In the beginning.
Kath Beattie, Dunedin, May 2017.
The writing group that I initiated back in 1993 is not unique. There are many writing support groups in NZ and further afield and I'm sure many have been and still are successful. We claim no special standing among all the groups! Ours is just the story of one group, a group that over the almost 25 years of existence has had a total of approximately 25 participants – 13 of whom are still regular attending members plus 2 who have moved from Dunedin, one to Wanaka the other to Melbourne.
To make it clear, there are seldom 13, never 15, of us at any one meeting; in fact I think I can say with authority that only at special events, like the Christmas party evening or a member's launch, are we all present. An average of 7 to 9 is more the regular fortnightly attendance and that number is the optimum for any real working group.
From the original seven who began at the class, which we called the Advanced Writer's Class with Charles Croot as tutor, there are still 3 of us in the present group – Paddy Richardson, who took over as tutor when Charles became ill … and later, when a tutor became unnecessary, chose to be one of the group; Jenny Powell and myself.
Two of the others, Neroli Cottam and the now late David Billing, moved from Dunedin and the other two, Jocelyn Dunlop and Ann Coombes, became otherwise involved in their lives/careers. Because of the size of the group, entry is by invitation should someone else leave. Most have resigned due to a move of out of Dunedin, difficulty in transport to my home, pressures of other work or in the late Patricia Wilson's case, an untimely death.
My proposal, initiated at the 1992 Writing Summer School, was that we meet fortnightly from 7pm to 9.30pm, pay the tutor, allow Charles to lead the group and meet at my home - as a widow there was no need to have other family make themselves scarce on the evening of the meeting. Each member was expected to produce some writing and to take part in critiquing.
Following Paddy's decision in around 1997 to be part of the group rather than the tutor, we were then self-lead - although in practice I lead; send out reminders etc. Emphasis was, and still is, on positive critiquing. But hey! There's also some hard critiquing … done on the premise that it's not what you say but how you say it.
Throughout the 25 years there have been many, many successful publishing produced by all members, ranging from newspaper articles, magazine stories, short stories, poetry books, novels, non-fiction, children's readers and stories, broadcastings etc. As well, many of the participants have won or been placed in writing/poetry competitions, which are all celebrated by the author-of-the-moment providing wine and/or bubbly. On some occasions we have had regular imbibes!
Why and how this group has survived and flourished is probably not difficult to understand. I doubt it's the wine, but that helps with the camaraderie. We have certainly become friends, confidantes and each other’s sponsors and supporters. More importantly – and I quote Beatrice Hale who, when asked to give one word to describe the basis of the group during the radio programme, so eloquently, effortlessly and decisively said, respect. We, she said, respect each other and each other's work.
I feel I can re-iterate with some confidence that the basis of this group's longevity and success is that we trust and respect each other as people and as writers.
The basic reason for setting up the Otago Writers Network site was to celebrate and share our experience of being in an enduring group and to help other writers, possibly those who may be isolated by geography or other circumstances, to reach out and make contact with, or form, supportive groups of their own, so that they feel part of the 'total group experience' that can be so encouraging and supportive.
Members of the present writing group are:
Carolyn Mc Curdie
Outreach – Shirley Deuchrass, Wanaka, and Jackie Ballantyne, Melbourne.
I would like to acknowledge the enormous skill, time and effort that Jane Woodham (the newest appointed member) has given in setting up this web site, arranging to have the podcasts recorded, completed the applications for the funding, gathered our CVs and more, so much more. I can say with certainty that left to the rest of us many ideas would have flown about, we may have even gathered some costings but in the end nothing would have been done. For one thing I personally barely understand a web site! But I love it that others do and love Jane for doing it!