writers, but these guys I think are some of the best. I'll be adding to this list with literary magazines, twitter compatriots, writing forum buddies and random writerly people. For now, here are a few from Show Me Your Lits and general web-trawling...

Steven V Ramey - This fine specimen of a writer blogs here about writing, submitting stories and reading the slush pile for Triangulation. You can read some of his work here.

Tammy Hanna, the Heartful Blogger - This woman's writing tortures me in a wonderfully enjoyable way. Soulful, delicate, cutting and unique, her stories should be read again and again.

Martha Williams - This woman's work is just brilliant. I stumbled across one of her flash fiction pieces and I've been addicted ever since.

Kate Alexander-Kirk - Kate only started submitting her short stories recently and already has an impressive roll call of publications. You can read some of them here.

Mark DeMoss - His blog, North Side of the Moon, collects "stories, snippets and stray observations", and beautifully so.

And a final mention for Cezarija Abartis, who doesn't blog, but nonetheless has a grand list of stories published on and offline. Google her, and enjoy the absolute lyricism of her words.

Posted on March 17, 2012 and filed under Inspiration, Reading, Writers' Groups, Writing.

Writing Decongestant


I have stalled in my edit. I don't really *believe* in writer's block. What I think these periods of difficulty suggest is that you need to take a break, look at your work differently, write something else for a while. Back to the whole multi-tasking thing, it helps if you have a few other projects on the go so you can still keep your hand in. But while change is nice, I find it's never a case of just *waiting* until the block suddenly lifts (not least because the block is imaginary in the first place...) - you have to find a way to clear your way back to your original work... some way that doesn't include burning, an axe or psychotropic medication, preferably.

writer's block

Here's what works for me:

  • Ok, maybe just *a little* psychotropic medication. Or caffeine, or alcohol. Or cheesecake. Get happy, anyhow, whatever causes your large iron vessel to remain afloat.
  • Get out of the goddamn house/pit of death/cafe/library/cave - go and actually look at some real, living people, instead of writing about them. Talk to someone - oh, hang on, dialogue doesn't sound like that, does it? Pretend like you're crossing a road and LOOK, LISTEN and LOOK AGAIN.
  • Travel. Yeah, if you have the cash, go somewhere exciting, but if you're a regular skinto like the rest of us, then get on a bus, a train, a tram - something you don't need to steer or drive yourself  if possible, allowing for maximum peoplewatching concentration. My BEST ideas have all popped up on commutes. Oh, and bring a pen and notepad (or a dictaphone if you like to look like a private detective and/or crazy person).
  • Chop wood. If lumberjacking ain't your scene, then do something similarly menial, repetitive, rhythmic. Cook. Knit. Paint a wall. Sweep a floor.
  • Exercise. If I knew anything about statistics I'd tell you something like: My productivity is 87.3% higher when I've cycled to my writing cafe than if I drive there. I'd believe that percentage - blood is rushing, brain is going *meep meep meep meep use me use me use me* a bit like the little byte from Tron (1982 version - we're not going to even get into that debate).
  • Read something that makes you go "faaaaaaaaark I wish I could write like that" - then get depressed, think you'll never amount to anything and you might as well shred your manuscript for insulation. But don't. Go take a bath, take a week or so, then go back to your work and go "heeeeeey its not actually that bad... I can work with this."
  • Get prompts, suggestions, nudges, pointers, critiques, reviews, comments and ideas from other writers and writing sites. My favourites are Show Me Your Lits, 26n, One Word, Zoetrope and Bridge the Gap. Oh, and Stumbleupon- although you lose several hours, you find some gems. Need I say Google? Wikipedia? Your own bookshelf?
  • Cheat. Skip the chapter that's doing your head in. Go look at the end, or your favourite scene. Read from the beginning and make a note of phrases and sections you're really pleased with - work out what you like about them and learn how you write best. Give yourself a break and get on with life for a while, because if you're really a writer, you'll get back to it eventually.
Posted on February 8, 2011 and filed under Writers' Groups, Writing.