A year in the life: Colchester WriteNight

A very happy writing new year from us at Colchester WriteNight. It’s 2018 already but I’m still reflecting on WriteNight in 2017, and planning the coming year ahead.

Early in the year, it was exciting to be part of Essex Book Festival. We invited a panel of three local guest authors – Sarah Armstrong, Liz Trenow and Nicola Werenowska – to join us for our event. We asked them about their writing practise, focusing particularly on place in their work. The influence of family history, tales and locations emerged as a common theme for inspiring new story-writing. Our guests all contributed to the activities we took part in. There were over thirty attendees scribbling away!




In April, Adrian May, Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Essex, joined us and led The Lyric Issue. He gave us his thoughts, ideas and tips – discussing the influence of folk tales, family, community and continuity, and the importance of contributing to an existing body of work much bigger than yourself in writing.




In May, WriteNight moved. After six fab years at 15 Queen Street we packed our bags and relocated to Firstsite Art Gallery, so our first WriteNight there had to be The Art Issue. We held an interactive session on the story of Julie Cope, before Grayson Perry’s actual tapestries came to the gallery later in the year!




We continued with the art theme in June, and looked at the exhibition of documentary photographer Ed Gold (with his permission) to inspire our own stories. It was great to have the artwork there at the gallery for us to wander, ponder, and use for our own writing ideas.



(A photo of a photo by Ed Gold – thank you)


Doug Smith led the summer sessions on twitter pitching and story openings. They were very well received, Doug packed in the ideas and challenges. (Doug has just published a book of scary short stories for children which you can find here.)

A L Kennedy joined us for a spellbinding pre-November session, and to a full house. What can I say about this? She talked, shared thoughts with a captive audience, and provided an activity that had us with our eyes closed and thinking about a character in terms of senses. Developing and knowing your characters is one of the key ideas I’m still thinking about.



(pics Patricia Borlenghi – thank you)


WriteNight hosted National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) write-in sessions throughout November and we were all ‘winners’ in one sense or another. Inspired by ALK, Nanowrimo.org, and each other, we powered ahead and got those words down. We celebrated at our annual birthday/Christmas bash in December, and shared a mixture of our writing or writing that inspired us, as well as lots of party treats. It’s one of my favourite events of the year!




Throughout 2017 we welcomed new writing friends, enjoyed our old friends, and missed some that weren’t with us. Thanks to all that have been along, made us smile, supported, given up their time and written with us. I’m looking forward to what 2018 will bring – there are some ideas brewing, but I know for sure there will be lots of awe-inspiring stories written in great company.

If you haven’t been along yet, or can’t make it in person, our community group page on Facebook is here. You’re very welcome to join us.

We’re also on Twitter as @ColWriteNight.




How I made it through my first author event…


I had been invited to attend the evening with established author Stephen May at Red Lion Books in Colchester, and this in itself was very exciting. I’ve read at many events, which has really built my confidence, but to be one of the authors on the poster, to answer questions on my work, was a great big fat first.




I met Anthony Roberts and Stephen for the first time just before the evening began, and the bookshop soon filled up. I was pleased I’d read and loved Stephen’s book Stronger than Skin beforehand – I had loads of questions for him about structure and theme, about writing a work of length. My brain wasn’t quite prepared to answer questions myself, so I really had to think on my feet when it came to that moment.

Anthony and Stephen are good friends – they met in the Arts Centre graveyard (I’m sure many of us have similar tales…) and Anthony introduced him with some funny anecdotes. So I was pleased to introduce myself… but I hadn’t prepared for that either! I went straight into reading the stories.




I started with ‘I like your necklace’ which begins: ‘In Willie Gees Kate bought a bra.’ This had to be my first story for a Colchester event. Willie Gees (Williams and Griffin) is the local department store that’s recently become Fenwicks. The story is about Kate, her thoughts/experience when a shop assistant compliments her about her jewellery, and about every other compliment that we receive when buying anything these days.

The second story I read was ‘Milanese Feast’. Another very short story, which I’ve had good feedback about when reading aloud before. I think you learn from the stories you read which work for an audience and which don’t. I feel that some of my shorter stories are the best for reading – self-contained and complete.

We were asked several questions about our work – developing character, writing local places, our writing schedules. This was where I had to think quickly. But I really enjoyed having a conversation about the writing with Stephen, and was able to pick out similarities in our work – the idea of having a theme before a story emerges was one that I liked.


Talking writing with Anthony Roberts and Stephen May


And at the end I was actually an author signing books… Everyone that bought one had something interesting to say – their thoughts on the stories or their own writing practices. I met up with some of my local writer friends who have been published or are soon to go through this process themselves.

I am learning from this experience – to prepare an introduction, to practise answering all those questions I’ve read being asked. Maybe you should too!!!

Thanks to Jo Coldwell for organising this event and Jonathan King for the pics.


In the press: the short route to success

I met with Neil D’Arcy Jones from The Essex County Standard/Gazette on Wednesday in Tymperleys tea rooms in Colchester. The interview felt like more of a chat about our current writing projects and he wrote the article that night.

I didn’t have a recent picture and thankfully my friend Polly came over in the evening and took a few. Quite a few. I’m not a selfie-making, posing, even smiling-for-the-camera kind of a person… but she really put me at ease.

I was so pleased with the result. I know that Neil writes stories and plays amongst his other creative activities and felt as though he knew what I was talking about. Polly and I chose a couple of pics and the article came out on Friday. Just in time to advertise the event I’m doing at Red Lion Books tomorrow with Stephen May. I’ve just got the last chapter of his book Stronger Than Skin to read and I’m ready…


Gold Adornments: short stories for short shifts

The books are here with me now and it’s really exciting to see and feel Gold Adornments in print. Hard to believe when you send off a group of stories, and they are approved and come back for edits, that they will ever turn into an ACTUAL book.

These stories were all written last year, apart from The Little Green Lamp, which is slightly older. I am developing many of the ideas and characters for my next book, My Own Private Ida Show. Ida pops up several times in Gold Adornments. She is a funny character, who has been to every one of her pop star idol’s performances. Since she was 16.

Many of the stories in Gold Adornments were trying to represent emotional shifts – rising anger and frustration (A Little Piece of England), grief (Lollipop Man), empathy (Milanese Feast), healing (Little Green Lamp), ageing and grieving (Gold Adornments), revenge (Unlikely Deposits) – and finding and creating surface stories to represent them.

My publisher, Patricia Borlenghi, liked the stories and we began work on getting the book into shape. She soon came up with a cover and I loved the artwork, painted by Charlie Johnson. I have the original on my desk (whoop!).




Now the books have arrived though, it’s time to put my selling hat on. Where did I put that one?

Aside from having a go through social media, I’ll be selling the old fashioned way: standing at stalls (Bazaar at the Minories); at the Patrician Press launch of Refugees and Peacekeepers, Wivenhoe Bookshop; and at the Essex Authors event for Essex Book Festival in Chelmsford. I have some short fiction workshops coming up this year, including one for the fabulous Felixstowe Book Festival, where I’ll be reading, explaining where I get my inspiration, and providing writing activities. Please keep an eye on my diary for upcoming events.

You can get hold of a copy yourself here:

Patrician Press



Red Lion Books, Colchester

Wivenhoe Bookshop, Wivenhoe

And if you do buy one, thanks SO much again. Feedback always welcome…

A multi-author multi-activity WriteNight at Essex Book Festival

This was a special WriteNight for us, held during Essex Book Festival as part of their Place weekend, at Firstsite art gallery in Colchester.

I invited three local authors: Sarah Armstrong who comes to WriteNight and has just had her second book, The Devil in the Snow, published by Sandstone Press; Liz Trenow who has been to WriteNight as a guest author before and has just published her fourth novel, The Silk Weaver; and Nicola Werenowska, playwright, whose play Silence is in progress, and Hidden is showing at the Mercury Theatre in April.

I started by introducing WriteNight and I’m going to do that again now – just in case you haven’t been along yet.

We all know that people write for many reasons – to be J. K. Rowling, for creativity, for fun, to earn a living, just to get by…

WriteNight is a fully inclusive group, it’s a community group. So the writing activities we share are suitable for anyone, experienced or not, writing in any genre or for any reason.

The sessions are once a month and stand alone as an event in themselves. Most people share their work at the end, not because they have to – but because it feels like it’s an okay, safe place to share.

We’ve also interviewed authors, an artist, had a guest talk about self-publishing, written and produced an anthology and last year had several ‘genre’ based sessions. Some of the WriteNighters have led an evening based on their specific interests.

Aside from this, we talk. We all have a starting point from which to chat – we’re all writing, or interested in writing.



Nicola Werenowska sharing a piece about place


I asked our guest authors about place, the theme of this weekend at the book festival, and because I knew all of them had powerful places in their current books/plays. What became apparent in their discussion was that the places they had all chosen led them to the family tales and stories that threaded through the fabric of their work.

Nicola shared a great piece of writing about a stay in hospital, and explained a short activity to encourage thinking and writing about a specific place. I wrote myself, but I also watched the audience – they were all writing. She asked people to share and three people, new to the group, stood up and shared what they’d written.

After a biscuit break we reconvened and Liz led the activity on talking with a partner about family stories (we adapted this to fit with what the authors had just said!), and then writing one of these stories, from another perspective. People wrote and people shared. People that were nervous, people that hadn’t dared the first time.

We finally took questions from the audience: What are the difficulties of writing about family/people you know? How did you get an agent? What keeps you writing? Our panel gave us lots of practical and interesting advice based on their experiences.

And although we were a much bigger group than usual, in a much bigger space, the sharing of ideas and producing and sharing of writing felt informal and intimate and that is exactly what WriteNight is always all about.



Sue, Jo, Sarah, Doug, Sarah, Mary


Many thanks to our guests, the WriteNighters that helped as usual (Sue redirecting people from Queen Street, Sarah pointing them towards Learning Room A, Tom bearing biscuit gifts…) and to everyone that came along. Thank you Essex Book Festival and Firstsite, and everyone who shared details of our event.

Join the Colchester WriteNight community on Facebook, like our WriteNight page or follow us on twitter @ColWriteNight

Nicola Werenowska is appearing here, Sarah Armstrong here and Liz Trenow here during Essex Book Festival, Doug Smith will be here, I will be here along with some of the other WriteNighters, and here with Patrician Press. See you there!

#newwriting #writinggroup #writingcommunity #amwriting #writenight #colwritenight

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