Writing Groups in my neck of the woods are very few and even more far between. In fact I think the only one I’ve heard about has been running for over 35 years in a local hostelry of dubious custom which I had the courage to telephone decades ago when I felt hungry for validation and that conversation scared the bejeesus out of me (though easily done). I felt like I was being interviewed by a cross between Laurence Olivier and Margaret Thatcher. After said phone call I decided I didn’t have the requisite credentials and became a ‘no-show’ on their register. I probably stayed in and watched Eastenders instead – only slightly less scary than getting my prose out in front of complete strangers at the back of a pub.
So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I agreed to ‘join’ the writing group that the receptionist at my Osteopath’s office told me about. In fact ‘trepidation’ kind of went off the scale a bit when she mentioned she’d been ‘watching me closely’ to see if I was the kind of person they wanted to be let into their Writerly circle as they were ‘a bit choosy’.
Have you ever felt wary and yet thrilled? Thrary? Warilled? I nodded a lot and kept my smile from morphing into anything too maniacal and asked her a bit about it; bearing in mind the fact I already knew she wrote and once even asked her if she knew of any writing groups in the area and she’d said no, she hadn’t. So not just selective but secretive.
They met, she said, every three or so weeks at the back of a well-known local bookshop and the other member of the group (I know, member singular) was the bookshop owner. ‘So it’s more a duo than a group then?’ I smirked. ‘Trio if you’re in,’ she smirked back.
She went on to tell me that they’d both written a book or two and that they’d had nice rejection letters from several agents whose names I recognised because I’d also had the same. Along with discussing writing, she said, they also took it in turns to buy fresh Danish pastries and cappuccinos from across the road and occasionally they got ‘flashed’ at by a naked man in an upstairs window opposite. Invariably, she went on, discussions about writing tended to end up as dissections of the local neighbourhood ‘characters’ from which they’d sometimes drawn their own.
When I left with the date of their next meeting scribbled onto my frontal cortex, I couldn’t help thinking that the whole setup sounded far too mad and far too within my own realms of fantastic imagination for it to really be true. Maybe I’d made it all up. Perhaps this was how tortured I’d finally become and now it would be better for everyone if I just signed on the dotted line and took myself off to “HappyFields” for the duration.
When I got home, enthusiastically I Facebooked my news and was met with comments of concern and caution. Was I not worried about the ‘watching you closely’ bit? Um… no, not until you mentioned it, actually. I was warned about meeting strangers in places I hadn’t been before and reminded of the security measures involving public areas etc. Now… now I was a little bit worried.
But it didn’t put me off. In fact I couldn’t have been more excited if it had had a blue ribbon tied round its neck and was covered in caramel coating.
At the first meeting I felt as nervous as any first day at a new job and declined a Danish for fear that it would crumble all over me and I’d end up looking like a flaky fool in front of them. But I needn’t have worried. They are just lovely. Both as writers and as people. They are dedicated to their craft, have produced books worthy of immediate publication and I’m delighted to be in their acquaintance.
There is something very rare that sits in a room with writers and that is the spirit of Understanding; of Knowing and of Getting It that just doesn’t happen anywhere else. And as if I even need icing on this particular cake, we sit surrounded by thousands of beautiful books spilling from the shelves on the walls and covering the floor … a place where it feels like home.
And one of us has just signed a contract with an Agent so this year is beginning to feel very special indeed. Oh, and the crazy characters and the naked man in the window? All true!