I am very fortunate to live in a town that pays a lot of attention to its artistic community. There is a folk club, music festivals, festivals for dance and an annual art exhibition, all of which feature local talent. Just yesterday, at the music festival, there were six stages set up around the town and at least six acts scheduled for each stage throughout the day. That’s a lot of exposure for a lot of bands. And the day of dance shakes loose more Morris Men, Morris Women, Irish dancers and Cloggers than I knew existed.
But what about the writers?
Sussex has a grand and long-standing literary tradition, from William Blake, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Percy Bysshe Shelley to Rudyard Kipling, A A Milne and Virginia Woolf right up to today’s Tom Bale and Peter James. Yet there is never any sort of recognition or outlet for local writers.
I suppose I shouldn’t find that strange; writing is such a solitary occupation it would be difficult to collect enough of us together to make an event. And then what would we do? The bands had no problem drawing and entertaining a crowd, but a group of people jotting in notebooks or discussing the relative merits of adverbs isn’t exactly going to get anyone’s feet tapping.
I’ve often thought, when things are going slow, that I should take a small table and folding chair out to the high street and sit amid the rest of the buskers, typing away into my laptop, next to a sign reading, “Writing as Performance Art,” or something equally enigmatic. It probably wouldn’t earn me a lot of money, but at least it would provide a change of scenery without obligating me to drink the coffee at Starbucks.
An option—an actual, viable option—that keeps poking its nose into my mind is that of a writer’s group, either joining or starting one. It seems a great idea, until I start thinking it through; then I feel I’d rather get the table and folding chair out and sit on the high street.
I did, once, long ago, try joining a local writers group. It was in a town about 18 miles away so it wasn’t exactly local, and although I attended three meetings, I cannot honestly recall anyone actually saying anything to me. Mostly, it seemed like a mutual admiration society whose purpose was to ooh and ah over the samples people read; there seemed to be no real critical analysis, no helping people become better writers and, most importantly, no social interaction, so I stopped going. When I checked their web site a year or two later I found they had formed their own publishing company and had set about publishing each other’s stuff.
This experience didn’t encourage me to try again elsewhere. Lately, however, I have to admit that I am becoming a little tired of tapping away in my garret all by myself (okay, it’s really my living room, but you get my point). It would be nice, just once in s awhile, to chat with some other people who “get” it, who know what it’s like and suffer the same frustrations and triumphs and setbacks that I do.
There is a nice pub not far from my flat with a beamed ceiling and an inglenook fireplace; it seems the perfect place for a group of writers to gather on an autumn evening to sit beside the fire with pints of ale and talk about their latest work, or read a few pages or just sit and enjoy the company.
I could do it; I could post a notice on the community bulletin board and take an ad in the free newspaper and then go down there on the appoint evening. But I know that prying other writers out of their respective garrets would be a difficult task, and I would probably end up sitting there alone. Just me, a pint of ale, a warming fire and my laptop.
Actually, that really wouldn’t be so bad; it would be a great opportunity to get some writing done.