When you live, as I do, in a country where your mother tongue is not the first language people use, you can feel a little isolated. The solution is to learn the language. That will get most people over the threshold and out into company. It’s a wise thing to do.
But what if your work and your life are bound tightly to your mother tongue? If you are perhaps a poet or an author, or someone who aspires to be these things?
An uphill struggle
As a native English speaker I do have an advantage. I’m not sure what my situation would be if my native tongue was more obscure. But even English speakers can face an uphill struggle to find peers to share the problems and pleasures that are specific to writing.
A local university with a creative writing course in English can establish a pool of individuals who can band together. I believe this is the origin of the vibrant Stockholm Writing Group which is responsible for the annual Stockholm Writers Festival. But here in Gothenburg on the Swedish west coast there’s nothing like that.
I’ve had some contact with individual creatives writing in English, but only a few and mostly people for whom English is not a first language. I need to be careful writing this, not wanting to offend some of my friends. There are people whose command of English is very good indeed, even though it is not their first language. I know published writers who fall into this category. Unfortunately I also come across quite a lot of people whose aspirations are greater than their talent. Greater than their command of English. As a former teacher of English, I find myself too easily cast in the role of language teacher/editor by these acquaintances.
Looking for a peer group
Sometimes I’ve been asked: if I want a local writers group, why I don’t set one up? The answer is this. What I’m looking for are peers who will give me as much as I can give them in an exchange around writing. If I’m playing the role of teacher, I am not on a level with the other members of the group. The feedback I’m likely to get is not equivalent to the feedback I am able to give. It’s just not a peer group.
Also, after 20+ years teaching English, I’m fed up of correcting other people’s language mistakes.
All of which is a roundabout way of explaining why I was so happy to discover an online writers group specifically made up of people who are in a similar position. Or people who have in the past been a similar position, and may in the future find themselves in that position again.
The Writers Abroad group has been going for about 10 years. The number of members has fluctuated over the years, but the aspiration, I understand, has been to keep it at around 20. Several former members as well as a number of current members have published books – both conventionally and as self publishing ventures. Most, perhaps all, have published shorter pieces in magazines and online. There is an active section of our website called “The Bragging Stool”. Here members report when something they have written is shortlisted or wins a competition, or is accepted for publication.
After years of not even attempting to get any of my writing published, my membership in Writers Abroad gave me the courage to start submitting again. So far this year I’ve seen five of my poems and three of my short stories/flash fictions published. All because of the encouragement and advice I have received from fellow WA members. If you want to be a writer, then you want to be published. You want to be read. Being published and read, if only by a small number of people, is a kind of affirmation. It certainly encourages me to believe that whatever I’m writing, it’s worth continuing with it.
Far Flung: Celebrating a Decade of Writers Abroad
The Writers Abroad group allows us to do many things. Share writings and ideas, get feedback, pep one another, make suggestions, share prompts for flash fiction and poetry, discuss issues that are interesting for us, carry out writing exercises. And every so often we pool our resources and produce an anthology of our writings. Which brings me back to Far Flung: Celebrating a Decade of Writers Abroad.
I wrote about this a few weeks ago when the e-version of our 10th anniversary anthology was available for pre-order. Now the print version is
coming out. At the end of this week, on 14th November, in good time to act as a little Christmas present. (Suggestion!)
There are 46 pieces in the anthology, by a variety of hands. Mostly current members of the Writers Abroad group, but a few of our former members have also contributed, and the foreword is written by novelist and screenwriter Peter May. I hope readers will be delighted by everything in the book, but if not it’s got a great range of different writing. There’s sure to be something interesting, amusing, exciting or thought-provoking to be found.
We’re not making any money out of the book. All proceeds go to a charity doing work close to our hearts. The World Literacy Foundation, a global non-profit organisation that “works to lift young people out of poverty through literacy”.
The Writers Abroad Community
Alyson Hilbourne; Bruce Louis Dodson; Chris Nedahl; Crilly O’Neil; D C Hubbard; Dianne Ascroft; Gail Aldwin; Gillian Brown; Jacqueline Vincent; JoAnna Lamb; John Eliot; John Nixon; Kat Wright; Kimberly Hirsh; Laura Besley; Lesley Truchet; Maggie Shelton; Nicola Cleasby; Nigel Wild; Paola Fornari; Patricia Cole; Pete Armstrong; Sally Robinson; Sue Borgersen; Susan Carey; Valery Cameron; Vanessa Couchman; Vesna McMaster
In the above list, wherever I could, I’ve linked everyone’s name to a website or post about them somewhere on-line. Some I just haven’t been able to identify for sure. (People use pen names which I don’t necessarily know.) I’m happy to update this for anyone who’d like me to include their website.
Having written all the above, it’s sad to report that Far Flung is set to be Writers Abroad’s swansong. After 10 years, the group is coming to an end.
Not wanting to be without all the good things we have found in Writers Abroad, a number of us have decided to set up a new international writers peer group as a replacement. Assuming we manage to get it up and running successfully, we may be looking for new recruits. Early in the New Year I hope to be writing another blog post on this subject, and my fellow members will no doubt be promoting the new group themselves. For more from me, watch this space!