Escape from Isolation

Reader Logo by Amanda Atwell

This month’s opportunities article compares two not-for-profit Writers Groups. One is located in regional Victoria, Australia, and the other in Norfolk, in the United Kingdom. Both groups are roughly the same distance from a major city.

Chairperson Bronwyn Blaiklock tells The View From Here about her writers group in Ballarat, Australia. Ballarat is approximately 100 kilometres from Melbourne, the state’s capital...

Ballarat Writers Inc began as a small collection of like-minded writers who wanted to increase the opportunities for regional writers. As a volunteer-run group its evolution has been dependent upon its committee membership which has waxed and waned over the last 20 years. Naturally the amount and variety of activities the group is able to produce is reflective of committee numbers. We have just over 100 members at last count, most of whom live in regional Victoria.

Ballarat Writers Inc provides a range of literary activities throughout the year including skills workshops and professional development. It provides a local focus point for members who are regionally based - without access to opportunities that are readily available in the city. It is easy to experience isolation as a writer.

Every two months, we produce a newsletter for members only that includes news about upcoming literary activities, plus opportunities and competitions available regionally and at a state and national level. The newsletter also includes tips and articles about writing and publishing, and the opportunity for members' own work to be published. The Ballarat Writers Inc website also offers current information about literary activities, opportunities and competitions. Ballarat Writers Inc runs a range of activities, from literary readings, trivia nights, writing workshops and movie nights to cross-artform projects such as Pure Poetry, which combined new writing by emerging poets with contemporary Australian classical music.

We provide a monthly reading in central Ballarat which is an opportunity to meet other writers, whether aspiring or established. The reading features a published writer of any genre who shares their experiences in writing and can provide insight into the literary world. Held at Craig's Royal Hotel, the reading also offers the opportunity for anyone to read their own work to an appreciative audience. Our featured guests are listed on the website prior to every reading.

In 2010 we re-launched the Ballarat Writers Festival after a five-year hiatus (which was due to a lack of committee members). The Festival is unique to Victoria with its focus on the Children's and Young Adult industry, and is one of only a small number of literary festivals to be located in regional Victoria. From 2011 members will receive discounts to the Ballarat Writers Festival. We also run a literary competition each year that awards $1,000 to new writing.

We produce workshops for developing the writing skills of our members. In 2010 we facilitated regular workshops for members to discuss current writing projects, providing emerging writers with the chance to discuss strategies with more experienced writers. We are aiming to extend on the skills workshops we offer in 2011.

William English (Convener) talks to The View From Here about the Derenham Writers Group, Norfolk, UK...

The Group works a four week cycle. It was established nearly twenty years ago by a young American, David Lambert. For several years he taught creative writing to undergraduates at the University of East Anglia, and returned to the States five years ago. His emphasis was on ‘freeing up the pen’, and banishing the ‘block’, so that three of the four weeks in the cycle include writing exercises of various kinds. We meet in each other’s houses, contributing £2 per session, which this year is to be used to self-publish our own anthology of writing. We have eight members, which is about the limit for most people’s dining room tables.

As to how it’s evolved over time is more difficult to say – as convenor I’ve tried to keep abreast with developments in writing (as I perceive them) and have reported back to the group each time I’ve been on a writing course. Plus used the exercises carried out on such courses with the group. I’ve also tried to organise writing sessions based on what members wish to look at and try out, together with using material from writing course books by established writers. One of the difficulties over time is when members leave (eg., relocating somewhere else in England) and new ones join – there’s a risk of repeating key elements in the writing process too soon or too often. There are currently five members at this group.

William also provided some examples of what a normal four week cycle looks like for the group:

Submissions: This session is for members to offer writing that they’d like peer reviewed. This can be any form/genre of writing. It is also an opportunity for individuals, if they wish, to briefly explain anything they deem necessary about their submissions. This is not to pre-empt what others may say in their reviews, but merely to show where the writer is coming from and if necessary ask for help/advice for parts of the writing which may have proved problematic to the writer. Members used to bring two copies of work for review. These were not read out at the meeting. We do a piece of instant writing using any stimulus we can think of, eg., what’s this box for? Take two objects from a bag and link them in a narrative.

Writing exercises: Sounds a bit academic, but we try to keep it as light as possible - writing exercises from creative writing handbooks. There are lots of these around, often offering different slants on the basics of writing. They often isolate such things as dialogue, the senses, background, conflict, character, etc. The writing resulting from these exercises is read out and discussed.

Photo credit: Michal Dzierza

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