Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Priory Penpushers

No, it's not really the name of our writing group - but 'First Meeting of a Writing Group' wasn't a very interesting title for a blog post.

(In time, we're hoping to set up a blog for the group so that anyone who can't make the meetings will still be able to have a go at the exercises and share useful links etc. In fact, that was part of our homework - to come up with a name for ourselves... )

Eight budding authors met at a local pub (The Priory) last night, all with a love of writing and all with various reasons for joining this little group. For some, it was to reconnect with something they had enjoyed in the past but had stopped doing. For others, it was to provide discipline and organisation to get the novel written. And then there were those, like myself, who belonged to online writing communities (yay for cloudies!) but wanted face-to-face contact more than just once a year at York.

We introduced ourselves and decided some ground rules in how we wanted to proceed (confidentiality, honesty, use accept-adapt-reject for example) before moving on to writing exercises to break the ice.

Needless to say, we had come prepared. Most of us were pen and paper types, but there was one electronic version. As in the writing tools. Not the author himself. I had a notebook from my school leaving present which I have decided to dedicate to writing group 'stuff'. It set me wondering whether anyone has ever looked at the psychology of notebooks and what it says about their owners...

Anyway, back to the point. I'm going to share the results of my efforts.

Exercise 1. I remember when...

3 minutes, writing things you remembered. Didn't matter what.

I first tried this as a stream of consciousness exercise at York last year with Andrew Willie and later used it to blog about my uni years. Last night we had recent memories, memories dredged up from years ago, emotional memories...and I was struck by how trusting everyone was to share some of the things they did. Here are mine - with apologies to my sister!

I remember when my pocket money was 20p a week.
I remember when the Icebox sold sweets in jars and would split a quarter pound between two types for you.
I remember when the knife stuck in my foot behind the Co-op deli counter.
I remember when I pushed my sister into the rose bush and Mum had to pick thorns out of her bum!
I remember when I found out that Beacon Hill used to be a volcano and I got scared it would erupt.

Exercise 2. Dictionary dipping.

Dive into a dictionary, find a word you don't know and write a hypothetical definition for it.

I'd taken a couple of ordinary dictionaries, but found it hard to pick a word without looking at the definition. Fortunately, we had a dictionary of nursing terminology, which threw up all sorts of interesting possibilities. I seemed to go down a sci-fi/fantasy route with mine...

Pentosuria: A large, forest-dwelling animal with five legs.
Demulcent: The festival where 100 turban-wearing women plant Demul bulbs in the swamps of Arcan.
Gaucher's Disease: The slow rotting of the feet of gauch farmers. (Gauch is farmed in mild acid fields between the Arcanian swamps and the Baratha Mountains.)

Exercise 3. Nouns and Verbs.

Write two lists - one of ten nouns, one of ten verbs. Randomly pair them up and write a sentence to include both. Then create a story using all the sentences.

We decided to swop lists, because we found we were trying to consciously pick words that would 'fit' into a cohesive story - it worked much better. I got my sentences written, but not my are a few, with the noun and verb highlighted.

Sprinting with a knife would've been fine if he'd not tripped over the dog.
When Scott collided with the blonde in the pink sequinned hotpants, his first thought wasn't for his spilt beer.
He'd done his best, but realised he'd probably never win the Great British Bake-off when the judges spat out his Victoria sponge.

And then there was homework...

After our dictionary dipping, it was suggested that we all took the same word and wrote our own definition of it, to see how different they all were, and if we wanted to, we could finish off our nouns and verbs piece too. But we also had a couple of other things to try.

7x7x7 - Grab the 7th book from your bookshelf. Open to page 7. Find the 7th sentence on the page. Begin a poem with that sentence - limit it to 7 lines.

Noticing - Take time to notice what goes on around you. Take notes/pictures to remind you. Use one of these interesting things to write a short story or poem and bring it to the next meeting.

There you go -  that was our first, very productive meeting. Looking forward to the next one already.

In the meantime, I'm going to throw down the gauntlet for all you Scribbles readers! Remember the dictionary dipping? The one word we all took away to write a definition for? It was Tarsalgia; I challenge you to post your own definition in the comments below! As wacky or wonderful as you like - but please keep it (relatively) clean. Have fun!


  1. Tarsalgia, A chronic condition peculiar to the north country. the principle symptom is thanking people (saying "Ta") for any small courtesy, such as not bumping into them in the street. Results in the tip of the tongue becoming numb, a dry throat and an inability to be ever so thankful when being saved from falling off a cliff.

  2. Tarsalgia - the result of over-indulging in, or an allergic reaction to (rare) taramasalata which results in excessive vomiting.
    This - the Dictionary Game; is something we play at Christmas, inevitably reducing whoever has to read out the definitions to incoherence..

  3. A chronic condition of blackening of the skin on the feet, initially thought to have been caused by walking on hot tar. Now thought to be caused by watching too much Jeremy Kyle.

  4. Hooray! People are playing! Good definitions...keep 'em coming!

  5. Tarsalgia - a cocktail drink, much in vogue during the 1920s. So named because of its prime ingredients: tar bilge (a water-based by-product of the oil refining process, proven to be a medical hazard but much revered for its amphetamine properties) and salgia (a south American lichen farmed in the swamplands of the Amazon basin. Said to have strong narcotic effects). xx FP

  6. Here's mine...

    Tarsalgia - greeting in a local dialect, famously offered to members of the military who provided relief to the inhabitants of the village of Omry after the seige of 1857. (sic - thank you, soldier)