Inspired by this news story of how books are given – AND READ – in Iceland on Christmas eve, we had a different ‘Secret Santa’ at the Christmas party for my writing group this week. Every one picked a name of another writer from the group out of the hat, and bought a book especially for that person. It was a chance to read something different – and show me any writer who doesn’t like to get a new book! Also, as is traditional, everyone also brought along something they had written themselves to read out – we had songs, poems, bits of novels, short stories… it was a treat.
BUT this is possibly my favourite photograph of the whole year. And all the better because it is absolutely not staged – I took it just after everyone had opened their book. A perfect five minutes of silence as we read quietly on our own. My perfect party, in fact!
But that’s not to say that reading is all the writers I’m lucky enough to work with do… this year has been a bumper year, with pamphlets, books, publications and shortlistings and competition prizes. I forced some of the writers to pose with their books recently, and under the picture are some of the links to books published by these talented writers… STILL TIME TO BUY BEFORE CHRISTMAS!!
Please note, I’m not taking credit for these books – most of the writers I work with are far more talented than me and ALL the hard work is theirs BUT they come and sit round my table on Wednesdays to write with me so that means I’m allowed to shout about how great they are!
Mary Smith, A Schoolgirl’s War – this is a really lovely account of Maidstone Grammar School during wartime – with photographs, first person accounts of girls (now women!) who were there at the time, and some really wonderful paintings by the art teacher at the time. A gem.
Jess Mookherjee, The Swell – if you’ve read any poetry magazines this year, you will probably have seen Jess’s poems in them. This is her first pamphlet and it’s beautiful.
Steve Walter, When The Change Came – This is actually Steve’s third book, and he has performed his own show in both the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringes, but it’s his first poetry collection, and like Jess’s, it’s personal, interesting and brave.
Ellen Montelius, Rock Paper Scissors – Ellen is a graphic artist, and her presence in the group has shown us all that sometimes the hardest stories can be told with very few words, albeit carefully chosen ones…
And there are more books and publications in the pipeline…
BUT hopefully for the time we are writing together we are not thinking about publication, or book contracts, or glory. And of course we are not thinking about NOT getting any of those things either. It’s just a case of putting one word in front of the other, searching for the best word to say what we mean, finding the courage to look a little harder at what it is we want to get across, and supporting each other by listening – HARD – to what we all have written. The exercises I give are often mad, hopefully surprising, and sometimes difficult but the wonder of all my writing groups happens when everyone is generous enough to give it a go, and the energy in the room just fizzes. No wonder sometimes we need a night off just to read…