Category Archives: writers groups

So who’s Mr. French, and why is he unmasked?

Like most writers I know, I have voluminous files of old drafts, abandoned chapters and even abandoned novels. It’s all part of learning the craft – knowing when to let go of something that just isn’t working.

Last year, I began writing a complicated dystopian novel. My writing critique group at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre (I couldn’t live without them) gave it a big thumbs down.

Undeterred, I brought it back a few weeks ago with a new beginning. Thumbs down again.

Another beginning. Another thumbs down.

But last week, with beginning #3, I got the seal of literary approval. The corpse has risen from the dead. It is walking. A twisted future world is under construction.

To celebrate, I dusted off a short story I wrote a while ago, did some more work on it, gave it a new title Unmasking Mr. French, and posted it on this site as the prize for signing up to my newsletter. I even invested in a Shutterstock image and made a ‘cover’. (My regular professional cover designer is  busy right now, and will probably shriek in horror when she sees my work!)

Because I’m still in celebratory mood,  I’m giving you the story  without making you sign up since you managed to find my website. Just click here and pop in the password FREE.

Have a read and let me know what you think.

Stu

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Garry McDougall’s poem ‘Indebted’: Almost unbearable intimacy

Garry (right) and Stuart at the NSW Writers Centre, Sydney
Garry (right) and Stuart at the NSW Writers Centre, Sydney

My poet friend Garry McDougall has allowed me to share his poem ‘Indebted’ on my blog. Garry is a novelist and painter as well as a poet, and we meet most Tuesdays at the ‘Write On’ writers group in Sydney. ‘Indebted’ is my favourite among his works. It relies on familiar McDougallesque poetic techniques: Semantic slippage as word meanings blend oddly with their neighbours,  homonyms that bump into each other in surprise,  grammar mystically subverted , and the resonation of patterned sounds.

What sets apart ‘Indebted to’ is the almost painful intimacy of the fleeting scene it describes.  If you wake up each morning with somebody special, you’ll get it.

 

Indebted To

The hours nest

between herself and mine,

until first trains grumble in the dark,

a car’s whisk,
 my mind

in the picture-of-often-not,

knot hours, and ‘Not now, not now,’

that telling blanket cover cosy-

warm bed, binding time,

faint breath

in the hour of in-between.

 

Body weight to a faceless clock

in this so silk sack of nether warmth

and ponder pillows,

covert and dissenting blanket,

underhand train,

bare feet at the fay end of time,

brain and body exhaling

my half-hymn for her,

in temple red and slumber

our fingers touch,

accepting hearse time defining,

the hour of in-between.

 

Long lost in a feather sac

and limber light,
 locked alive in flesh,

grumble tum, harmonic match,

patter knack of morning dew,

reigning home besides you,

moist, hot breath to sticky rest,

towards a whisper,
 lover of tides

blessed
 to be here, steep steps of breath

in the hour of in-between.

 

Fathoming yesterday’s remains,

while she recalls day’s first chore
,

rolls over, dawn driven, first feet on floor,

and I stay, viscous,
 encumbered,

chalk words to sing her sun still,

my self stumbling

in the hour of in-between.

© 2016 Garry McDougall

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You can read about Stuart Campbell’s books here.

The secret recipe behind a successful writers group?

with gusto coverIn my fourth year with the Write On! writers group in Sydney, it’s time to reveal the ingredients. The basics are simple: A committed convenor, eight writers, a weekly three-hour meeting, and a room in the NSW Writers Centre.

But turning the basics into a successful writers group takes more than just a quick stir and a bit of heat. Here’s my attempt to list the secret herbs and spices:

Simplicity: We do the same thing every week: Each writer reads aloud 1000-1500 words of their work in progress. The rest of us listen and annotate the handout of the text, and then go round the circle giving our critique. We’ve tried varying the model on the odd occasion, but we always revert to the basics.

Time management: We don’t waste time chatting about the weather or politics. We keep a firm but not too firm eye on the clock to make sure that everybody’s work gets a fair exposure.

Diversity: Our group includes traditionally published and self-published writers, as well as what we like to call ‘emerging’ writers. We cover novels, nonfiction, memoir, and poetry. Our novels probably cluster around the upper ranks of ‘general fiction’, but we have our fingers in thrillers, chick lit, historical periods spanning two thousand years, and lots of exotic locations. Our members are professionals, working or retired, with backgrounds in business, diplomacy, academia, design, nutrition, and other areas.

Honesty and respect: It’s not unusual for a few of us to go home each week having been told that what we’ve read is a pile of junk. Inevitably, someone else will go home with a D-minus the following week. We are honest in our critique, and we respect the opinions of our work. It isn’t always easy: I kept bringing back to the group a chapter of ponderous claptrap, cutting bits off each time until just a couple of sentences of the original remained.

Humour: This is reserved mainly for sex scenes. Most weeks we laugh our socks off. Especially when togas are involved.

Leadership: Our convener has been running this group since 2009, and our turnover of members is very small. She maintains it as a closed group, so you have to apply to join when we have a vacancy, and you are admitted only after a trial period. Exclusive and cliquey? Yep!

In my four years with Write On! I have written three novels. About fifty percent of my output went through the critical grinder in our room at the NSW Writers Centre, and it came out fifty percent better. I’m still searching for that final secret ingredient of our success. Is it the serenity of the Centre itself in a Victorian era sandstone building, part of the former  Callan Park Hospital for the Insane? We work surrounded by parkland.  The chairs are uncomfortable. There is no coffee shop. No distractions.

Or is is just serendipity? That sweet spot in life when the right group of individuals comes together with a common aim? I’ve experienced this a couple of times: The brief golden era of a community theatre I once belonged to; the early years in the foundation leadership group of a School in a university I worked at. It’s rare, but you know when you come across it.

I’d be delighted to hear of other experiences of writers groups: Feel free to reveal your secrets.

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You can buy the Write On! writers group collection of essays With Gusto! here.

Learn about Stuart Campbell’s books at http://www.stuartcampbellauthor.com