Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Talking to the Havering Writers Circle

Last night saw me address the Havering Writers Circle - a local writing group who meet at the Farikytes Arts Centre, a massive Georgian house a bus ride away from my front door.

This was my first speaking engagement, if you like, and although I'd written some notes and printed out three or four extracts from ABIDE WITH ME to read out, I always knew I'd pretty much make the whole thing up as I went along.

And so with wide-eyed reckless abandon, I got off the 256 bus and entered the beautiful Georgian building, my sports bag slung over my shoulder and my redoubtable seven foot pull-up poster of the book cover in my other hand.

When Mike, the chairman of the Havering Writers Circle, arrived ten minutes later, I helped him set up a couple of tables at one end of the room. 'You'll be sitting at the table with me and Jean,' he said. Jean, it transpired, was the group secretary. Sitting at a top table, I thought. With the secretary and the chairman? Blimey. Suddenly, I began to panic. It sort of hit me I was some sort of 'guest' at this gathering, that people would be coming here expecting me to say stuff.
I helped Mike flip one of the tables onto its back to pull out the folding legs. The table beat me, to be honest. Not the first time in my life a piece of furniture has done so. Mike came to my rescue, however, and had the legs out and the table set up in a matter of seconds. 'They're the same ones as our local scout group,' he said. The fact I'd been pulling the wrong end of the legs didn't bode well for the evening, I thought. But here I was, and I was determined to make the best of it. In my head, I re-shredded all plans I had for a structured talk, and felt somewhat lighter, you know. 

No good fighting it.
My biggest anxiety leading up to the event had been reading the extracts from the book. I was fairly confident on the reading aspect, but the swearing worried me. I'd had to censor the reading on my first radio appearance a few weeks ago, and although I enjoyed the whole experience immensely, I wanted to read the extracts tonight unabridged, as it were. I checked with Mike for about the fortieth time if he thought the swearing would be okay. He pointed out everyone at the group was an adult, and it was up to them how they took it. However, I'm a sensitive sort, and hadn't sworn at a roomful of strangers before, so I wasn't completely at ease with the prospect, despite Mike's assurances.
As the members began to arrive I assessed each new arrival as to their potential swearability factor. But as the chairs began to fill up, I found myself sitting in a room not of strangers, but of writers. And what a fantastic feeling that was. Ever since I've started this writing lark, I've felt isolated down this end of the world. So much seems to be going on in other parts of the country - the crime-writing scenes in Manchester and Hull, the Harrogate crime festival, the festival out west in Bristol. But sitting as a guest at the Havering Writers Circle last night, the nine of us in this small, green-panelled room in this old Georgian house on a Monday night, I felt finally connected, you know.

Time was getting on.
Mike introduced me to the group, and I just sort of started talking.
Then came the first reading.

The first extract I read, for those that have read ABIDE WITH ME, was the classroom scene at the beginning of Chapter Two. Two lines in, Jean asked if I could speak up. Fair enough. So I did. And there were laughs in all the right places and the swearing, well, it's just words really, isn't it. I talked some more, feeling surprisingly calm, and was loving every minute.
I then carried on speaking of writing and life and the inside and outside of it all. Everything seemed to be going well.

About forty minutes in it occurred to me I'd forgotten to tell the group a couple of things - the title of the book, and what it was about. See, notes - sometimes it's good to look at them, just for the small details, you know. But this night was always going to be whatever it was supposed to be.
I carried on talking of 'writing from the inside', of freeing yourself from the idea of what you think a writer should write and instead lighting up your darkest places with your pen. I spoke of short stories and long nights, and read three more extracts from the book. Apart from the extracts, I was aware of making everything up as I was going along.
An hour and a half melted away. I was having the time of my life. Time for a break. Jean cracked open a bottle of wine and  I got meself a coffee. After the break, I sat in as members of the group read out pieces they had written. And I was absolutely astounded by the quality.
At the end of the night, Mike reminded me I had some copies of ABIDE WITH ME with me if anyone wanted to buy a copy. I sold a couple, which was fantastic. Mike then thanked me for coming and I got a round of applause from the group. As the members of the Havering Writers Circle left the room, I noticed my redoubtable seven foot pull-up poster of the book cover leaning up against the wall, still in it's case.

Ah, well, for another day.
 Can't tell you what last night meant to me. Well I suppose I can.
Speaking as a guest of the Havering Writers Circle last night, I now feel like a writer. A proper writer.
And that's something I've been fighting a long, long time.


  1. Hi, Ian.

    Glad you enjoyed our little gathering... I certainly did. It's nice to hear that someone else's characters talk to them. When I say this to others, they think that I'm mad, or at the very least, weird, but I create them, set them together and off they go. I hope you liked my lightweight piece about the debutante cabbie.

    Ian and I have this competition to see whether he can set me a task that I can't write a story about. I'm winning about two hundred to nil at the moment.

    Swearing... well characters do, don't they? One of mine, having undergone a compulsory bionic sex-change, uses only one four-lettered word beginning with 'c' to describe his new kit.

    No, mustn't go on boring you anymore. Once again, thanks for an entertaining reading.


    1. Hi Paul.

      Thanks for dropping by, mate. The pleasure was all mine, and your cabbie stories, they really have got something. Top stuff, mate. And I'm really glad to have met a kindred spirit in the world of writing where the characters do what they will unbidden.

      Hope to pop by the writers group some time in the near future, Paul, and catch up.

      By the way, I love that compulsory bionic sex-change character. Brilliant :)

      Best wishes,


  2. Hi Ian,

    I was also delighted that you enjoyed talking to and meeting the members of the Havering Circle.

    We're are unbelievably touched (I think I can speak for the others when I say this) that you found our material 'astounding'. For me as one of the unpublished members of the group this is paticulary encouraging and gave me a little boost - something we all need!

    For all this I thank you.

    If you'd like to keep in touch I'm on Facebook and Twitter, you'd be more than welcome.

    Lynda Shepherd

    1. Was a real pleasure, Lynda. I honestly was really impressed with the readings I heard. And like I said on the night, you have a real knack for dialogue - and that is one of the hardest things out there to get right.

      And don't worry about the unpublished thing, Lynda - you'll get there. The main thing is persistence. Don't ever give up. Write what is in your heart. Write with courage, Lynda, write with courage and a pen of truth. The words are there already, waiting to be written. It's just a case of carving the words out of your own darkness, and knowing you were born to write.

      All the very best.

      And if you ever need anything, don't hesitate to contact me at: ianayris@hotmail.co.uk. I'm on the Facebook/Twittery thing too, if you fancy tagging along :)