It seemed a bit harsh to leave the Westley Literary Group in limbo, so here is the second chapter in their rebirth as Westley Writers and their first attempted meeting under their new guise. (full chapter under ‘Writing, Westley Writers’ – link at end of post)




‘So we’re free then. Taken back control. On our own. Sailing into a bright blue entrepreneurial sunrise of opportunity.’ Ashby said.

Stephanie raised a perfect, if nowadays little too highly set, eyebrow. Straker offered a thin smile,

‘We lost the readers section John. It’s not as if Lillian Dobson is Donald Tusk is it?’

‘Not as attractive.’

‘That’s sexist John.’ Stephanie chided without rancour.

‘Fair enough. Sorry love.’ Ashby said. He was of a generation and inclination which translated ‘PC’ into ‘Police Constable’ on a good day, but in reality that meant ‘policeman’ to him. The world of WPCs and Police Officers lay in a distant neverland of unimagined horror for John Ashby. Gender neutral language was on a list of works in progress that never seemed to get any shorter or accumulate ticks in any of the requisite boxes.

‘Besides,’ Straker said trying to divert Ashby from riding off on one of his many hobby horses. ‘We may have a few published authors, but we aren’t exactly brimming over with JK Rowlings or Paulo Coelhos are we?’

‘Who?’ Ashby said

‘I thought you’d have read all the Harry Potters John.’ Stephanie said.

‘Cheeky mare. You know I meant that Kwayloo bloke. It is a bloke is it Jules?’

‘Brazilian author. Wrote the Alchemist?’

‘Never heard of him.’

‘He speaks very highly of you.’

‘All right clever clogs why would we want him anyhow?’

Straker hesitated a moment, thinking of how best to explain Coelho’s work. The exploration of personal legend probably wasn’t going to sell anything to John, and the critical reviews of much of Coelho’s later works in particular would not be helpful. But of course there were the sales, the way to Ashby’s heart.

‘Because he’s made about four hundred million dollars.’

Ashby stared. ‘Bloody hell.’ he offered after a few seconds. ‘Bloody hell.’

‘Words into gold.’ Stephanie said.

Julian smiled. ‘Maybe we should write a joint effort called ‘The Philosophers Stone’ and see how much we can make.’

‘Back to Harry Potter.’ Ashby said


Continued here https://gfarrish.wordpress.com/writing/westley-writers/

A Muse of Fire?

Poetry has reared its (ugly in my case?) head.

I said somewhere in my ‘about’ piece that I don’t write poetry, or at least poetry that I was prepared to share.

That turned to be one of those things that almost as soon as I said it, I thought about it again and immediately started doing what I said I didn’t/wouldn’t. I find I do that a lot, awful character trait.

In this case I wrote three related poems about playing rugby.

You can probably see why I said I don’t write poetry.

I don’t think the result was as awful as it sounds.

It was really a collection of sound experiences from when I played rugby and isn’t trying to address directly any major themes of life and death. It was an exploration of the low key camaraderie and experience of one facet of people’s lives.

It was rugby because that was the sport that occupied a large proportion of my recreational time from about the age of sixteen to thirty eight. It was what I knew. This isn’t the International end of things, it isn’t even the most exalted bit of my low key rugby life, it is the week in week out recreational clashes that make up the vast majority of rugby played around the world. Fun, banter, but occupying a place in the players’ hearts.

I say ‘it’ rather than ‘they’ because although there were three pieces and they were printed as three poems in the anthology ‘The Tall and the Short’, they are very closely related and deal with one event. They are the Prelude, Game and Post Match Analysis and deal with a very tight slice of life, about two and a half hours that surround the build up and aftermath of a match. A tight slice repeated for weeks every year for years. A major part of life. My life anyway. And in fact, an insight into more than a silly game with an inflated bladder.

So much like all poetry really. A condensed, spare representation of something that offers a deeper insight into the human condition.

And I got hooked.

So as well as trying to finish novels, short stories and attempting to turn a screenplay I can’t sell into a novel (which I also probably won’t be able to sell!) I’m writing poetry now. The local writing group is looking to publish a book of poems to support the local library and I might subject them so to some of my efforts and see what they think.

In the meantime I’ve been tempted into offering a few for magazine publication and we’ll have to see what happens with those.

I think my problem here is that I have no overarching theme in mind for poetry. Each one tends to be a response to some odd stimulus, the source of which I am unsure. I suspect in the past these half formed blips in memory would have either subsided once more into the morass of what passes for my psyche or been scribbled down as ideas for short stories or passages in novels. Once having turned this tap on it seems difficult to turn off. Time will tell whether this diverts so much effort from prose that I need to think of a way of turning it off again.

Watch this space for a post bemoaning the fact I never get inspirational flashes of thought passing along my synapses any more.

Or maybe even some poetry?


I don’t write short stories.
I have done.
Like a lot of people I think I felt less intimidated by the idea of producing… say 3,500 words than 80, 000 for a novel.
When I had written a few I realised how incredibly difficult they are and how demanding they are of those qualities of tight plotting, concise language and an almost poetic density of emotion and language that result from the constraints of space.
They didn’t help with characterisation either.
You can’t lay out a character through reaction to events or actions forming events and extended dialogue. There isn’t the time. Every word counts and often has to count two or three times. Moving the action forward, sketching a character and setting up the next piece of business, all while engaging the reader of course.
Novels are allowed, indeed probably need differentiation in density throughout the work. Short stories are a lot more intense.
So I left them alone.

Until now.

I have written bits of flash or very short fiction, mostly as an exercise, in the interim but recently the idea of writing ‘proper’ short stories resurfaced.
Well the writers group I attend wants to publish a book showcasing examples of the groups work, and rather than an excerpt from a novel I would prefer a stand alone item if I take part.

I have also recently had one or two ideas that seemed to suit the shorter format.

But what a change. Short stories now seem much shorter than when I last wrote one. I read some newer ones and looked at the existing prizes for a hint to the expected length. I can find only one that accepts nominations or contributions over 2,500 words. I am sure there may be more if I knew where to look, but from my first trawl that was the length. Also the old main markets have disappeared or shrunk dramatically. Magazines publishing short stories, certainly stories around the 5,000 word mark, are very few to non-existent. 1,500 words seems about par. Even shorter fiction – flash or micro fiction – is the norm.

I am guessing that it is a combination of lifestyle – electronic media, longer working hours, less spare time, competing demands on the remaining spare time and changing fashions in leisure that has helped kill the longer form short story. There are attempts to preserve and revitalise the form out there but they tend to be rather targeted attempts tied to social issues and concerns. There are prizes for young writers, for women writers, for minority writers, and don’t get me wrong, I am very much in favour of such affirmative action. It’s just a little frustrating to find so few options open to a white, adult, male. Ironic I know. The preserve of the white adult male short story writer appears to be in the Fantasy and SF genre. Stereotyping or what? And I don’t fit in it.

I have found an open competition with a 4,000 word limit which is appealing. No doubt the competition is ferocious but it looks interesting and I have written something that looks just the thing for it. In the meantime I am wondering how much effort I can put into a form that appears to be so limited in potential, no matter how much my interest has been re-awakened.

Writers’ Groups

Off and on over the years I read some horror stories about writers’ groups. Holly Lisle deals with some of the pitfalls I was concerned about: http://hollylisle.com/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-or-how-to-choose-a-writers-group/ and to be fair she also lists some of the good points which I missed when I was worrying about the idea of finding one.

If I was concerned why did I go ahead and join one? And I did join one. I was at that point where I had written quite a lot, had had some discussions with agents and publishers and most of those had ended up with a ‘thanks but no thanks’ variation on a theme. (The big mistake here was trying to sell something first up that, although I remain convinced it is of interest to a very large audience, had the terrible sales pitch – all mine unfortunately – of ‘memoir’. I now know that unless you are already massively famous or riding a wave like ‘mis lit’ the very hint of the word memoir is the kiss of death to a story. I am stunned I got as far as I did in some negotiations given this knowledge.)

So I wanted to see what other people who didn’t know me thought of my writing in other genres, what feedback I could get and also just that feeling of belonging to a group of like minded people.

I was really lucky. Caldicot Writers Group was, and remains, very welcoming to new members. There is no master slave relationship present and if there is a ‘Shark/Dinner’ vibe going on I have missed the bloom of fresh blood in the water. There are people who have won prizes and published, and people who don’t have any great urge to enter the publishing world but love writing for its own sake. The feedback and critique I have received has been helpful and well voiced and if I haven’t always agreed with it I have taken the opportunity to go away and think about it and play around with alternatives. Sometimes I have returned to my original and at others I have seen exactly what they meant and changed it to something better. There is a wide variety of work on offer at each meeting, light fiction, quite dark psychological stories, historical fiction, poetry, family history and sharp observational journalism. There are workshops and challenges and directed writing and a couple of months back we almost organised an inspirational outing together but couldn’t quite agree on what and where. Next year maybe.

What have I given them? Probably a lot of earache and argument about their feedback to me. I hope my comments are positive and helpful, but you’d have to ask them what they think. I hope I’ve brought something new with my background if nothing else.

It has been a very positive experience for me. I have met a lot of very interesting and enjoyable people and I have learned a lot. So, have a read of Holly Lisle’s notes and dip a toe in the water if you feel like sharing. If you recognise any of her warning signs – run. If you find a group like Caldicot: enjoy the experience, soak up the knowledge and put back what you can. It may be that it is not forever, but a good writers’ group is definitely worth experiencing.