(Interviewees Faye and Julia and interviewed by Lauren Ilbury)
Lauren: Thank you for doing this interview with me so I wondered if maybe you could start by like introducing yourself and just telling us a little bit about you!
Faye: My name is Faye, and I am local to Holland on Sea. Basically, Jules and I met in the library off the back of Essex Book Festival event workshop and we kind of discussed that there was a bit of a lack of opportunity for creative writing in the local area so we decided to do something about it. Now here we are, we set up Tendring Community Writers group, which is been running since October and we are ever expanding at the moment.
Julia: I’m Julia and I live in Dovercourt. I went to the event at Clacton library. There was a lady who had written books on diversity, and she has got the niche in the market for children's books. Then the library emailed and said ‘Are you interested in joining a writing group?’ and I said yes. But I think I was the only person, and that venue was very well attended, who actually came forward and met up with Faye that day, and another lady who was just passing through the library, whose name was Rita. So, the three of us decided to set up the group. Then I was away looking after a bird sanctuary at the time and we were putting in a bid. I was doing all the paperwork for the money part of it, and Faye had written all the rest of it and then Faye and another woman went around the area putting up posters, because Clacton library said they were going to do a poster for us and they never came out.
So then you put it on Facebook and it just took off there. Clacton library said we could use their venue but we couldn't have more than 8 people. If we’d had more than eight people we'd have to rent a room and it was a very uninspiring venue. No creativity in that library.
F: There was a lack of support and guidance maybe because for Essex funds are being cut for a lot of things. But, we determined there was definitely a gap in our area for writing for adults across the ages and for younger people as well, there's a lack of creative opportunities in the area. So, we just thought we'd reach out and see who came and on the first meeting we had about 10 people turn up at least.
J: And after that, about 16.
F: We've continued growing. At the last meeting, we had about 19 people attend, which is amazing. There obviously is a call for a connection between creative people in our area.
L: That must have been quite a big thing to decide to start up and to really take that upon yourselves. That's kind of like what a lot of creative people need, for someone to stand up and take the reins, and that's exactly what you've done, which is incredible.
J: Yes. I said that there was this copying shop in Holland and Faye went along to their printing place. You designed the poster.
F: We used local printers as well. It's been really good actually, ‘cause I think there's a lot of creative individuals throughout Tendring. I think, because we’re quite a rural and seaside area, it can be quite isolating, with people not being able to get out and about or having access to resources like libraries and venues. So, I think we know that there are people around, but it’s finding each other that’s been the issue, so we’re just trying to get the word out across different platforms, and we’re still trying to get a structure that has something for everybody.
L: Because obviously there is that call, because you’ve had a lot of people turn up, and there are a lot of people calling out for writer’s groups, do you ever feel like you’re a little bit out of your depth or are you quite confident about where you’re going?
F: I think we have our main objective which is to become an established network of local writers and resources and support for writers, whatever your genre. Poetry, fantasy, published authors are a part of our group as well, so they've been really lovely, sharing publishing advice.
J: I don’t feel out of my depth, I think we've got a very good group of people with a good variety of genres across the group. We’ve got somebody who do self-publishes, somebody with an agent, and Faye’s connected with them, and you know we've got such a diverse group of people but everybody seems to get on well together, and the people with more knowledge are very sharing, aren't they?
F: They’ve been very supportive to new writers as well. And also they’ve been very interested in different styles of writing. I'm a poet, but we had a session on plot structure in stories and a lot of people who don’t have that style of writing still found that very interesting, and found something that they could bring to their own writing as well.
I think we've got quite a good support network going at the moment and we’d like to get that established and just carry on with that momentum.
J: We were pushing in a bid before Christmas for money, but we had to pull out of that bid because the third lady decided to leave the group, so it was just Faye and I at that point, so we then had to think about our other members. We hadn’t managed to set up a bank account and we couldn’t have signed the papers with just two people but since then we’ve got two new committee members. We’ve got a member, who publishes on Amazon, he’s going to be our treasurer, and we’ve got another lady, so we’ve got a full contingent now. And we’ve managed to set up the bank account too, so we’re making progress, and you’ve highlighted a fund that we can apply to this year.
F: We’ve spoken to Clacton Voluntary services.
J: We had a meeting with them, yes.
F: Who were very supportive of us and pointed us in the right direction as to looking at different funds that maybe we could use for resources.
J: We’re going to join.
F: Hopefully, we will become established in the local community.
L: I think writer’s groups really are for everyone, aren’t they? Even if there isn’t a style or a session that’s particular to your genre of writing, there’s still a lot that you can learn and that’s what sort of brings a lot of writers, and readers, and authors together, that shared love of writing and reading, and being able to offer their own support and guidance. So, going off of that, if someone was to join, what could they expect from a typical session?
F: We normally meet once a month on the first Saturday of every month, and the session is 2 hours. The first hour is normally a session starter that has been planned, which will have a member of the group that will present on a specific subject or aspect of writing, and that talk will be anything from 10 minutes to half an hour, we might do an activity, or a group discussion. We then have a tea break and then normally in the second half of the session-
J: You normally give out notices about what’s happening with the group.
F: We’ll give out notices, we’ll make decisions about the direction of the group, we will share and feedback and critique on any writing if someone’s bought something to share.
J: Some people might like to read out something they’ve written.
F: And people are very happy, once they’ve sat down and gotten over the initial pressure of sharing or presenting, it normally contains really supportive feedback and a really interesting discussion. It seems to be quite positive, how they’re going at the moment.
L: I mean you guys must have dabbled in writing your yourselves, so what kind of genres do you prefer to work?
J: I have written ordinary fiction, but I also write fantasy, but I'm not dark fantasy or sci-fi fantasy. I write fantasy with a twist and usually with a moral story to it. I won two writing competitions when I was in Suffolk and Norfolk, so I think they hit the spot, these stories I submitted. Recently, I’ve written some poems, because I went with Faye to a meeting in a church before Christmas. I didn't read anything then, I hadn't written anything, but it was such a beautiful meeting. I mean, the words from that poetry group were so emotive that I went home and I wrote a poem about the seashore. It just inspired me. Then, when we went to the group recently, I’d written a poem about Forever Love. It's very daunting reading things out in a poetry group, when you’re not a poet, so it’s just something that’s inspired me through Faye really.
J: Exploring different genres, that’s it. I’ve also written a book. I’m editing my book at the moment.
L: Any sort of writing that you do is incredibly vulnerable as writer, isn't it? It’s that sort of vulnerability that makes us writers in a sense, so that is definitely a testament to you.
F: I've always loved English literature and theatre, films, and poetry as well. I wrote a little bit of poetry when I spent time as a cover teacher years ago, and I've recently recovered from a period of being poorly for couple of years. Part of my recovery was journaling. Releasing my emotions, or frustrations, because if anyone that's been poorly for a long time knows that life can get very boring and frustrating when you're incapacitated, so writing does give you that release and that outlet and that was really important for me.
Poetry in particular is such a beautiful way of describing really complex feelings or experiences, so I really started getting back into writing from that and hence why I started going to different workshops, and exploring my creativity a bit more. Then I saw that Clacton, where I've lived for over 20 years now, have such sparse resources. Even the adult community learning college haven't got a creative writing course anymore, which is quite disappointing. I just thought, why not? Particularly with Covid as well, I think a lot of people and writers had a lot to get down on paper.
Jules has been pushing me along as well and giving me support, and I actually won a prize for Essex Recovery Foundation.
J: I gave her the flyer! We went over to Southend.
F: That was that was amazing to even be recognised, and that was the first ever writing competition I’ve ever entered and won! So that was very emotional and amazing.
L: That's an incredible achievement. The first book competition that you entered as well! I think that's such an understated part of writing, because when people think of writers and authors, sometimes they think ‘fiction and non-fiction’, but journalling is so incredibly important, even if that never sees anyone other than you, it’s incredibly important. And you’re completely right. Poetry is so malleable so you can really twist poetry into the perfect expression of what you’re feeling, so that’s definitely sounds like you’ve got a talent to take that further as well one day as well.
J: I knew she had the talent because we attended a mentor session, someone came over from Brentwood, and we each read out a piece that we’d written, and you read out your poem and I was blown away. I thought, ‘Oh, how can you put these words together like that?’ So, I knew she had a rare talent.
F: Primarily, I just write for me, which I know a lot of people do, and even people that are new to writing or don't wanna particularly share with anybody else, it's just nice to be able to get those feelings down on paper with stories or whatever it is, and then when you're brave enough to actually connect with other people and they enjoy it as well that it just means so much more.
Really a lot of come out from bringing the group together and developing each other’s writing as well.
L: That’s really good. That actually leads me perfectly to the next question. Is there anything that you working on currently, or are you doing bits when and where you can?
F: At the moment, we have a lot of ideas, we’ve got a program structure for how the groups going to run every month up until November of this year while the group becomes established and the group continues getting to know each other, so we have that in place for this year. We’ve also organised the writer’s walk, which will be happening on the 22nd of April. We're also hoping to have an open mic night, but that's not confirmed yet. However, we have also managed to secure a date at Frinton literary festival in October to have a spoken word event as part of their programme.
J: One of our members works for the festival and volunteers. She set up this event for us, which is amazing.
F: That's a really good boost for local writers writing about the local area, and I think it's a really nice celebration, so we've got a lot of things that we're working on.
L: It’s just getting that word out there. It was just by chance I had heard about like the writers group and then came along, so I know that there are a lot of people who just need to hear that this place exists.
J: When we first set up the group we did have a plan but we had to step back a bit because we wanted to have our own open mic events, which will most probably be next summer now because we've got on with Frinton, so we came up with that idea during the summer. We want to produce an anthology, but of course that won't happen this year. We also want professional people to come speak to us too.
F: We’re in the mix of researching and planning. We've got a lot of ideas that we're working on and hopefully with the right timing and resources and planning and people, we will get there. Even if it's not this year, because we are a very new group, still becoming established, we've got some good things going on this year and I'm sure will work towards bigger and better things.
L: Sounds like there's a lot of potential just brewing underneath just waiting to come up.
F: Personally I was very shocked at how many creative people there are in the local area, and how sharing and supportive everybody is to each other as well.
J: Especially Eleanor, the lady who runs the bookshop.
F: Starting this up this at ‘The N0se’ book shop and project space has been very gracious in letting us hold our meetings here every month. She’s been very supportive of the group's success as well. She’s got a lot of knowledge and experience and hard work behind her.
L: Everyone starts off as a new writer at some point, so what advice would you give to a new writer who’s just starting out?
J: I would advise somebody to join a writing group, to speak to members of the group, and attend regularly. Maybe take a creative writing course, which I did, which is very helpful and attend local book fairs. Also, be aware of the world around them and attend interesting events. If possible, employ a daily writing habit. Use reference books. Don't stick to one genre of writing, and explore other forms, and a road map of the writing you intend to produce could be useful. I think that's a very good thing to do, ‘cause we had that in one of our talks.
F: I think reading books, even if it's five or ten minutes everyday, or when you first wake up as part of your morning routine, if you've got something to read or meditate on through that day, a lot of ideas and feelings and awareness can come out of that and can inspire you to write something. Also, keep a pen and notepad by the side of your bed every night, so when you can't sleep in the middle of the night or you wake up in the middle of night, and you've got that Eureka idea, you can get it down.
I'm quite a night owl so I often will suddenly think of something and I'll need to write it down immediately otherwise I'll forget it. Sometimes ideas can just take off like that.
J: Can I jump in here? I've just finished this book ‘Tell it to the skies’, and the title then set me off on writing a poem. ‘Tell it to the skies’, which I did. Something really simple like that can set you off to do something.
L: Find inspiration in the most random of places.
F: Nature, poetry, art, images, anything that invokes that response from you, it just opens up the key.
J: It can be a simple title somewhere that set you off.
L: That's very true, it just needs that one little spark and then you’re started. That's great, so similarly if someone has got started with writing, and now they’re struggling with writer's block, would you have any advice for a writer who is struggling with writer's block?
F: You're gonna feel stressed about that. It's gonna make you very frustrated. The best thing to do is to take a break, go have a walk, get a change of scenery, and often, I think with time the answer will come to you, but it's not going to come to you sitting there staring at a blank page trying to force yourself.
J: I totally agree with that and I would add that you could go and talk to fellow writers. Sometimes people can give you that spark that can set off something within you and you can get back to the writing, but otherwise, let's just switch off for a while.
F: Particularly with our group, I like writing poetry, and I have tried to challenge myself by writing short stories, or other pieces of prose, and I’ve struggled with writers block, and now that I’ve got the writer’s group, I can speak to another person who I can trust. I value their feedback and I know that they're not going to be critical of me, and they probably give me practical suggestions of how to overcome it.
L: I hadn’t actually thought of that one before. Challenging yourself to write in a different genre that is, because it forces your brain to think about a brand new way to approach writing.
J: That is why I did the poetry, because I thought I couldn’t do it, but I did.
F: And you did really well!
J: Oh, thank you dear! I appreciate that.
L: That’s great though, because you suddenly realise, ‘Oh, I’m really good at this thing I never thought I’d be good at!’ Taking that risk can really pay off sometimes.
J: As she said, it's just going off of another tangent, and seeing if you can do something there.
L: You’ve, understandably, got a lot of praise for the group, but what's been one of the best things about starting up this group? Any accomplishments, any milestones, or interesting stories?
F: I think the fact that we have attracted and, so far, kept so many wonderful, talented, and creative people.
J: And friendships have been forged already through this group.
F: Already, we're going to other writing events that are outside of our monthly meetings, so it's that building the connection.
J: I would just bring in Eleanor again because, you know, if we didn't have this space, we would never have set off anything in Clacton library.
F: I think it would have been a totally different story.
J: It would have been a disaster! You knew about this space, didn’t you?
F: I just happened to have an appointment in the area and was walking by, and saw a new bookshop had opened up and I knew as soon as I saw it I thought ‘That looks very interesting!’, and I had literally just come away from speaking to Jules at the library trying to find a venue. I think it was a bit of fate! And Eleanor was the perfect person to accommodate us and it is such a beautiful space.
J: Yes, and she’s never been thrown by the numbers that have arrived. She’s such a calm person. I think quite a few people have bought books here.
F: It really is an asset to the area.
J: I think it's important people come and have a cake or a coffee, of course, you know, buy something from here.
F: Eleanor's very welcoming and supportive to anybody that walks through the door. She makes time for people, she's got a lot of knowledge behind her, and a lot of patience and time and kindness. I think that makes people feel really welcome.
J: She made a project space recently for that reason. She puts on film shows too.
L: That’s lovely, because I think the thing about writing is that it's a strangely collaborative process, even if you're writing just for yourself. Having other people and having that support is so important for your well-being and for keeping that motivation going. So, it is lovely that there's somebody here who can provide a safe space for everyone and to provide that kind of advice and guidance and encouragement as well, and it is genuinely meant. It's not like there's an ulterior motive, it's just genuinely coming from a good place.
F: I think a lot of writers, experienced writers and people publishing long projects of work, can have a nice respite here, and it is a good sounding board as well. We came through the door earlier, and I I've seen people that I've seen here before, so they’re quite happy to say hello and talk. And you never know what things lead to. I like it getting to know different people.
J: That's right, absolutely.
L: I think you've mentioned this before, but I'll ask it again just in case anything else has popped up. Where would you like to take this writing group forward? Is there any other goals that you might have in mind?
J: I think to get a professional speaker here. Although we have got professional people in our group who have spoken.
F: The main objective for this year is developing each others writing, continuing an interesting and varied programme, and if we can secure guest speakers to come, that's something that we're looking into doing.
J: Most probably next year.
F: Whenever we sort of can really.
J: When we can get the funding.
F: Going forward we just want to sort of keep our regular members, keep everybody happy, and create more opportunities for writing! I think because we are smaller villages and towns, that's sometimes a bit trickier to get to if you don't drive or for whatever reason, it's nice to have that connection. You know that something's going on, maybe you can go with another person. Well, what I'm trying to say, is in Colchester, or bigger towns, cities, you've got everything on your doorstep, haven't you? And in places like Clacton, Walton, Dovercourt, those opportunities are few and far between. It's building on that. A place where writers can come and share, and can do what they love.
L: I think it's important to note as well is that you're not doing this for like any payment, you’re not employed to do all this, you’re just doing this out of your genuine enthusiasm for writing.
F: We don't charge to be a member. We don't charge to come to any meetings. If you'd like to come to a meeting, let us know, we can make sure we've got enough space.
J: Yes, you set that up yet, because the numbers were growing.
F: You can come and buy a cup of tea or coffee or cake while you're here. Other than purchasing refreshment, everything's totally free.
J: Yeah, and there's and nice pub isn't there? That’s where I collared one of our members, the treasurer!
F, J, L: [Laughter]
L: That leads me perfectly onto the next question. Who do people have to contact if they want to come along?
F: We've got a private group Facebook page setup, which you can ask to join, its ‘Tendring community writers’, or you can e-mail our generic e-mail, and I would get back to you, everybody’s on that, that would be the best way to say you’d like to come.
J: People can just come along, I suppose they must see it on Facebook.
F: Or hear about it from the bookshop!
L: Great! Well, I think that’s all the questions I had, thank you so much for doing this interview with me, it was very eye opening! And I hope you get some more members soon!
If you want to come along, drop them a line!
Facebook: Tendring Community Writers