Beaumont Leys Story Café

The story café writers’ group has been meeting in Beaumont Leys for just over a year, and is going from strength to strength. We meet in the library for two hours every fortnight, and have a steady membership of seven keen writers ranging in age from early thirties to late seventies. Others come and go – new members are guaranteed a warm welcome. Most of the regular members had done no writing before they started, and have made outstanding progress. Amongst our number is Irene, a Chinese woman who came with the intention of improving her written English skills; she has entertained us with rich and atmospheric tales set in the Far East. She has already entered several short story competitions, and has reached the longlist in two of them. Then there is Jeff, who has worked hard on his novel about the American Civil War, the first piece of writing he has ever attempted. Jackie’s new-found confidence in her talent has enabled her to apply for and secure a place on a higher education Creative Writing course at Vaughan College. For the first few months my job as leader of the group was to help the members get to grips with the basic skills of creative writing. Using exercises we explored – among other things – what makes a story work, how to create characters and plots, how to observe, and why it’s good to ‘show not tell’. I wrote handouts for the group to reinforce the teaching. We tend to concentrate on short fiction, but we have also dabbled in poetry, memoir and biography. Now that everyone is more confident we spend most of our time sharing our work and discussing it. At the end of each session I set the group an exercise for homework – if I don’t, they complain! I never cease to be impressed by the motivation and commitment of the members; it is almost unheard of for people to turn up with nothing to share. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable exercises started with the group working in pairs to choose a pair of advertisers from an internet dating site and then think about what might happen if they went on a date together. Then they went away to write separate stories about that date. Less popular was the requirement to produce a piece of writing that contained no adverbs or adjectives. Each

exercise is designed to focus on a particular skill, but people are free to interpret it as they wish. Each session starts with everybody reading out their homework, or another piece of writing they would like feedback on. To begin with some people found this uncomfortable, but the group is so friendly and supportive that everyone now does it without a second thought. Because the group is quite small we always have time for everyone to read, and we can spend as much time as necessary giving feedback and discussing ideas that come up. There is usually plenty of laughter, too. If time allows we then do an exercise or two to flex our literary muscles, often writing from a prompt. We have exciting plans for the near future. We are all working on stories to enter for a competition, and have started work on a collaborative novel or long story, where one person writes a chapter and then passes it on to someone else to continue the story. It will be interesting to see how that works out. We also want to publish a booklet of our best work, so that we can share it with friends and family. We are all proud of what we have achieved. The story café is a place where people come to express themselves, explore ideas, and improve their skills. As well as all that, we have fun. The sessions make us feel good, and give us a sense of belonging in our community. Here is what some of the members say about their experience: “My first intention on joining the writing club was to improve my English. Now, after a year, I realise that not only did I gain confidence in my English, but also I have discovered the beauty of writing. I’m extremely grateful that Nicky provided us with this writing club, which benefits us immensely. We support each other, believe in ourselves, and dare to dream.” “As an older person I was disappointed to hear that the funding for our group has been withdrawn. Disappointed because although we are a small group we get on well and enjoy our time together. I as an uneducated person am amazed how we have all gelled together. It’s like being back at school, with a difference – every member enjoys it.” “Personally, the group has provided me with a focus and sense of achievement that has been invaluable at a time when I could barely get

myself out of the house. It was important to me that the group was relaxed and in a non-confrontational environment that meant I felt comfortable making a relatively cold approach. Writing by myself is not the same; writing without focus and critique is also poor by comparison. Having an open, accessible writing group has improved my skills, reconnected me with my voice and my vocabulary and reminded me that I have an education I need to put to good use! And, ultimately, that we cannot expect people to read if there is no one to write!” “I have been coming to the Story Cafe regularly from the start. I really look forward to the sessions each fortnight. I enjoy the opportunity to be with like-minded people who enjoy writing for pleasure and come away full of ideas and enthusiasm. It is a lovely group and I hope that it will continue.” “Joining the story café and being involved with like-minded people has reinforced my love of writing. With Nicky’s encouragement and commitment to the group we’ve done things we never thought possible. Creating tales in prose or verse exercised our minds and filled mundane space with imagination’s narrative. As individuals we share the same enthusiasm for the group, and all of us would be the poorer if this was taken away.”

Nicky Bennison September 2012

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful