Writing in hotel rooms in other cities

Dreary Sydney2

I’d like to tell you about two visits I had last month to a city that is not my own. The visits were to do with my ‘paid job’, but forget about that. I want to focus on my writing in hotel rooms while I was there. Here are some quick and dirty images to kick my post off with. These first ones are a bit bleak…

Sitting in a faceless, outer suburban office tower looking out over a shopping centre car park and stretches of suburbia. Winter. The day is weary from managerial speak loaded with impenetrable agendas.

From the window, I watch cars meandering down white-painted lanes on a concrete shopping centre roof. I can see their near misses as some turn too quickly. From my place above and behind a pane of glass, I have no way of shouting a warning.

High rises sit in the distance, unable to shrug off rain clouds. Later, I travel through a darkness that has fallen too early to a room like any other. I am worn out from earning a living, and I have nothing to talk to but a television. It occurs to me, in some other place, my real life is going on without me.

I jotted those images down upon returning to my hotel room on the night of my first visit. Do they sound gloomy? They probably reflect the mood I was in. The picture at the start of this post is through the office window I was referring to (now via a special effects app I had fun with). Looking at the picture again, yet more gloomy images come to me: the blacks and whites are stark; the clouds are dense.

The evening view from my hotel window. 

The night view from my CBD hotel window.

The city I visited was Sydney and, to do it justice, it’s a city that could easily be described differently from those images above. Some images that could go with the night view from my hotel window could be: The clouds left, revealing grades of black and streaks of moving light, a living city.

There’s something in the statement, If you’re a writer, no matter where you are, you’re never alone. You’re always exploring your thoughts and ideas, and looking for ways to describe them. In fact, a hotel room by yourself can be a good thing. You’re free from the many distractions of home. It’s an excellent chance to write. Doubly so if you can’t figure out how to work the TV remote and the music player only has an iPod connector. (Are Apple sponsoring hotels? Not everyone has an iphone.)

And do you know what? I was more productive in those two evenings spent alone in hotel rooms than I’ve been in a long time. I let myself go wherever the pen (keyboard, really) took me. Amongst other things, I found myself exploring characters from my past years working as a hospital social worker and I have begun a new novel based on some of those times – something I hope to tell you about in more detail next time.

Here’s the above window view again, now in the morning…

The morning view from the same hotel window.

The morning view from the same hotel window.

Some possible written images that strike me for the above: The sun reaches to me through the city, transforming the buildings and long, grey streets with its touch…

Here are some final photos from the second of my two visits. Unlike the first evening, when I stayed in the CBD, this time I was ‘hoteled’ at a place quaintly named called ‘Coogee Bay’. As the rest of my pictures clearly reveal, my visits weren’t all doom and gloom. The light in Coogee Bay glowed. Perhaps it’s always glowing in Coogee Bay…

Coogee Bay at night.

Coogee Bay at night.

There was something about this house (opposite the hotel) that I liked. Perhaps it was the clothes hanging over the balconies, they were like tears rolling from old eyes…Coogee Bay houseI love the colours in this below picture (of what, I have no idea). The shallow, lapping green, the ocean, deep and quiet, and the night sky with its still clouds…

Recent storm damage at Coogee Bay.

I’ve no idea what this is, but it’s located at the far end of Coogee bay.

In honour of the cut-up method that I have come to enjoy toying with, I present a short cut-up piece sourced mostly from the text at the top of this post (focussing on those images from the suburban office). I pasted the words into the cut-up machine found here, and selected new images and word strings that appealed to me. It’s rather bleak, as was the source material to begin with.

I, suburbia
Clouds shrugging over
stretches of impenetrable darkness
and faceless windows.
Pale light meandering over parked cars,
lines of houses,
people’s homes.
White-painted illuminated television lives.
We are all – all of us – unable to move.

One final, more cheerful, Coogee Bay pic to leave you with …

Down on Coogee Beach.

Me, in matching shirt and beach.

 

 

Novels as fireworks – Structuring my story

IMG_1577

It’s always nice to spruce up a blog post with some pictures. Unlike novels, where you have plenty of space for ‘showing’ through words. So above is a shot I took on New Year’s Eve in Melbourne, Australia. A picture of fireworks may not have a lot to do with the topic of story structuring, but read on — I do have a go, as you’ll see — five pics, no less, interpreted as novel structures. And, what-hey, it’s the new year. Fireworks time! Happy New Year.

I’ve been busy structuring a plot outline. That’s a new approach to writing a novel for me. For my first three — EleMental, MonuMental and Beneath the Surface — I began with an idea, some notions around that idea, and then wrote away, seeing where the idea would take me. Roughly 90,000 words later, I’d stop, revise, edit and restructure until I felt I had a completed story in novel form.

This time around, I’m attempting beforehand to lay out as much of the plot as I can, scene by scene, from the novel’s start to its climactic finish and resolution. There’s a risk in this, I know. This kind of intense pre-planning could lead to a predictability. Something I most certainly want to avoid.

When writing ‘organically’ (or to put it more technically, making it up as I go), I’ve less idea where the story is heading. While I may have to cut a fair few things later, it’s a great way to keep the plot twisting and turning in the most unexpected ways.

On the upside, laying the plot out in detail before I begin to write should give me strong, clean lines in the plot. There’s likely to be less risk of confusing the reader. Also, I feel I’ll be able to concentrate on character development. That’s my big hope. In the past, I have striven for balance of plot and character. This time, I want to lay the plot’s tracks down, and then really push the character development as I write. Here’s hoping it works out that way.

I’m keen to get the first draft completed by the end of February. That’s two months of writing. The plot structuring took me a lot longer than I expected — a few weeks instead of a few days. So, given that, heaven knows if I can meet this new goal.

I kicked off this post with a pic of some fireworks, and, for a bit of fun, I’ll close with a few more. (All pics taken with my humble phone camera on New Year’s Eve, 2015.)

So here we go, meeting my promise: five novel plot structures as fireworks (‘novels as fireworks’, I like that notion)…
IMG_1611

Above: a highly colourful, scattergun approach to laying down a story, with some pretty unexpected stuff happening towards the end…

IMG_1552

Above: a single point of view, character-driven story, underpinned with an emphasis on an interesting setting.

IMG_1576

Above: a collection of connected short stories woven into one overall plot through a theme of reaching out for unknown things: other worlds, other times, other people. (Phew.)

IMG_1573

Above: an explosive romance with multiple points of view —  two powerful characters inevitably drawn together, but to what end?

IMG_1542

Above: now this is the kind of story I strive for. A strong theme at its heart, a veritable shower of exciting situations, and some extra-big challenges towards the end (in this case, four) — will they survive!

My writers’ retreat in the Scottish Highlands

IMG_9515I am coming towards the end of my three-and-a-half-month writing odyssey through the UK and I’m keen to tell you about the writers’ retreat at Moniack Mohr, 14 miles beyond Inverness in Scotland. This was the second of my UK writers’ retreats and, while very different to the retreat in deepest, darkest Shropshire, was just as wonderful.

Marilyn Bowering and Stephen May

Marilyn Bowering and Stephen May

This time around the two established author mentors were Marilyn Bowering (flying in from Vancouver, Canada) and, Stephen May (from Bedford, UK).

A tiny bit of back story: Stephen May, who was a co-leader at the Shropshire retreat, invited me to come along to this second retreat in Scotland, and nobly made a special effort to include new writerly experiences at this second retreat purely on my behalf. Thank you!

The view from my window.

The view from my window.

There were nine of us emerging writers at the retreat, and all were from Scotland bar me. There was something special about that. And I found, to my surprise, there is far more than the one Scottish accent. The writing projects were just as varied, spanning autobiography through to anime-influenced fantasy, literary fiction, short story and hyper social-realism akin to Train Spotting (you know what I mean). And all of it highly accomplished.

As this was some months on from the first retreat, and I’d also visited a number of writers’ group in between, this time around I found myself highly focussed on the rewriting of my Beneath the Surface manuscript. While I was keen to mix with the other writers and forge what I hope will be some lasting connections, I also spent a lot of time closeted in my bedroom, reworking written passages. There was one particular section of the manuscript, spanning six chapters or so, that I was uncertain about. I’d forwarded these to Stephen May before the retreat for his consideration. Sure enough, my uncertainties were confirmed. He liked the writing, but felt many of the ideas could go from the story. They simply did not support the spine of the story. (If you’ve read my manuscript on Wattpad, I’m especially talking about the ‘market of pictures‘ scenes. Perhaps one day the material might re-surface in short story form? I’ve done that before with my first book.)

My room was the third window from the right

My room was the third window from the right.

Apart from the Scottish setting — so different to the setting in Shropshire — and Stephen May’s excellent efforts to include new things in his presentations, Marilyn Bowering’s mentoring style was also different enough to the previous mentors to justify this second retreat experience of mine. Her emphasis, while affirming, was continually on pushing each of us to explore more deeply the narrative purpose of our written works, questioning every step. What’s more, I have many written notes from her on the writing I submitted (a different section of my manuscript to what I submitted to Stephen May), as well as further suggested reading that relates to my story’s imagery. I’m keen to pore over this stuff when I return home.

P1110171It has been an immense experience, and once more, like the Shropshire writers’ retreat at John Osborne’s house, I have come away feeling even stronger as a writer.

And so, as has become my thing, I leave you now with some final photos (quite a few actually).

Looking out, beyond the main house.

Looking out, beyond the main house.

The cottage, where the writer mentors stayed.

The cottage, where the writer mentors stayed.

'The Hobbit House'.

‘The Hobbit House’.

Stephen May in The Hobbit House.

Stephen May in The Hobbit House.

Some of us having a break from our writing.

Some of us having a break from our writing.

P1110114

P1110142

P1110157

On the final night, I was invited to ‘Address the Haggis’ – a Scottish tradition that involved reciting a Robbie Burns poem and stabbing the haggis…

P1110188

And one final thing to share. I was in charge of baking the chocolate brownies. They were delicious. So here’s the recipe, if you’re interested …

Oh yum...

Oh yum…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting ready for a Scottish Highlands writer’s retreat

Pitlochry

Pitlochry

I’m now in a wee place called Pitlochry. It’s known as a gateway to the Scottish Highlands. And I’m preparing for a writers’ retreat beyond Inverness, even further into the Scottish Highlands and close to Loch Ness. You might remember I was at a writer’s retreat several months back in beautiful Shropshire. Whilst there, I was invited by the author Stephen May to come along to another retreat towards the end of this pilgrimage of mine to find myself (or something like that). It’s at a place called Moniack Mhor. You can check it out here if you’re interested.

Same deal as the last time, I need to be a part of a cooking team for one night. Oh dear, I loved everything about the previous retreat except that. Cooking is not me. (Pray to God it’s not multiple versions of lasagne for 20 people again. Thank God I had able team mates last time.)

While I have been dabbling with my manuscript as I’ve been travelling, I’m looking forward to getting back into it seriously again. I have certain doubts about the second half of the first act of Beneath the Surface (about a third of the way in), and I’ve sent this section ahead of me so I can discuss it throughly with the established authors when I get there. If I do make changes, they’re big — it’s quite a few chapters that will need to be cut. Perhaps as many as six.

I head out to Inverness by train tomorrow, but meanwhile, I will leave you with a few more shots of picturesque Pitlochry, taken today…

Fly fishing - no, not me

Fly fishing (erh no, that’s not me fishing)

Yes, it really was as sunny as this. Sunny Scotland…

P1100909

pit 1

pit 3

The town centre

The town centre

The railway station has its own bookshop…

IMG_9211In my next post, I will let you know how I get on at the retreat, and if I’ve gone ahead with that major cut to the first act of Beneath the Surface.

 

How we write

York

York

I’m currently in York (‘Old York’), having just come from Stratford-upon-Avon, and I’m working my way up to the Scottish Highlands where I will participate in one last writing event — a writers’ retreat just outside of Inverness.

Where I met up with the 'London Literary Cafe'.

Where I met up with the ‘London Literary Cafe’.

I’ve been pondering on the differences and similarities in how we all write as I’ve travelled about. Some of us, like me, try to write everyday, lest our rhythm and energy slip. Many, like me again, like to write to music — whether this is to simply cut off distractions from the world or perhaps even draw on the mood of the music as you try to effectively turn ideas into written words.

As I attend groups and retreats (only one of the latter, so far, but another coming), I am struck by how many of us still write from pen to paper, transcribing to computer at a later date. This is something I rarely do. For me, writing from pen to paper just adds hard labour to the task. I avoid it where I can. I much prefer to use all of the devices available to me to aid my writing. For me, this is a part of the fun. I practically surround myself with devices. But at the writers’ retreat in Shropshire I was especially aware that those with a laptop were in a distinct minority. Interestingly, London was different, with many writing with the aid of bot laptops and iPads.

Where I met up with 'Write Together', London.

Where I met up with ‘Write Together’, London.

I often think about rhythm in my writing, which for me is an intuitive thing, the sense of my words and sentences flowing together in a way that supports the images I am trying to convey. I think this is the same for most writers, but one writer I met talked to me about the melody in his writing, and how this was different to the rhythm of his words. Something I’ll need to give some more thought to.

The same goes for the writing spaces we choose. I write wherever I can (I’m writing this sitting up in bed). For others it must be a desk. And perhaps even one specific desk. Many writers also love a good view before them. Of course I like a terrific view as much as anybody, but for writing? I would find it distracting. I would just want to gaze into it. But we’re all different.

Dunstable Downs. Close to where I grew up in the UK.

An incredible view! Dunstable Downs, close to where I grew up in the UK.

I’ll leave you now with a few more travel snaps, and let you know more about the final writers’ retreat soon.

In Shakespeare’s old house, in Stratford-upon-Avon, you can buy the complete set of Shakespearean Star Wars books. Here’s two…

The Phantom of Menace

The Phantom of Menace

There's a complete set of Shakespeare Star Wars books.

The Clone Army Attacketh.

And a Dr Who…

Shakespeare Dr Who.

Dr Who? That is the question.

A literary construction site in Stratford-upon-Avon.

A literary construction site.

And finally, ending a serious note, the house where Shakespeare grew up…

P1090681

At a writers’ retreat in Shropshire

long shot of Hurst

My post about the writers’ retreat in Shropshire has had to wait until I finally got over a nasty chest infection (well, almost over) — a hearty thanks to the UK’s National Health Service for their support in this.

So what, in a single sentence, did I get out of my near-week long retreat in a remote part of Shropshire? Easy. Two answers. I spent a week rebooting the writer in me (something I’ve come to realise I needed). And I made a whole host of brand new writer friends.

Pat

Sharing our work

There were sixteen of us — emerging writers — staying in the Georgian Manor pictured above. Plus, the two established authors, Mavis Cheek and Stephen May, who looked after our writerly interests for the week. Then of course there was also the onsite staff, including a poet laureate who helped with lunch meals in the day. Some like me brought their works in progress, others were there to kickstart new projects. There was so much diverse and energetic writing talent in one place, it was wonderful to be a part of it — hearing first hand about each other’s projects, and listening in as they shared their work. 

A typical day for me began with getting in some quick writing (with the aid of a plunger of coffee) before grabbing a small breakfast and gathering in the main tutorial room. In these morning sessions, all of us fresh and ready for the day, we would look closely at any number of aspects of writing, from enriching dialogue, to the eight-point structure, creating good place and setting, and research. While I was already familiar with many of these topics — as were others too — they came very candidly from the personal perspectives of the two established authors and so felt new and engaging.

garden group

Spending some time in the afternoon sun.

The afternoons were given over to our own writing time, informal chats about writing, walks about the grounds and on-on-one sessions.

In the evenings we had the cooking groups. This was my only stress of the week. Recipes were there to help us, and staff were on hand where possible. Yet it was still an ordeal given the number of us and the variety of dietary preferences. In the end, I was proud of the chocolate pudding I somehow created (I kept the recipe but I’m not sure I could ever manage it a second time), but I felt for my fellow writers Pat and Anne who took on most of the lasagne cooking tasks. Imagine making vegetarian lasagne for that many people — plus two smaller ones for other dietary requirements. I helped them where I could.

The evenings after dinner were devoted to presenting written works. We heard from the author tutors, a guest writer  Selma Dabbagh (who was very generous with sharing her personal writing experiences) and, of course, ourselves. 

Readings on the last night (the guitar came later)

Readings on the last night (the guitar came later, as did much jolly abandon)

Happily, much of the feedback for my draft of Beneath the Surface was of a fine tuning nature — or ‘grace notes’, as Mavis Cheek liked to call them. Significantly, however, I was compelled to revisit my opening lines. The opening lines of a novel are critical. No matter how exciting the rest of your story may be, if you have not engaged the reader’s interest from the start, they will not stick around to marvel at those gems waiting later in your book. It was good feedback which I have gladly taken.

So, enough chat, onto some more pictures….

First up, a shelfie. This is a shelf from one of the bookcases I noticed when I first wrote about this retreat some months ago (back in Australia). It now has a new home next to the author tutors’ rooms (and mine – clearly I’d been the first to book in).

P1050248

Here’s John Osborne’s (playwright and former owner of the estate) favourite view. I’m standing just beyond the back of the house…

P1050206

I had the room directly above me in this photo…

P1050284

A walkabout, one afternoon, as I was reflecting on exciting writing ideas, perhaps…

P1050224

P1050190

P1050184

P1050217

Finally, I leave you with a short piece I wrote during one of the morning sessions. It’s about my visit back to the old house where I grew up. I’ve not reworked it since the session, besides fixing a typo.

The wide avenue of my memory

Last week I visited my childhood home for the first time in over 40 years. The road up was bendy and thin. Not the wide avenue of my memory.

The first thing I noticed was the red sold sign attached to the hedging. So the people here don’t want to be here anymore? I thought. What a silly thought. What did it matter?

The house, two-storey, semi-detached, leaned to one side and seemed the worst kept in the street. Its sad eyes looked out and passed me.

It was as if I was visiting something I’d once read about in a book.

I peered up at the upper bedroom window, knowing that was where I and my two brothers once slept.

How did a family of seven live in this place for so many years?

I wasn’t going to, but I tried the door knocker. A dog barked. No one was home. But I remembered the sound of the door knocker well. Deep, warm and woody. Want a funny, unexpected thing to remember.

When I walked on to top of the hill, the way I used to go to school as a child, I turned around and looked down. I saw a view I did not recall. I did not know was there. I saw the town stretch away across the valley. I saw where it ended, and there were open fields rising into hills. I saw jets in the distance, landing and taking off.

I’ve signed up for a writers’ retreat in Shropshire, UK

Arvon 2

Shropshire, in case you didn’t know — I didn’t! — is between Cardiff and Manchester, in the UK. You have to catch a train that leaves from either of those places to get there. And now, amongst my growing list of writerly things to do in the UK, I’ve signed up for a week-long writers’ retreat in an out-of-the-way manor located somewhere in the ‘rolling hills’ of Shropshire. No mobile phone signal. No Internet. No social media. (Oh, what?)

The manor, called The Hurst, once belonged to British playwright John Osborne. Mr John Osborne’s most famous play is Look Back in Anger. In fact, the term angry young man was coined to describe him. Look Back in Anger was also a highly successful film from the late 50s, starring the wonderful Richard Burton. LBiA 1

Of course, John Osborne won’t be there to greet me when I arrive and to help bring in my bags. (He died in 1994.) But I will be in his old home with a group of fellow enthusiastic writers for a week.

So what do writers do on writers’ retreats? (I hear you ask.) Well, write a lot, obviously. (At least, I hope that will be true.) But I’ve selected to go to one of their retreats that isn’t totally heads-down and write, write, write. We’ll be talking about writing too! There will be morning group sessions conducted by established authors, and one-on-one sessions throughout the week.

I believe every writer can benefit from a retreat, no matter your level of experience, and I’m just as much looking forward to learning new things from my fellow emerging writers as I am from the well-established writers. Like any creative art form, you never stop learning, and from all directions.

An angry young man

An angry young man

The retreat’s afternoons will generally be given over to one’s own writing, back in the privacy of your own room. I plan to focus that time on Beneath the Surface (the complete draft of which, by the way, is still currently on Wattpad).

It’s only the evenings I’m less keen on. There will be cooking teams for the dinners, with everyone taking turns. Oh dear, cooking isn’t really my thing. Not sure how I’ll fare there.

So let’s quickly get back to the writing. The Arvon Foundation run the retreats and courses at The Hurst. (They also have locations in West Yorkshire and Devon. Arts Council England support them.) The established authors at my retreat will be:

  • Mavis Cheek

Pause Between Acts

Mavis Cheek is the author of 15 novels. Pause Between Acts won the She/John Menzies First Novel Prize. More about Mavis Cheek here.

  • Stephen May

Wake Up Happy

Stephen May has written three books including Life! Death! Prizes! which was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award. His latest novel is Wake Up Happy Every Day. More about Stephen May here.

  • Selma Dabbagh

Out of ItSelma Dabbagh is a British-Palestinian writer who gained fame in 2011 with Out of It, an acclaimed novel centred on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. More about Selma Dabbagh here.

I have read none of the author’s books, I must confess, and will need to get cracking and download at least one thing from each of them before I head off. One more task to add to my still-long Going Away To Do List.

I’m not sure yet if the above authors will be living-in with the rest of us (if so, they’d better be in a cooking team!), but I expect so. The Hurst manor looks to be quite a big place with plenty of room for us all. Here’s a little something I found in The Shropshire Star about the restoration of the 200-year-old Georgian manor in readiness for its new role as a writers’ retreat.

I couldn’t find any pre-restoration shots, but here’s how it looks now…

The Hurst

Arvon 3

Arvon 1

Lounge at The Hurst

Do you like checking out other people’s bookshelves? I couldn’t help but notice those shelves in the above pic. Tidy! They put mine to shame. Checking out other people’s shelves can be rather revealing sometimes. What’s in those two, I wonder? Just John Osborne’s stuff? I’ll have a look when I get there, and let you know. Other people’s bookshelves can be little glimpses into their worlds.

Here’s a bookshelf from my home. (Plus dog.) Not quite so tidy, I’m afraid.

Sparks, defending some of my books -small

Here’s a slightly tidier one, I’m happy to say. Yep, that’s 45s and LPs on the lower shelves. (I like to check out other people’s record collections too. That’s just a bit of mine.)

Bookshelf (small)

And one more. A random bookshelf from my place of work…

Work shelf

Pretty tidy again, perhaps it’s a corporate thing. Not even a stray book chucked on top. And what’s with that book Insults?

I have significantly drifted from my main topic about writer’s retreats. I promise I will tell you more about the retreat once I get there (or afterwards, really, given it’s in a blank zone, phone signal and internet-wise).

If all goes well, my next post will be from London. I’m flying out from Down Under next week and will be in a position to speak first-hand about writerly things in the land Up Over, as I encounter them.

The Melbourne Writers’ Social Group

Sunset on the first night I attended the writers' group

I took this photo a few weeks ago with my iphone, on one of the nights I attended the writers’ group

I head off on my big UK writing journey in a few weeks (nervous eek) and I hope to tell you a bit about the various writerly events I manage to get to, whenever I get the chance. But before I go, I thought I might tell you a little about a writer’s group that regularly meets in my hometown of Melbourne — the Melbourne Writers’ Social Group. Good name, eh? I mean, I especially like the ‘social’ in it.

I mentioned this group in my last post (I took the sunset pic at that time — the group before last).

The group meets fortnightly on a Tuesday at the Wharf Hotel, which is down by the Yarra River, and it’s free to join. (The Wharf Hotel is in the darkness on the very right of that above sunset pic.) It’s easy to join too: simply log into Meetup (or sign up to it, if you haven’t already), and ask to join. Once you’re accepted, do an RSVP for the next group you would like to get along to, and once you’re actually there, participate at whatever level you would like. (See you there!) Here’s the group’s main Meetup link.

Wharf Hotel

Wharf Hotel (sort of sandwiched in there)

The Melbourne Writers’ Social Group is a busy group with a variety of events for you to choose from (or go to the lot, if you want, and have the energy). The group is co-hosted by Geoff Stuart and Mat Clarke, two guys who are clearly in it to support good writing in ol’ Melbourne town.

The group has what they call The Flagship Event (perhaps it began here, back in 2009?), which is the Tuesday evening social gathering where readings are shared and informal feedback is given — more on the flagship event here. It’s the thing that I’ve been getting along to. We had a great turn up last week — 16 all up by my reckoning. As Autumn is truly upon us, we met indoors for the first time this year.

Philip - long-time group member

Philip, long-time group member

They also have the Writing Time group, where writers spend time quietly writing together, and then chat about what they’ve been working on afterwards. I’ve yet to get along, but it sounds great. Apparently the table is wobbly but the cheesecake makes up for it. They meet at the Cafe Giraffe — it’s worth getting along just for that name! This group used to be their NaNoWriMo group, for those in the know about that. More on it here.

They also have a public Facebook page here. Plus two closed Facebook groups, which you can join once you become a member and start participating. One of these closed groups is for critiquing written work (treading carefully on each other’s dreams, naturally).

I think that’s it? Oh, they also organise the odd one-off event, perhaps based around one member’s activity or a guest speaker opportunity. I told you they were busy!

So, if you’re a Melbourne-based writer — here’s a group to think about. But if you live in New York, Bangkok or Mykonos, well, it’s still interesting to hear how writers can support each other in different places. And perhaps there are some ideas here that you might like to try out in your own neck of the woods.

But — you know what? — in the end what really makes a writers’ group worthwhile is the writer membership. And so I will close this post by introducing you to a few excellent members from last week’s Tuesday meetup…

Billy

Billy

Billy read to us from his — to put it in his words — ‘memoirs of his misspent youth’.

Kelvin

Kelvin

Kelvin read from his published epic sci-fi. He is currently working on his second sci-fi novel.

Geoff Stuart

Geoff Stuart

Geoff Stuart is a co-host of the group (along with Mat Clarke who couldn’t make it last week). He read a short piece. He is currently working on a speculative fiction novel and a series of short stories in the ‘drama’ genre.

Andrew

Andrew

Andrew is currently working on a sci-fi musical, along the lines of Jeff Wayne’s exciting musical rendering of HG Well’s War of the Worlds, but in the metal genre. Sounds very cool.

Nick

Nick

Nick recently spent a month in Paris and read from his journal notes about that time, focussing on his hilarious airbnb accommodation experiences (names changed to protect the innocent).

Christie

Christie

Christie is writing a sequel to her published Red Dirt Road (which comes with an album of songs). The follow-up is a love story inspired by her experiences as a musician. (Doesn’t the picture look like a polaroid? Looks great.)

Ivan

Noel Anderson

Noel Anderson was the first to read on the night. He spoke eloquently about his new play and read from the script. The play is called Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame: In the Raw and is currently on at the Jewish Museum of Australia. Here’s a link if you’d like to find out more.

With so many great participants, I didn’t get to read at all. But it was terrific to hear about the projects of others and to contribute feedback on works in progress. And there’s always next time.

(I think my iPhone pics have turned out quite nicely, don’t you think? All personal pics used with permission — but just weigh in by clicking on ‘Leave a reply’ below, if one of them is of you, and you’ve all-of-a-sudden changed your mind now that you’ve seen it.)

Giraffe cafe

Meeting up … Down Under and Up Over

My plans to immerse myself in the ‘the life I never lived’ — as I’ve come to think of it — are progressing very nicely. I’ve bought my ticket for the long journey on the A380 airbus. I’m officially leaving Down Under and going … Up Over (sorry!) at the end of May. 

I’ve already joined three London-based writing groups, signed up for a week-long writers’ retreat in Shropshire (I love saying that … Shropshire), and badgered (more than once) a literary festival in Stoke Newington about their ongoingly imminent program.

And today, I thought I might tell you a bit about the writing groups.

MeetUp logo To start of with, have you heard of Meetup? It’s an absolutely buzzing website, it almost sparks off the screen at you. Basically, it’s is a social media platform through which you can seek out groups of like-minded people anywhere in the world.

I found the London Literary Cafe, Write Together and the London ALLI Meetup group. (ALLI stands for Alliance of Independent Authors. It was nice to see that the London-based members of this important online group of indie writers catch up face to face.)

I found heaps of other groups too, but these are the ones I’ve joined and I’ll let you know about each of them in more detail when I actually get along to them. (Pictures and all, if the members will let me!)

Two other groups I joined are ‘London for Less’ and ‘London for Less than a Tenner’. Ha! I’ll let you know if I actually get along to any of their stuff. They both seem to get along to a lot of plays, musicals and comedy shows — and if you’re to go by the photos, they appear to have a very jolly time.

And while I was on the hunt for London-based groups, I suddenly thought, I wonder if there are any people using Meetup back here in my hometown? I was amazed! There are thousands of Melbourne groups on Meetup. Possibly more than London. Some fantastic-looking groups, and about all manner of things. I won’t tell you what’s there. Way too many. Have a look for yourself, if you’re interested. See what’s happening in your neck of the woods. Here’s the link (but if you go, don’t forget to come back!).

Warf Hotel reducedI’ve been along to two groups already. I especially enjoyed The Melbourne Writers’ Social Group who meet at The Warf Hotel on the Yarra River (in Melbourne, obviously). The group turned out to be just the way they sound: a laid back, welcoming bunch of writers (and interested others), who sit around with a beer or wine and chat about writing. (Me included, now.) A number of us read out short excerpts of our stuff and I was very appreciative of the quick and useful feedback I received from around the table. Their Meetup page is here, if you’re curious.

Now that I’ve made a song and dance about it, maybe have a look at Meetup and check out what’s going on in your own area? You’ll need to register (free, of course) if you want to join anything.

Meanwhile, because I like any opportunity to stick pictures into posts that I write, I’ll sign off with this pic of the tree in my front garden. (What the hell, why not?) Do you recall it from my previous post? This is how it looks right now, in Autumn, in Melbourne. They don’t call the tree Sunburst for nothing…

Tree1 reduced

Flying high on Wattpad

wattpad-reviewWattpad, the social media site for readers and writers, began featuring Beneath the Surface on Wednesday, 7 January and a week later Beneath the Surface reached eighth position in Wattpad’s top 1,000 of their Fantasy chart — and I’ve received over 600 votes and many comments.

It was extraordinary to watch. Every time I refreshed my browser more votes magically appeared. I found it amazing to think that while I sat at my computer screen, about the world people were sitting before their screens, reading my writing. And many voting and commenting.

So — forgive me! — I want to share two of these with you. I’ll be quick, I promise. 🙂

There are so many wonderful comments I could tell you about, but I’m singling out these two, both received yesterday, as I like how they respond toBeneath the Surface the story more broadly, not just at the chapter level. I received the first in the morning, the second at the end of the day. So I was on a high all day!

The first, from a London reader, has commented after reading Pt.1, which takes the reader through to the beginning of the adventure. Here it is, I’ve cut-and-pasted it in…

Wattpad feedback 1 (1)

You can find it at the bottom of chapter 7 here.

What more could you possibly hope for in a reader’s response? Hooked into the story. Loves the main character. Compares my writing style to a favourite book. Wow. Thank you! I don’t know Jenny Downham’s book, but I’ll sure be seeking it out.

And here’s the second quote I would like to share with you. All I will say about it is, this is my very first response from anyone anywhere regarding my book as a whole, so, as I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s feedback of critical importance…

Wattpad feedback 2

You can find that one at the bottom of the very last chapter, Chapter 95.

The comments and votes are still coming in. And — human that I am! — I remain apprehensive as I click open each and every one of them.

Thank you all, for your votes and comments of endorsement for my little fantasy novel about an unwell boy who enters a world beneath his garden. And thank you for permitting me this moment of pride in telling you how things are travelling for Beneath the Surface. Which I will end now.

Except to say, Beneath the Surface will be available to read in its complete form on Wattpad for a limited period. The story starts here.