Tag Archives: Sarah Bourne

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

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Sarah Bourne launches ‘Two Lives’

mini book launch
Stuart Campbell missing Sarah Bourne’s book launch

Congratulations to my good friend Sarah Bourne on the recent Sydney launch of her novel Two Lives, available here. Unfortunately I couldn’t be at the launch because at the time I was fighting off the fans as I signed copies of one of my novels in San Francisco (well I signed four books at my wife’s aunt’s house), but you can read about Sarah’s event here, and you can read my review of her book here.

Being a fan of book launches, especially the well lubricated variety, I couldn’t resist including one in my novel An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity. Here it is, narrated by my character Fiona Salmon.

My time as a widowed gym-addicted police officer hadn’t left time for anyone outside professional contacts, let alone friends or casual acquaintances. But my author’s book launch crowd were a stratum of cathedral town society I’d never known existed: Earnest students – the kind who look like Che Guevara and Janis Joplin, whichever era they are born in; elderly amateur intellectuals – the women with close cropped hair and large red framed glasses, and the men with embroidered waistcoats and brown trainers; comfy young couples in conservative wear paired together like lovebirds; assorted old lecturers and young tutors from the university, looking harassed and twitchy from marking essays into the early hours; and the old codgers and their mates on the scrounge for a plastic cup of Rioja and as many cheese cubes as they could snaffle up. My author greeted them at the door and I milled around shaking hands and topping up the plastic cups. I couldn’t remember when I’d last spent time with forty or so people who demanded nothing of me.

My author had appointed a stand-up comic – a friend who didn’t expect a fee – to MC the event and launch the book. The comic rang a small bell and stood on a shelving stool.

“Fank you ladies and gentlemen. I note that all the wine has gone so you can fuck off ‘ome,” he said, and walked out of the door and into the street, at which a couple of Che Guevaras rushed outside, captured him and stood him back on the shelving stool. And that set the tone for the rest of the evening. The wine did indeed soon run out, but I gave two Janis Joplins fifty quid, and they came back with half a dozen bottles of something exiled from the New World. My author autographed and sold fifteen copies of the novel and listened philosophically as the old codgers lectured him on using the f-word on the first page.

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Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:

An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity

The Play’s the Thing