Solihull Writers’ Workshop : Chairpersons’ Report 2014 -15
It’s been a funny old year.
In my opinion the group has had some of the most interesting and creative meetings for some time, but also, on occasion, some very low attendances.
The offshoot novelists’ forum (otherwise known as “pub club”) is still going strong despite changes in location, and we have had a good handful of new faces attending our main meetings during the year. The competitions have not been well-supported, which I am sure is not directly linked to the decision not to offer cash prizes, which in itself was the result of a timely re-evaluation of our finances.
I originally joined this workshop (and continue to attend from some distance away) because of the wide range of talent and ideas that stimulates new challenges and discussions within the group. This requires a broad cross-section of opinion, and I would hate that to be lost due to dwindling attendances. It would seem that, if we are to continue, we need to re-enervate(!) our group activities in some way.
For the moment I will leave you to ponder these issues, but I will be coming back to them later. For now let us celebrate our successes.
Deborah (Install) is our star of the year, with her book launch and its translation into several foreign language editions, and I believe a future film contract has also been mentioned. She has been liberal in sharing her experiences with members and encouraging us all, and we are grateful for her generosity. Dennis (Zaslona)’s children’s stories are currently being read by an agent in the hope that he will be accepted as a client. Pete (Haynes) had a ghost story included in an Andy Killeen anthology and he has had a number of short stories published in American online magazines; several other members are similarly involved in online publishing of their work. The evergreen Brenda (Langmead)’s first Mills & Boon novel was re-issued in Asia this year; and Isobel (Walker) came third in a WI poetry competition.
Many members attended courses and readings, and brought back valuable feedback, and several were invited to take an active part. Deborah was asked to help adjudicate the First 500 Word competition at the York Writers’ Festival, and she also gave a reading at the Happy Heart Cafe in Orton as part of the publicity for her new book. Inez (McDonals) was filmed while reading poetry at the Birmingham Literary Festival and then screened at the Birmingham Central Library; Ray (Bradnock) read his poems at the “Poetry Bites” meeting in Kings Heath; Cheryl (Powell) read a short story at the Writing West Midlands event called “Short & Sweet” (also in the Birmingham Central Library). David (Heeks) will be performing his words with guitar as part of the Sound Lounge project in the Birmingham Symphony Hall Foyer on 14th July.
Cheryl & Tony (Hodgetts) attended a poetry workshop at the Warwick Words Festival, while Pete went on an Arvon Writing Course. Carla and Dennis went to the York Writers’ Festival and Dennis also attended an agents’ party in London hosted by the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Association, and reinforced some useful contacts at both. Past member Carl Sealeaf is now active with Writing West Midlands and Pangea Poetry.
That doesn’t seem like a bad list of achievements to me!
Invited speakers this year were Deborah, who gave us an insight into her experience of life beyond agents; Sue Johnson, who gave a mini-workshop on dialogue and characterisation, and Pete, who came armed with an impressive hit list for his session on Editing - I particularly liked the phrase “Write as a writer but edit as a reader”.
Competitions were judged by David Rhys Jones (Short Story); Bill Brown & Jill Molloy from Walsall Writers’ Circle (Non-Fiction); and Stephen Charlton & Marina Callaghan (Poetry). The winners of the short story competition were Cheryl, Trevor (Barker), & Helen (Brunton); of the non-fiction competition: Paul (Torr), Tony, and Isobel; and of the poetry competition: Ray, David, and Pete - all in that order. Entry numbers were small, consistently in single figures, as previously indicated by Sarah, and this proved quite embarrassing when external judges were invited. Not only was there not much to choose from, but few people attended the adjudications. This is clearly an issue that needs sorting out.
Attendance numbers in general dropped off, too, particularly after Christmas, and this is worrying as we exist on members’ subscriptions, plus a trickle of income from the raffle and tea monies (which also suffered from poor attendance). Some of these meetings were excellent despite the lack of attendees, and I would urge members to come along whenever they can make it - even if a bit late! Costs of room hire etc. are likely to go up in future, so it is important that we maintain a healthy membership, and one that is keen to support our efforts. A full room also makes a good impression on new potential members.
The ‘pub club’ seems to maintain a fairly consistent attendance, but larger numbers are not necessary to retain its viability. Numbers are, however, beneficial in the general meetings, not least to maintain variety and quality in the discussions. Encourage friends to come, and put on your thinking caps, as we need your ideas to help us in producing an appealing programme to help retain more satisfactory attendance figures.
Our annual report would not be complete without some comment about those who worked above and beyond the call of duty to keep the Workshop running. Our tea persons, of course, Isobel, Carnelia and Trevor, deserve many thanks for their almost ubiquitous presence. Helen has done a splendid job as treasurer, keeping us all in order financially; changes were clearly necessary at the end of last year and it would seem that the measures put in place have worked quite well - hopefully we’ll learn more following her report. Sarah is an absolute cornucopia of information and emails, a minute-taking wizard, and a stalwart in supporting the group; and Tony, as general keeper of the keys, gets quietly on with the work in hand without complaining. Ray keeps a friendly eye on techy systems, Pete keeps us up to speed intellectually, Carla acts as unofficial dog handler, and Brenda sails on serenely, tossing out literary gems on the way.
I can’t mention everyone here, but let us not forget that at the core of the group are all those who regularly present writings of individuality that delight and stretch our minds, to a remarkably consistent high standard. I know that is why I continue to come.
We have a system of peripatetic chairpersons (of which I am one) that still seems to work well, and we should thank them all, particularly those who stood in at short notice in place of the inevitable withdrawals. Our loose but organised approach seems to appeal to creative people. So let’s get down to sorting out that programme, and paying next year’s subs as well, of course. Please keep supporting us. And thank you for coming.
Paul Torr / July 2015
Solihull Writers’ Workshop : Chairperson’s Report 2013 - 2014
Once again I am in the chair for the AGM, although I am only one of the eight or nine chairpersons who have presided over meetings during the year. We have a system that involves sharing this duty without overloading any one individual, and I like to think that it is symptomatic of the way in which the Solihull Workshop manages its affairs, with members all having the chance to participate and contribute. We encourage this in our regular meetings, and we hope you all feel included as a result. As for the chairpersons, they are all volunteers, and sometimes step in at short notice to cover for illness, so I think they deserve a special vote of thanks for their support.
We also have others to thank for helping to keep our meetings well organised. There are the teamakers, led by Isabel & Trevor, and all the others who pitch in when needed. Helen is our hardworking treasurer, although I think she has finished painting her house now, and I’m not sure whether she is still the officially elected Mistress of the Universe or merely Agent When; Sarah and Ray keep an eye on practicalities like the website and remembering people’s names (it’s not that I’m getting old - I’ve always been forgetful. Now, where was I?) and Sarah also brings solace to us lonely writers with innumerable emails reminding us that now is a good time to tap out that masterpiece. She also takes minutes, but I’m not sure what happens to them, because my computer search only found a few relating to the past year. This paucity, combined with my suspect memory and the fact that I had to miss several meetings, means that the annual report is likely to be shorter than usual, but rest assured that it is full of good intentions.
There are many others who work away in the background and without whom we would not be able to cope, but who deserve our thanks, and to all the other stalwarts who regularly attend our meetings to contribute a plethora of writings and drink tea or coffee we extend our gratitude, and hope that you will continue to support our group. We exist solely on subscriptions, plus a pittance gleaned from raffles and tea money, so we need you as paid-up members. Our numbers have not increased this year, and we have had two speakers paid from funds during the season, and this has meant that income versus expenditure has become a hot topic whenever the Treasurer is around. It is important that we review our financial affairs before they become difficult, (although we have enough in hand as a buffer to cover current projected costs) and we hope to propose a few ideas to help in this respect.
One way of ensuring financial viability is through maintaining a healthy membership. We have had quite a few new guests dropping in, and we would like to encourage these to take up full membership. We are always aware of the need to inject new blood into the Society and its writings. This will, of course, depend on the programme content, and the welcome and help, that they receive. We have a good record with the latter, and I hope you can come up with some tempting ideas for the former. Another way of gaining members is through more active recruitment, although the website seems to be doing a reasonable job of raising our profile and encouraging interest among potential writers. Should we do more with it? And if so, what? Should we produce leaflets for local distribution in libraries or shops? Should we try harder to get regular inclusion in the local press? Should we feature poetry performances on facebook? Perhaps our newer members can help us with feedback.
Attendance over the season has been quite variable, whether because of other commitments or the fluctuating appeal of the programme I am not sure. I missed several meetings myself, so am unsure how enthusiatically they were received, but I have no doubt that different members have different likes and dislikes. We would like to cater for you all during the season, and welcome new ideas for inclusion. I have to say that I personally hugely enjoyed those that I could attend, and was constantly heartened by the variety and quality of the writing. The set programme of different themes still seems generally acceptable, and we had some decent audiences for the occasional hired speakers, but these may need to be subjected to closer economic scrutiny in the future. The pub gatherings on alternate weeks continued for those writing novels, with chosen extracts occasionally read out at open meetings for the rest of us.
We were lucky to get Stephen Morrison-Burke, the current Birmingham Poet Laureate, to judge the poetry competition in July. I have details of the top three winners as Ray, Carnelia & someone called “Ham’n’Eggs”, but I’m pretty sure the overall prize went to Carnelia. The poetry workshop later in the year with Charlie Jordan went down very well, as did the plotting workshop with Sue Moorcroft, and Ross Crawford came out of retirement to give of his laconic best at the article adjudication meeting. Helen won top spot here, which meant that as treasurer she awarded some money to herself. Tony was second and Carnelia third - she keeps on winning doesn’t she? I got my own back in the short story competition, but unfortunately was too ill on the day to collect my trophy; Cheryl came second and Ray third.
Quite a few members had work published, in print or online, but I don’t have examples due to deficiences in both minutes and memory. It is encouraging, however, that members continue to find publishing outlets for their creative work. Others have attended workshops or courses and brought back lots of tips and information for those of us too mean to pay for it ourselves. Let’s face it, that’s what groups like ours are for! So sign up for another season, please, and as soon as possible. You know you’ll only get bored if you don’t. I’m already salivating over next season’s programme and it hasn’t even been arranged yet, so let’s get to it.
Many thanks to you all.
Paul Torr / July 2014
Solihull Writers’ Workshop : Chairperson’s Report 2013 - 2014
I thought this report would be shorter than usual as I inadvertently deleted all the past year’s minutes from my emails but Sarah sent me copies of most of them. I shall nevertheless describe the year in generalities, but will be very happy to accept corrections and additions from the floor, as I know some information is incomplete.
As always, we have lots of people to thank for helping to keep our bunch of scribblers organised. Firstly, and most importantly of course, are the teamakers, led by Isabel, closely followed by Trevor, Carnelia , and all the others who pitch in when needed.Thanks go to all the chairperson volunteers, especially those who stepped in as cover at short notice when required. Thanks to Helen for doubling up as treasurer and Mistress of the Universe (All Hail!) whilst painting her house with her other hand; to Sarah for keeping us all in touch with the wider world of writing and providing herb advice and minutes; to Tony for being guardian of the keys; to Pete for managing to provide a touch of gravitas when all around him threaten chaos (and occasional minutes when Sarah can’t); to Brenda for her determination to show us all how it really should be done despite great personal misfortune; and, just as important, to all those members who regularly turn up and good humouredly contribute such a variety of solutions to the set tasks at meetings.
Attendance at meetings has been variable, sometimes down to only 7 or 8, I’m not sure why. Is it because the subjects were not to everyone’s taste, or just a matter of logistics? I know that some members do find attending difficult, and we have had some atrocious weather this year. We have also had quite a few new members dropping in, but mostly just for a meeting or two. A few long-standing members have fallen by the wayside, either through ill-health, or change of circumstances or location, and it may be that we should consider some sort of recruitment drive, or even a change of format. The website is up and running - perhaps it could be used for publicity, a “writing of the month” for instance, together with posters in libraries etc. New blood is very useful to stop older writing hands from getting too complacent, and regular email postings might help with this.
As for the programme content: it has been suggested that the Open Manuscript sessions seemed less in demand than previously, but this is not generally borne out by the number of contributions relative to other evenings. The pub gatherings on alternate weeks continued for those writing novels, with the results occasionally read out at open meetings for the rest of us. Several of the set themes produced remarkably creative and diverse offerings, as did the use of the spoken word in monologues and playlets, but others resulted in only a few submissions. The general programme layout of different themes may need tweaking a bit to inject new vigour. I missed several meetings so am not sure how enthusiatically they were received, but suspect that some newer members may have alternative views and priorities. I presume, however, that we all agree that it is good to also have a sprinkling of external speakers and adjudicators as at present, and should try to continue this practice.
But should we be a little more challenging in our subjects? Politics, perhaps, or how to do something, or illustrated travel writing? Are the competitions in need of review? Should we be aiming more at publication in particular markets? The translation of creative work into marketable items can be fraught with awkward decisions, and I suspect we each have to come to our own individual conclusions, with help, of course, from the accumulated wisdom of others in the group. Whatever we decide I hope that we will always retain the group enjoyment of shared creativity that keeps me coming back year after year.
Of the successes that I remember, or found a note of somewhere, I see that I won the 2012 poetry competition, judged by Roy MacFarlane but as I was ill for that meeting I didn’t find out until September - a very nice surprise! Second was Tony & third was Caroline.This year’s judge will be Stephen Morrison-Burke, the current Poet Laureate for Birmingham, and the subject is “Moving Forward”.. By a curious twist of fate I also won the article competition, with Tony (Hodgetts) in second place and Carolyn (Welsby) third. This was judged by Ross Crawford, editor of the Solihull News, in which the article was subsequently published. Ross has now been promoted to editor of the Birmingham Mail, and I’m not sure how that will affect our future plans.Our other speaker was Emma Boniwell, secretary to the Society of Authors, who provided an informative, if not too well-attended (only 11), evening. Luckily I didn’t win anything else, the short story competition being won by (not minuted) Sarah with Ray second & Mary third, judged in Brenda’s absence by David (Heeks).
Several members had work published, in print or online. Sarah produced an article called “Working with Apprentices” which paradoxically was about herbs. Carnelia had 4 poems published by the UK Poetry Library. Denis was invited to take part in a BBC script development course and was asked to submit further ideas. Liz completed her course in London and got 2nd place in a short story competition. Pete attended some workshops at the Barber Institute which resulted in a printed piece in an anthology. I also seem to remember that Isobel won a WI short story competition. Several members currently have work with agents awaiting appraisal. I am sure you can remind me of many items I have missed.
Finally just a reminder to please pay your subscription fees promptly early in the next season. Together with the teatime honesty saucer and the raffle they provide our only income from which we must pay all workshops, room costs, speakers and prizes.
I hope that you have all enjoyed yourselves this year, and will continue to do so in the future.Many thanks to you all.
Paul Torr / July 2013
Solihull Writers’ Workshop : Chairperson’s Report 2011 - 2012
As usual we wish to thank lots of people who help maintain some semblance of order in this occasionally unruly Society of scribblers.
Thanks to all the chairperson volunteers and willing teamakers, particularly Isabel who brings the refreshments. Thanks to Helen for taking over as treasurer and going camping on the proceeds (only kidding!); to Pete for his irrepressible enthusiasm despite wearily having to write the minutes for every meeting; thanks to Sarah for keeping us all in touch by regularly inundating us with emails detailing the latest writing opportunities; special thanks to Brenda for being a lovely lady who continues to write so powerfully that I tremble with anticipation each time she says she has brought a contribution; and thanks to Trevor for his unique humour that warms our cockles when things look like getting too serious (and for getting a computer).
This is not a comprehensive list. Particular thanks should also go to those who helped arrange our speakers this year, in the face of a variety of contact problems and cancellations. And let us not forget all those members who regularly turn up and contribute such unpredictable solutions to the set topics and themes at meetings. We are a curiously diverse company, full of surprises and talent, and the group continues to benefit from the wealth of words from each and every one of you. I eagerly look forward to my fortnightly fix of congenial scribery - and long may it continue.
Attendance has fluctuated throughout the year, but most meetings saw at least ten or a dozen attendees. I think the membership is reasonably healthy at present, as witnessed by discussion during the year about whether membership numbers should be capped, but it was decided not to do this. Some supportive and long-standing members have fallen by the wayside, either through ill-health, or change of circumstances or location, but we hope they will keep in touch. Biddy will be especially missed, both as an organiser and a writer, after moving to Kent.
We have also welcomed several new faces, and we hope they like the experience enough to become regular members. New blood provides a tonic when the old muse is flagging (and, as an old muse myself, I need all the tonic I can get!). I think the website helped in encouraging new enquiries, and we must again thank Sarah for her work on providing this.
Quite a few members were successful in getting work published: among these were two members, who both had articles placed in various specialist journals; Biddy had some short stories accepted by magazines, and Max achieved national coverage for winning the Brit Writers’ Awards with his novel “The Butterfly Hunter”. We hope he’ll be back sometime soon!
It would, however, seem that competition is getting fiercer, and opportunities more limited, in writing for commercial publishers, and this is reflected in the drop in acceptances compared with the previous year. Nevertheless the internet is providing new avenues for writers, and several members have taken advantage of its potential as an alternative. This is quite clearly a growing market for the future.
The pub meetings on alternate weeks have continued, and have resulted in copious quaffing as well as the progression and completion of several novels, which we hope will soon all find the publishers they deserve. Liz and Pete attended external courses in novel writing, and Paul was asked to judge a Nuneaton Writers’ Society competition.
The general programme of assorted themes seemed to be quite well received, as did the new balance and organisation of Open & Considered manuscripts. Once again I think the range of set projects, open sessions and invited speakers was about right, but I’m sure you’ll let me know your views later in the meeting.
Ex-member Diane Parkin was invited to give a talk early in the season, but postponed it due to bad weather and illness. When she finally arrived her car broke down. The signs were not good, were they? But , as with her life, she took it all in her stride, and got on with the task in hand. In her talk she described her progress as a working writer, and her meticulous methodology that had us all gasping. It soon became clear that she is a workaholic, but even those more slothful ones amongst us gleaned much of interest from her experiences.
The competitions seemed not to attract quite so many entries as last year, maybe because new members are reluctant to put themselves in the firing line, but most achieved double figures.
The short story competition was judged by Pete, last year’s winner, and the subject he chose was “Love”. He placed Brenda first with her poignant story “Waiting”, Alec second with “The space between awake and asleep”, and David third with “Doris and Bernard Pinchard”. This means that Brenda, as this year’s winner, should be the judge for next year’s competition.
Ross Crawford, editor of the Solihull News, again judged the non-fiction competition, in which Helen came first with “Olympics - A view from the dark side”, Carolyn second with the more prosaicly titled “The Olympic Games”, and Isobel third with “Nudes, prudes and dudes”. Ross invited everybody to download their entries onto the newspaper website, and it is most encouraging to see how supportive he is. He is also a very entertaining speaker who clearly and amusingly explained his decision-making.
The last meeting of the year is usually the adjudication of the poetry competition - I’m not sure why. Last year (2011) Chris Morgan was invited but I can find no record of the prizewinners, although I am assured that Tony and Trevor were among the recipients. Chris read some of his poems to us after the presentations.
This year’s invited poetry judge is the former Birmingham Poet Laureate, Roy McFarlane, who will be with us at the next meeting, and will also read some of his work. The subject of “Differences” was chosen by opening a book and plonking a finger on the page - well, it’s different! We await the results with trepidation.
The end of my report is approaching, and so I apologise in advance for any omissions, which you are free to rectify later, or afterwards by email. Perfection is not my strong point!
I will repeat last year’s request that attendees pay their dues promptly when the new season commences, either as guests or full members. Helen is always keen to accept your money, without which the Workshop would cease to exist. The teatime honesty saucer is only a modest charge, and, together with the raffle, is a painless way to help our funds, but these payments together provide our only income from which we must pay all workshops, room costs, speakers and prizes.
Finally, I think I speak for everyone when I say the past season has been full of interest, good writing, and fun. It is the members who give the Workshop its vitality, stimulating the best in writing, and encouraging each other to be creative as well as practical. As members you have all contributed to another very enjoyable year. Many thanks to you all.
Paul Torr / July 2012