Who Needs Writers’ Groups?

Like Murakami, I tend to draw parallels between running and writing.  I did quite a bit of running when I was in school, but then forgot about it for years and returned to it fairly recently.  I am a long distance runner, not a sprinter (and I see myself as a novelist rather than a short story writer or a poet).  I am an avid consumer of magazines and books about improving your running and writing skills.

But, despite all advice to the contrary from these magazines, I do not have a running partner.  I prefer to run on my own.  Maybe it’s because I use running as a way to clear my head, maybe it’s because I am too embarassed that I may not be able to keep up with other runners, but I have steadfastly avoided running clubs. And the few wild stabs at running with a partner have ended in miserable defeat: one got pregnant, one fell and dislocated her hip, one ran off in the woods without me… and I have sprained my ankle three times on such occasions. Must be the multitasking (running and talking at the same time)!

Same with my writing.  I was doing fine on my own, thank you very much! No need to share.  However, in running, I did notice after a while that, if I did not have a race deadline or an accountability partner (a coach or a knowledgeable running partner), I began to slacken.  I began to find excuses for not running. I suffered from injuries. I stopped entering races.  You can see how this analogy is going.  I began to fear that my ‘ivory tower writing’ was making me self-complacent, self-absorbed and completely cut off from the realities of writing life.  A crippled, lazy, eternally unpublished, armchair runner/author.

I had been too afraid, too ashamed, hyper-sensitive and nervous to join a writing group.  Until I started this blog, I had hardly ever shown my work to anyone (and I made sure that I told no one how to find this blog at first).  Then the readers, the likes and the comments started coming in.  I began to think: ‘There, sharing your work with others is not that bad after all!’  Now, I know you are all nice folk out there, who bother to comment if you have something nice to say.  Otherwise you just move on to the next webpage or website. So it’s not representative of the ‘real’ world.

But I had made a start.  I was no longer quite so private, quite so timid.  I thought it was time to face my demons (and no, I am not referring to the other writing group members here). There is a rather well-established writers’ group in my area, one that organises conferences and invites well-known writers to run workshops, but I’m still working my way up to that level of public scrutiny.  Instead, I found a very local sub-set of this group.  We meet at someone’s house in idyllic conditions: a converted blacksmith’s cottage with a sunny terrace overlooking a stream. It’s a small group and each of us has about 20 minutes for reading and debating. It was my first proper meeting this weekend just passed, and perhaps they were all being especially nice and friendly, so as not to scare off the newcomer.

What I had feared most (other than being ripped to shreds upon reading the first paragraph or stanza), was that the experience would be useless.  In other words, that the other participants would be too polite, making all the right noises, nodding and agreeing, but giving me nothing to work with, no constructive feedback.  Or else that they would just like or dislike something at a visceral level, offering no reasons, no suggestions for improvement.

So, in other words, I feared blandness and rejection.

Instead, I discovered some interesting people, fascinating stories and poems, beautiful images and language…  and really helpful remarks.  Such as: ‘I’m stumbling a little when reading this line, is it the punctuation mark that makes all the difference?’  ‘How about breaking the lines down this way, would that open it up?’  ‘If you cut the first sentence out,  or even the first paragraph, would this story lose anything?’

Yes, that’s the kind of nitty-gritty advice that makes one leave with a (good) furrow in your brow and a sizzle in your belly.  Especially when it’s followed by a ‘I love the joy, the sound, the colour of this piece.  I want to read more!’  I look forward to reading and listening more.  Here’s to conquering your fears and to continuous improvement!


And another poem…

I know, I know, I just can’t help myself…  That’s because the poems are bubbling along anyway, while a review or ordinary blog post takes up more thought and time.  Later on today, I plan to share my thoughts on writers’ groups (having just been to my first couple of meetings).

Warning: strong political content.


It’s not about the flowers I’ve come to talk today,

nor about equality, sharing of the tasks.

I don’t want your Pity. Approval. Admiration.

Nor need stale drinks distilled in new(ish) flasks.


Don’t grant me special favours, don’t pat me on the head.

I seek not the pedestal, nor the public eye.

All I want is my voice to stand out and be counted,

the freedom of creation, invention of the ‘I’.


I need the air to breathe, I need the space to roam,

instead of guilt and failure, sequestered in my room,

self-absorption be an art form, a sign of ample brains,

mistakes not count against me, nor children spell my doom.


It’s not about the medals I’ve come to talk today,

nor about equality, sharing of the spoils.

I don’t seek your Pity. Cheering. Admiration.

Nor need applauses for each of my toils.


Don’t grant me special favours, don’t pat me on the head.

I need not the pedestal, nor the public roar.

All I want is for my achievement to be record,

A chance to show dignity, even out the score.


I need the air to breathe, I need the space to roam,

Not jammed in guilty closet, not made to feel diseased.

I want to love a human, regardless of the gender,

And leave behind a planet much gentler then we leased.

gay flag colours





OK, last poem for a while, I promise.  I will be back with some prose and some reviews or discussions of writerly influences next week. 

Almost immediately after I write that, I ask myself: why do I feel apologetic about writing ‘only’ poems?  I am not implying that writing poems is the easy or lesser option.  Just that, in my case, it is very often compensation activity for not finishing that b***** novel.  Come on, lass, only 2 chapters to go (or so I believe). 

Anyway, this poem is about the challenges of a normally chatty, even glib person becoming tongue-tied in a new country with a language she only half-speaks.  Yep, this time it is personal!

BreadOne might say the magic faraway tree

is walking away and not toward me,

Always almost, but never quite there.

Haunted by failure, aware of the dangers,

I navigate, anxious, between the extremes.

All blandness in word choice,

accents raining in all directions,

avoiding the telephone for fear of rapid riposte.

My jokes are more plodding,

some meaning eludes me.

I snigger along even when I am lost.

Distracted by how I pronounce the word ‘pain’,

the baker hands me the wrong kind of bread.

I think I’ll stick to baguette in future.


The more you give,

the more we want from you.

The less we get,

the less we need.

The greater the belief,

the faster the drop.

We gurgle content when you are out of sight

we clamour with impatience when you hover by

We ask and ask, for ears that hear us,

and hearts that answer with memories of guilt.

Relieved of care, we waste not, want not.

Away from pity, we do not fear.

We live, survive, grow and wonder

at your anger, confusion and delusions of grandeur.


You ask and ask

in bawling bands clinging too tightly,

You want and want, unruly imp,

so winsome, so toothsome.

You glance, we melt

lest we forget

what got us here in the first place.


We only really come aliveOld-fashioned TV

in front of deadened roar of others,

canned laughs still rouse us to sardonic smiles,

while tortuous plots free up our sneers.

Looking carefully ahead, not at each other,

each lost in our singular, unshareable thoughts.

We gossip about them in a semblance of emotion

so trite we stop caring long before the sentence ends.

As unadventurous as last night’s dinner

no miracle can reheat.


Not facing or squaring the truth and the gape,

ever silent we cling to our sofa

and the myth of our togetherness.

Dandelions & Bad Hair Days – how mental health & motherhood woke up the writer in me

Dandelions & Bad Hair Days – how mental health & motherhood woke up the writer in me.

Looking forward to reading this book – the anxiety that dare not speak its name in the competition of upbeat self-deprecation of the school run!