Friday, March 11, 2016

The Writers' Group

For this blog I grabbed hold of a very intelligent fellow indeed, a man on the cusp of big things.  He's not a crime writer, I can't categorize his writing; SF? Fantasy? Comedy?
We shall refer to him as Andrew. Because that is his name...

Once upon a time I  was at an “In Process Masterclass event with Caro Ramsay” at the CCA in Glasgow. Caro mentioned she was a member of the Johnstone Writers Group and encouraged me to come along if I was serious about my writing. Two factors spurred me to join: the first, being shortlisted in a national magazine short story competition; and the second, Caro had read some of my work and commented that it showed a strong voice. It was a ‘wow’ (or maybe woof) moment. (see later).
Attending the group gives me the drive to write, so I have something new to read and share every week. It has exposed me to different forms of writing. The group has experienced, published writers, like Caro and Brian Hannan, who provide detailed critical feedback about the work at the right level of understanding so I learn from them. It also feels great to receive encouragement when you have a story that’s not quite there and the group can point you in the right direction. Thanks to Brian’s enthusiasm for one of my poems, I ended up with an article written about me. including the poem itself, in the local newspaper last year. I wouldn’t have even considered that as a possibility before joining the JWG.
I am now using my writing to fundraise, The idea originated after attending a corporate training event for the company I work for. At the event, we were asked to consider if we have any hobbies that we could use to fundraise for Macmillan. They said it didn’t always have to be about crazy daredevil stunts or running large distances and suggested baking and knitting as viable alternatives. ‘Make a product, sell it, raise money’. My main hobby is writing so I considered ways to raise money on the drive home. By the time I reached my front door, I had come up with ‘The Write Charity’.

So I created a free-to-view blog, containing examples of my best work, with links to a JustGiving charity donation page. People could read my poems and stories then donate money to Macmillan if they wanted to support the cause. I chose Macmillan Cancer Support because it is the charity partner of my employer, who will match the first £500 raised. It is also an amazing charity that do fantastic things to support people facing cancer.

People told me it wouldn’t work. No one would give money when it was free to read.

I argued that podcasters don’t charge but still get donations from listeners if they love the show. The performers at the Edinburgh Free Fringe rely entirely on donations, as do street performers. There is a successful model already out there. It doesn’t guarantee income but if it’s good enough people will donate. They will recognise the effort it takes to turn a blank page (or screen) into a piece of entertainment in the same way as it takes hard work to run a marathon or bravery to jump out of a plane.
People also said I shouldn’t be giving away my writing for free; once it’s on the website it counts as published and void from competitions.

I replied that it’s my hobby, not my job. It’s my choice. It gets my work out there to readers who wouldn’t otherwise see it. Perhaps grow an audience for further down the line. And I’m not expecting to win any competitions with my poetry. (My poems still rhyme!!).
So I went ahead and did it anyway. It went live in January. Luckily, I have been fortunate to receive the support of my friends, colleagues and customers and have surpassed the £100 target I set myself (currently it is sitting at £283). £500 is the new ambition.

I have also been lucky to receive the support too of the writers’ group, not just in critiquing my work, but also in donating pieces for the blog, which takes some of the pressure off me to create new content each month. Some are posted already, with more to follow in the coming months. The great thing about that is they tell their friends and word spreads like Caro is doing here.

I intend to update the blog at the end of each month until August then take the site down. Maybe other writers will adopt the model and raise money for their charity partners. I think that would be pretty cool. 

( Caro says if you want to check it out it's at    and  the first piece you will see is a poem about my grandmother by an ex Royal marine who never met her! But he is a member of the group and felt compelled to write some thing when she passed at 106!.  Many folk who knew Granny have read that and donated at  the just giving page. It's a win win situation. And  the Royal marine now has a big publisher 'wanting to see the whole book.)
I started writing with a fictional dog blog at in 2010. It was an avenue for me to write funny stories about my life, seen through the eyes of my dog, only with a huge dollop of creative imagination (for example, her horny Staffie pal, Rizza, was once rescued by Brad Pitt in George Square on the set of World War Z). Now I have other writing projects, I only update it when I feel I have a strong theme to post about or something funny to share.

Figbane is my fictional dog. Her tagline is ‘If you don’t like what I write, just remember how difficult it is to type with paws’. The name originated from a Dungeons and Dragons character I created two-thirds of a lifetime ago. I also used it as a nom de plum for my humorous writing when I was younger, as I’m inherently shy and didn’t want to use my own name. That hasn’t changed much.

Thank you, Caro, for allowing me this space.
You are very welcome kind sir!

AH Cassells (9 March 2016)
Caro Ramsay 11th March 2016

1 comment:

  1. I am wowed...or as Figbane might say, "Bow Wowed"--at your ingenuity, Andrew! Even more so at Caro's judgment in giving you a shot at tearing at the hard-hearted hearts of we MIErs. Personally, I can't wait to read the Royal Marine's poem to your granny ... something about it intuitively strikes me as karma perfect.

    Thanks for letting us know there's a grand, creative, donative world lurking out there beyond the facade of merciless writing groups.