by Zoë Sharp
This week’s been a bit up and down, in a mild kind of a way. Firstly, I went back to the wonderful library at Poulton-le-Fylde on Tuesday evening to do a talk. One of the librarians there, Ken Harries, has just retired, but turned out for the evening anyway, and Linda Robinson and the rest of the staff made me very welcome. Always nice when the turnout’s good enough so they have to bring out extra chairs. I think we’ve all done events where the staff outnumbered the audience …
That was the ‘up’ part. They even put me under a sign that said ‘Young People’ – what’s not to like?
Then, Wednesday, I was due to go to my writing group, which meet in a friend’s house about forty miles away. Long way to go for a writing group, I know, but this is the remnants of the Lune Valley Writing Group, which is now sadly defunct. The little local library where we used to meet in Caton village has even been closed down. It was this group who followed me through the trials and tribulations of writing my first novel and getting it into print. There’s now only four of us who meet with any regularity. They’re all excellent writers, who – vitally – don’t pull their punches when it comes to criticism, and I find their input extremely useful as a book progresses.
As I’m just about to dive into the next Charlie Fox book, I was looking forward to our meeting, even though it means getting home about midnight and I knew I still had this week’s Murderati blog to write (and, if I’m honest, no clue as to a topic). But, I was due a contact lens check in the morning, otherwise they can’t keep supplying me daily disposable lenses by post. I used to wear the permanent tinted lenses, which were brilliant, but eye problems – including a warning that I might completely lose my sight – put an end to that. So, important to have the regular check-ups, just to make sure nothing’s amiss.
But, this still meant we had all afternoon to kill, as it wasn’t worth doing the eighty mile round trip home and back again for a 7:00pm start. And then, at 18:04, I get a call on my mobile to tell me that two people can’t make it, so the meeting’s cancelled.
Ah well, that’s life. No point in getting upset about it, but I admit to a regretful moment about an afternoon spent wandering when we have mountains of things to do at home. Time lost, after all, is the one thing you just can’t get back.
And, on the bright side, it has given me a topic for this week’s blog. Writing groups. Are you a member – or have you ever been a member – of one? What did you feel you got out of it? If you stopped going, why?
When I first moved up to this neck of the woods, I looked for a local writing group, and one was just forming, but it seemed to me that the organiser wanted to use it as a platform for her own ideas on teaching us to write, rather than simply letting us bring our own work for feedback from the rest of the group. I know a certain amount of structure is good – a topic for next time, if people are stuck for what to write about – but it wasn’t what I was looking for, and I regret that I didn’t last long there.
The trouble is, I don’t live in a big city, and there aren’t lots of writing groups to choose from. And I’ve never been a member of one where anyone else was writing crime. So, I’m starting to wonder about joining an on-line group.
But I don’t know how that works.
The big problem is the written word. If someone says, to your face, “That piece of dialogue really doesn’t work for me. It’s clunky. It sounds like the writer needing to get information across to the reader, rather than two people talking.” Then you pick up on far more than the words. Body language, tone, emphasis, facial expression, all help to soften down the criticism into something you can process and accept. Dashed off in an email, it sounds like a damning condemnation.
Somebody once said there are six ways people can read a letter. Some people write things that are supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, and find themselves being taken much too seriously and causing great upset or offence. I know adding smiley faces to emails is supposed to be a bit naff, but I do it all the time now to show I’m only making a jokey comment that is not supposed to be taken literally. Having had someone ring up and yell at me down the phone for a throwaway remark I once put in an email, I’m now very careful about these things. It doesn’t always work, of course, and I know I often put my foot in it. Where do you think the heading ‘Changing Feet’ came from?
So, that in itself makes me wary of joining an on-line writing group. The whole purpose of on-line is that you don’t meet, so how do I know if the general personality of the people whose opinions I’m soliciting will fit in with my own ideas? You make decisions about people within minutes of meeting them, but how long does it take for those same opinions to form when all you have are emails or comments? Do people reveal themselves more fully in their writing than face-to-face, or do they hide behind the words?
And quite often I used to take along to my writing group the bits I wasn’t sure about. If you write something that you instinctively know is good, you’re happy with it. It’s the bits you have sneaky doubts about where you want a second – or even third or fourth – opinion. Do I really want to release unfinished, possibly dodgy bits of work onto the Internet? Who knows where it might end up, and what damage it might do?
So, I’m looking for advice and information, people. Can you recommend a good on-line crime/thriller writing group? If you’ve had any bad experiences of on-line or face-to-face writing groups, care to share? And just how do the damn things work, exactly?
This week’s Word of the Week is postiche, an adjective meaning superfluously and inappropriately superadded to a finished work; counterfeit or false. Also a noun meaning an inappropriate hairpiece or wig.