I'd like to welcome you to my interview with Rosemary Bartholomew from Hastings Writers' Group.
Hello Rosemary. Can you please tell us a bit about your writing group?
We are Hastings Writers' Group, established in 1947. We meet fortnightly on alternate Monday evenings from 7.30 to 9.30 pm at the White Rock Hotel, Hastings.
How many members, on average, does your group have?
We have around 35 members at the moment.
What is your role within the group?
I am currently the Programme Secretary. I also head the production team for Strandline, our now biennial group anthology, and any charity anthologies we self-publish.
How are your sessions structured?
We have a yearly programme planning meeting so all members can suggest and vote on what they want to see happen. A copy of the programme is emailed and it is also available on our website. Our sessions are 2-hourly, starting with notices and news, then the evening’s activity; we have a 15 min break half-way through.
What types of things do you cover in your group?
Manuscript evenings – where four people can read extracts from work in progress for the rest of the group to give constructive feedback and commentsWorkshops – usually fun evenings with writing-related exercises and usually devised by a group member.Competition evenings - we have five different competitions leading to our Writer of the Year trophy covering short story, non-fiction, poetry, something dialogue based and a wild card. (This is worked out on a points system – 5 for winning down to 1 for entering). The themes for each are suggested and voted on and they are judged by outside judges. We also have our Catherine Cookson Cup short story competition (Catherine Cookson was a founder member and previous Patron).At present we also have a journalistic-type comp in memory of one of our members who was himself a journalist.Results evenings - where the guest judges come and give both overall and individual comments on our entries and announce the top four and any highly commended.(Occasionally we may have a Guest Speaker who has not judged a competition).We have an evening with our Patron – popular novelist Tamara McKinley – who is a very ‘hands-on’ patron who gives us a lot of support and encouragement.We also have a combined AGM/Programme Planning evening.There’s a Presentation Evening, with a buffet, where friends/family can come and we have our Catherine Cookson comp resultsAdditionally, we run outside workshops with booked tutors, that are open to the public.We also have other outside activities, including an Annual Charity Quiz.
What have been some of your most popular/successful activities?
The competition evenings are always the most popular, with members keen to have feedback on their work.
Do members of the group get a chance to run/lead a session or part of a session?
Yes, members have a chance to run a Workshop (and several have done so) and are positively encouraged to do so, or share in talking about their own experiences.
What genres do the members of your group write? Is there a lot of diversity with regards to your members' writing?
There is a great deal of diversity. Members range from published, award winning authors to those who craft words purely for their own pleasure and those in between with the occasional success. We have novelists, children’s writers, non-fiction writers, poets, short story writers, people who have written plays, those who have had articles, letters or fillers published and writing competition winners.
You mentioned earlier that you have produced anthologies as a group. Can you tell us more about that?
Yes, we publish an anthology of members’ work (fiction, non-fiction and poetry) called Strandline. This year’s will be the 9th edition. It is illustrated, produced and formatted ready for print by our own members. It used to be annually, but now is every other year and our latest will be out in October 2012. We have won two national anthology competitions for writers’ groups with previous editions of Strandline.
On the years in between we publish a charity anthology. Our most successful Diamond: A Collection of Childhood Memories was to celebrate our Diamond Anniversary and we opened it up to other local writers so as to reach the magical 60 contributors, and added 6 children for good measure. We raised around £3000 for three charities.
Our last charity anthology was Ghost Writers – spooky tales for dark evenings, which helped raise money for local young carers. We received a highly commended for this in the NAWG anthology competition.
What kind of support does your writing group provide for its writers?
Every member is valued and encouraged. All of them have the opportunity to be included in our anthologies and are given constructive feedback/individual mentoring if they ask for it to help them reach their highest potential. The more successful writers share tips and pass on helpful hints to the rest of the group. We all share in everyone’s successes and like to think we are a supportive group.
Where do you get your ideas/writing prompts from?
Ideas for our programme come from the members themselves, or we try something that has worked well before.
Do you have guest speakers at your group?
Our Guest Judges are also our speakers as they are nearly always professionals. As well we have had people such as agents, or other writers but these are of limited interest and our programme is pretty full anyway. Expense is something to be monitored and we prefer to spend out on feedback on our own work.
What is the best piece of writing advice you've been given?
Probably, write about what you know!
What is the best piece of writing advice you give?
Always get your work proofread by a competent person before sending it off anywhere.
Does your group have a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook?
Yes: www.hastingswriters.co.uk. We have a Blog page attached where we include write-ups of our meetings or any success etc. Someone is currently looking into setting up a Facebook page.
How would someone go about joining your writing group?
Initially they would contact our Membership Secretary, Amanda Giles, at firstname.lastname@example.org and be invited to come along to a meeting free of charge and with no obligation to see what they think. They will also be e-mailed an Information Pack. If they decide to join then they fill in a short application form and pay their subscription.
Thank you very much, Rosemary.