Most of my evenings end with a spot of reading.
Unfortunately, that period of reading usually lasts for precisely one minute before I lose consciousness and the book tumbles to the floor, closely followed by my glasses. In some ways, that’s frustrating. The working day might be taxing, but it would be nice if my brain had enough energy left by the end of the day to last through more than a page or two before powering down.
On the other hand, it’s pleasing that, with all the demands and distractions that crowd our lives every day, many of us still see reading as the way to unwind and push back the cares of the everyday world for a bit. If you were lucky, reading was the way you were encouraged to relax as a child, and the habit stuck.
To stand any chance of writing well, you need to read as much as you can, and I read a lot when I was young. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of staying awake too late because I was engrossed in a desperately exciting story, like Enid Blyton’s Five on a Treasure Island or David Whitaker’s Doctor Who and the Daleks.
Just as importantly, I read our household’s copy of the Daily Mirror every day. It was always the most tightly written newspaper of them all, and if I have any aptitude at all for writing concisely, it’s probably the result of absorbing that prose style.
Today, it’s possible to read all day and night without ever picking up a book or newspaper. The internet has shown us just how resilient the written word is. For all the bandwidth taken up by Instagram and YouTube, a huge amount of the online experience is about text.
But while we might consume a lot of words online, it is important sometimes to shun the easy dopamine hit of the internet and go back to good old-fashioned ink on paper. It is a different experience – deeper, more focused and less vulnerable to the impulse to switch tasks. It’s easy to fritter away precious time looking at your phone’s screen, but time spent on a book is rarely wasted.
Susan England is a great champion of text on a page. She’s read a lot of books – and recommended some good ones to me, introducing me to the journalist turned real writer Carl Hiaasen.
She’s an experienced ex-publisher and editor with lots of ideas. I suspect that the people who use her services will be better writers as a result.
© Darren Slade, 2019.
Poole-born Darren Slade is a long-serving journalist at the Daily Echo. He has been local government correspondent (covering such controversies as the Imax and the Winter Gardens), chief reporter, occasional columnist and business editor. He recently became group business editor for the Daily Echo Bournemouth, the Southern Daily Echo and the Dorset Echo.
He is a politics junkie, a film fan (everything from Woody Allen to Hammer horror) and a book lover who doesn’t get enough reading time but is rarely happier than when reading PG Wodehouse.
When I started my journey to becoming a published author ten years ago, there was little or no support for writers where I lived in Dorchester.
Due to the Thomas Hardy connection, there has been a longstanding literary event in the form of a biennial International Thomas Hardy Festival and Conference, held over a 10-day period, usually at the start of the summer holidays. The Society originated from the first Thomas Hardy Festival held in 1968 to mark the 40th anniversary of Hardy’s death. The programme is varied and interesting with tickets for sale at individual events but the focus is on readers rather than writers.
Sue Ashby and Pat Yonwin set up the Dorset Writers Network in 2008 with the aim to link writers and writing groups across the county. Sessions were offered in central Dorset locations including Dorchester so that writers could receive input and network to share tips and strategies. Currently most networking is done online with a large following on Facebook and Twitter. The Dorset Writers Network continues to offer workshops to support writers across the county and on 23rd November 2019 from 10.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. the network is hosting an Open House at the Corn Exchange in Blandford with a choice of free one-hour writing workshops, books stalls for local writers and networking opportunities. This is offered as part of the inaugural Blandford Literary Festival.
There are many flourishing literary festivals across Dorset including those in Bridport and Sherborne. The first Dorchester Literary Festival took place in 2014 and now offers a large programme of literary of talks from Tuesday, 15th October to Sunday, 20th October 2019. In a bid to support local writers, the Festival Directors established a competition for writers in 2018. Any writer with a strong connection to the South West is invited to submit a copy of their published fiction or non-fiction to the Hall & Woodhouse Local Writing Prize. In 2019, Emma Timpany from Cornwall was awarded the £1000 prize for her novella Travelling in the Dark.
Over the last few years, two writing groups have been established to cater for new and experienced writers in the town. Writers in the Alley meets on the first Wednesday of the month in the skittle alley of Goldies pub (hence the name) and offers support to all writers: any style, any genre. Writing Buddies meets on the first Saturday of every month in Dorchester Library with the aim to share tips, writing news, goals, and writing exercises.
In Bournemouth and Poole there’s long been a tradition of spoken word events. Currently in Dorchester there’s also a poetry open mic at Books Beyond Words on High East Street on the first Thursday of each month. This provides a platform for local poets and songwriters to share their work through reading and performance.
With so much new support for writers in Dorset, one wonders what developments will take place in the next ten years.
© Gail Aldwin, 2020.
About Gail Aldwin
Settled in Dorset, UK since 2006, Dr Gail Aldwin has lived in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Spain. Her published work includes a debut novel The String Games which is longlisted in the fiction category of The People’s Book Prize 2019. Vote for her novel to reach the finalist stage here.
Her collection of short fiction Paisley Shirt, was longlisted in the Saboteur Awards 2018. She also writes poetry and her pamphlet adversaries/comrades was published in 2019. As part of 3-She, Gail co-writes short plays and comedy sketches that have been staged in Bridport, Brighton and Salisbury. She appears at literary festivals and fringe festivals in London and the South West.