It’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago we were among throngs of people at Adelaide Writers’ Week, attending sessions in the gardens, meeting in cafes, having dinner in bustling eateries – activities that would be unthinkable now. As the world adjusts to its new realities, so too does Elwood Writers. We’re continuing to meet as we have for over ten years, every second Tuesday, but for the foreseeable future our workshops will take place not in the seaside suburb from which we take our name, but via telecon. Audio only, so we don’t have to worry about coordinating our outfits or fixing our hair. We had our first run at this last Tuesday and it went really well. I’m sure we’ll thrive under the new conditions. But I’m already missing the biscuits and cake.
Another spirited meeting of the Elwood Writers this week. Inevitably, domestic and world political affairs loomed over the general discussions again. It seems we’ve entered a new age of anxiety. Before our collective blood pressure soared too high, we made teas and coffees and got down to literary business.
Barry proposed sharpening up the structure of the group’s workshopping sessions. In place of an informal general discussion about a particular piece of writing we agreed to try a more targeted approach where we each have five minutes to deliver individual feedback. This new format will allow us to focus during meetings on the more salient or urgent responses to a piece of work. So that nothing is overlooked, all comments and observations will continue to be captured within the marked up documents that return to the writer of the piece under consideration.
In this week’s workshop sessions, Helen talked about a book she’s recently acquired, Contemporary Australian Poetry (Puncher & Wattmann). Her poetry library is growing. She has approached the form in a somewhat unconventional way, beginning to write it before studying it closely. But that may prove to be an advantage. Margaret shared a piece of work that was conceived during a writing workshop she attended last year. Barry shared the first 2000 words of a reworking of one of the stories from his linked collection. He’s been experimenting with blocks of second person narration in the piece, and was keen to see if this was working. Finally we were introduced to a new character from Jenny’s novel when she presented a recently developed section from the work.
We’re going to return to second person narration/point of view in a future meeting for a fuller discussion of its features and applications.
‘What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.’
It was another lively session at Elwood Writers, especially with world events as they are. We discussed the group goals for 2017, including our planned soiree in August where we will read from our own work. As the group prepares to attend Adelaide Writers’ Week in March, we looked at the possibility of designing individual business cards that reflect our status as members of Elwood Writers.
In the past fortnight, Margaret attended Lee Kofman’s Introduction to Memoir: Telling the Emotional Truth. Lee reminded the class that memoir is always about memory, it is always told from your point of view, and is not so much about what happens to you as it is about ‘what you make of it’. She emphasized that the narrator must always be specific in their writing, that is give details. When asked about the importance of telling the emotional truth in memoir, she said, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson: ‘Books that don’t do any harm don’t give any pleasure.’
In the workshopping sessions, Margaret read a piece from her memoir that is currently ‘placeless’ (as Lee would say) in her narrative, but important to it. Jennifer is preparing her first contribution to a short-story writing online class that she has enrolled in. Her story is most topical and we await the class feedback. Barry read a piece of fiction he intends submitting to a literary journal. Helen presented a new poem written ‘off the cuff’ in a poetry class she attended. We look forward to hearing more about this at our next session.
Elwood Writers meets every fortnight. The week before a meeting we circulate any material we’d like to discuss. Meetings typically begin with general business, mostly discussions about writing issues or what we’ve been reading. We use this time to discuss activities and plans for the group in the year ahead. Margaret is our time-keeper. After the general discussion we divide up the remaining time equally between the four of us. This usually leaves about half an hour for each member to have the floor to discuss their circulated piece or anything else they nominate.
At the 17th January meeting, much of the general discussion focussed on the use of social media for writers. Jennifer had just been to Patrick Lenton’s Creating an Author Platform seminar at Writers Victoria. She came away from that with the view that if you don’t already use Twitter it’s not especially important for a writer to start doing so. She said that the seminar reinforced the importance of maintaining some kind of online presence, and highlighted the benefits of Facebook author/writer pages.
We agreed to have a fuller discussion of future online strategies for the group when we meet at the Adelaide Writers’ Festival in March. There was also mention of the next Cover to Cover radio program we’ve been commissioned to develop for Vision Australia Radio for Fathers Day later this year.
Helen read the latest draft of a new poem she has been working on. Jennifer read a re-working of the opening of her novel-length story. Barry read a new short story he’s developing from a piece written a few years ago. Margaret outlined a section from her work-in-progress that she will circulate for discussion at the next meeting.
Elwood Writers had its fortnightly meeting at a café on Carlisle St in Elwood last week. We’re a politically engaged group and so the early part of the session was inevitably spent talking about the then upcoming federal election. Decisions, decisions.
Before looking at the pieces of work we’d submitted for review, we talked shop. We discussed the literary industry, and visited the recurring issue of how to make ends meet as a writer, and how to balance financial pressures with the demands of a creative practice.
What happens to a piece of writing when it’s out of our hands, and to what extent should we be concerned with how our work is interpreted by an audience? It was interesting to consider the possibility of misinterpretation by readers and whether this matters. Maybe there is no such thing as misinterpretation. Once a piece of work is released and shared, it ceases to be controllable. Readers bring themselves and the sum of their experiences to the writing, and they place themselves inside or alongside the work, and so all interpretations and responses have a claim to be valid. There’s the reader and there’s the writer and there’s the work, and they all exist in a fluctuating relationship. An author’s biographical notes, a writer speaking at a festival, an artist’s stated political position: these are experiences which can affect the way we read and respond to a piece of writing.
After critiquing each other’s submitted pieces over a couple of coffees, we dispersed into the busy afternoon. And now the federal election has come and gone, and at the time of writing the outcome remains unknown. There’s a possibility that the outcome will still be unclear by the time of our next meeting.