Welcome to my interview with Ibtisam Ahmed, from the University of Nottingham Creative Writing Society.
Hello Ibtisam, can you please tell us a bit about your writing society?
I am part of the University of Nottingham’s Creative Writing Society. We meet every Thursday on campus, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. for our weekly writing sessions, though we sometimes have special events happening at other times. I am not sure when the society was established but I know it has been a part of the university’s SU for at least seven years.
How many members, on average, does your society have?
We currently have 103 members as well as 83 students who are signed on for a one-month free trial. We hope to have some of the latter sign on as full members.
Who are you and what is your role within the society?
My name is Ibtisam Ahmed and I am the President of the society for the 2012-13 academic year. I was President for the 2011-12 academic year as well.
How are your sessions structured?
Our main focus is the weekly ‘Lit Circle’. We have varying themes each week (for instance, Dreams, Character Creation, Plot, Fairy Tales, Poetry, History, etc.) and the sessions themselves consist of 10-15 minute activities based around these themes. One activity is ‘Word Association’ where we ask random members to think of a word related to the theme and then ask everyone to use all the words that were mentioned to write a piece. Another is ‘Consequences’ where each person writes a paragraph before passing it on to the next person. The activities are usually customised to fit the theme.
What types of things do you cover in your group?
We mostly concentrate on the theme and let the members focus on genres and styles, though we sometimes do have sessions with themes like Poetry. Our main aim is to let people practise their writing in a friendly and fun environment.
What have been some of your most successful/popular activities?
Our most popular activities were the Murder Mystery session, the Hunger Games session and the collaborative session we held with the Quidditch & Harry Potter Society. The Murder Mystery was an interactive ‘dinner party’, where each member was assigned a character and then had to write the same murder thriller from different first-person perspectives. The committee played the roles of butlers and maids and delivered the prompts and clues. The Hunger Games session was held shortly after a large number of members expressed their interest in the books. Similar to an RPG session, each member was able to choose a weapon and a position on a fictional map that was provided. A neutral committee member than announced five-minute writing slots with specific instructions (such as ‘forage for food’, ‘make allies’, ‘cannot kill this turn’, ‘must kill this turn’) and then selected three or four pieces to be read out. Any piece that was read out became canon and any others that contradicted these canonical pieces were automatically discarded. This went on until one member was left ‘alive’. The collaborative session was a day of ‘O.W.L. Wizarding Exams’ for members of both societies.
Do members of the group get a chance to run/lead a session or a part of a session?
We always encourage non-committee members to run sessions, though very few choose to do so.
What genres do the members of your group write?
There is a great diversity in the society. With the new academic session having just started, it is difficult for me to point out any preferences this year. The general tone seems to be comedic fantasy.
Have you ever written collectively as a group, such as producing an anthology?
Each Lit Circle has one group activity every week. We also publish a creative writing magazine, Jabberwocky, which is a collection of our members’ work every semester.
What kind of support does your writing society provide for its writers?
The main support we provide is a platform to come and practise writing every week. The committee is not exclusive to English or Creative Writing students – I am a History and Politics student myself – so we do not try to teach or correct others. That being said, we do have critiquing sessions once every month or so where writers can come with their pieces, and give and receive friendly advice from fellow writers. We also arrange for guest lecturers to come and talk to the members.
Who have you had speak at your group?
We have had a few guest speakers who spoke to the society. In the two full years I have been at university, we had Bobbie Darbyshire, a novelist, who spoke to us about independent publishing and the challenges of writing, and Ikhtisad Ahmed, a novelist and playwright, who spoke to us about how to develop characters and how to get published without compromising too much on your own vision.
Where do you get your ideas/writing prompts from?
The committee meets every week and we decide the themes and activities for the Lit Circles, as well as any prompts that go up on our forum. Non-committee members are welcome to join these meetings and provide suggestions though there is no obligation for them to do so.
What is the best piece of writing advice you've been given?
From a guest lecturer in my first year: “Write plots you, your friend and a complete stranger would all read. But don’t compromise on your style.”
What is the best piece of writing advice you give?
Do not be afraid to try new styles and ideas.
Do you hold open mic events or spoken word performances?
We hold monthly open mic nights in town.
Does your society have a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook?
Our websites are follows:The SU Website, Creative Writing Society page (http://www.su.nottingham.ac.uk/studentgroups/society/creativewriting/)Facebook, the UoN Creative Writing group (http://www.facebook.com/groups/161626100593730/)Twitter, @UoN_CW (https://twitter.com/UoN_CW)We also have a forum for our members, though we prefer to keep this private.
How would someone go about joining your society?
If they are a current student at the University of Nottingham, they simply have to go to the SU office or website and sign up using their student account. If anyone outside the university wants to join the society, they need to contact the SU office to arrange for an Associate Membership.
Thank you very much, Ibtisam.