Pen To Print

Friday Feature: Write Right

Write Right: Brave New Words In Brentwood by Patrick Forsyth (Chair of Brentwood Writers’ Circle)

Sadly, with Covid difficulties continuing, so many of our favourite activities are currently impossible. One that can very much continue, of course, is writing. Writing takes many forms: long or short, fiction or non-fiction, and from a full novel to articles and reminisces (what is nowadays called life writing).

But writing can be an uncertain process.

There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. So said Somerset Maugham and most writers find writing a somewhat mysterious process: where does an idea, plot or character come from? Writing can be a pleasure, a satisfaction and, sometimes, a frustration. It can be a hobby or a livelihood (though, in part, very few writers earn their whole living from it) and for many writers, it is a fascination and perhaps even an obsession. Certainly, I know I get withdrawal symptoms if I do not have projects on the go to turn to and add a few words.

Writing can be difficult, not only in terms of content but in terms of the actual writing. Look around. Even a single sentence can apparently cause problems. A sign at the roadside says: It is dangerous to cross this bridge when this notice is underwater. A notice on the inside of every bedroom door in a hotel says: In the interests of security please ensure your door is locked before entering or leaving the room. Perhaps words have a mind of their own. No wonder a whole book can be a problem!

Whatever people write, one thing is certain: much of what needs to be done is solitary. However, many an enthusiastic writer wants to confer, consult and collaborate with others of like mind. One way of doing this is through writing groups. I know I benefited from the support of my writing group membership when writing my first novel. Usually, such groups are quite small and give members the opportunity to read their work, to test, experiment and get some feedback. However, one local Essex group does things on a more ambitious scale.

The Brentwood Writers’ Circle (BWC) was formed in the 1940s and has been running continuously ever since. It has around 60 enthusiastic members, mainly local, but it also attracts members from a wider radius.

The Circle meets monthly, usually on the first Saturday afternoon of the month (currently at Bardswell Social Club). All are welcome; it’s an eclectic group with the only common factor being a love of writing. Many members are published (some much so), but others regard writing strictly as a hobby. A wide range of genres are favoured. Contact the group via: www.brentwoodwriterscircle.org if you are interested in attending or joining. Meetings involve speakers, typically writers or publishers prepared to share their experience, and also writing exercises and so-called showcases where members read work. For example, one winter meeting always features spooky stories read by candlelight.

Informal networking is just as important. Swapping experiences, sympathising and applauding, all occur regularly. So, too, does asking and answering questions on a host of topics, ranging from the best way to self-publish to the precise use of the semi-colon.

A recent event, the group’s annual one-day workshop, was conducted by well-known writing coach Sarah-Jane Page, who joined the group from her base in Suffolk (www.retreatandrevision.co.uk). It was a brilliant day;  a real learning experience, showing clearly that gaining expertise in writing is a lifetime’s task and one that most writers happily admit never ends. Summing up that day, I would say it was interesting, informative and, not least, fun – three elements integral to every BWC meeting.

Of course, writing can be a competitive business.  When the chances of being published are thousands to one against, what else could it be? Many a well-known writer has been turned down numerous times before their book is contracted. So, unsurprisingly, another group activity is competitions. One of these is open to all, an annual ‘flash’ writing competition – that’s something very short – one, concluded towards the end of last year, was 100 words on the topic of, ‘ A hundred years from now’. The shortlist is judged by Tony Fisher, a presenter on BBC Radio Essex, and the top three are announced live on air (sadly this is held over this year).

Writers always revel in success, whether that is just a round of applause for something read aloud and appreciated by the group, or involving the approval inherent in publication, maybe followed by good publicity, favourable reviews and perhaps even a cheque! Individual successes can be shared with the group and Circle members greet the various achievements of fellow members (almost) as enthusiastically as their own.

Perhaps some of the difficulty in producing a coherent sentence, never mind a ‘perfect’ text, just indicates the need for more care. The evidence around us continues: recently, I saw a notice at a railway station saying: Passengers must not leave luggage unattended at any time or they will be taken away and destroyed. No, I don’t think passengers so doing risk death, but maybe the writer should go on the naughty step!

Work on display

Of course, like so much else, BWC activities have been largely curtailed by the COVID crisis. However, this hiatus has coincided with the preparation of an anthology of members’ work being published to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the group, which comes soon. This has been keeping many members busy and A Circle Of Words will be available to all by end October/early November 2020 and copies will make a great Christmas present (sorry, plugging your work becomes a reflex)! Details of how to obtain a copy will appear on the BWC website in due course.

If you write, or you think you might like to, and currently have time to give it a try, then you may want to check out this group. It’s not exaggerating to say that, while writing is a solitary occupation, a little help from your friends goes a long way in helping success.

Note: a version of this article appeared in the March 2020 edition of the magazine Essex Life.

Read the latest issue of Write On! magazine online.

It’s not exaggerating to say that, while writing is a solitary occupation, a little help from your friends goes a long way in helping success.