Writers Groups – support, encouragement and experience – they are here in our region and ready to welcome new members.
Is it the long views and open landscapes? The quiet? The picturesque villages or the conviviality of new friends? Whatever the reason, the Quercy has become a place of inspiration for a growing number of writers capturing the spirit of the region in blogs, stories and novels. And rather than lock themselves away in isolation, many are sharing their experiences at local writers’ groups.
Anita Goodfellow has been running a writers’ group in Parisot for almost three years. It’s become so popular that new sessions have been added with members coming from as far afield as Auch, Montauban and Cajarc. “It’s a relief to find other writers, I think that’s the thing,” Anita says. “It’s about being encouraging and acting as a springboard for people’s work. You have to earn each other’s trust, of course, but then you realise how valuable it is to have someone to talk to.”
The group’s members are a variety of ages and from all kinds of backgrounds. Some have written before and for some it’s an entirely new experience. They tackle writing exercises together, arrange ad hoc critiquing sessions and learn both technical skills and creative problem solving at their regular meetings. Sometimes they invite more established writers to give workshops, but the group is not lacking in expertise of its own: members have found agents to represent their writing, had success with novels and won short story prizes. “It’s non-competitive, which is really important,” Anita explains, “but that doesn’t mean we don’t treat it very seriously. After all, people are busy. They need to get something worthwhile out of it.”
But what is it about the area that inspires so many writers? For some, moving to the Quercy gives that much needed breathing space to put pen to paper. But Anita also points to what she calls the ‘melting pot’ nature of the area which sparks new ideas and offers new perspectives. She also praises the annual literary festival, Festilitt, which draws world-class writers to Parisot to give talks and workshops.
Creative writing summer schools at local venues from chateaux to hillside retreats are enough to bring out the holiday writer in anyone. But when it comes to a week-in week-out commitment then clearly the area has more to offer than just a break from routine. At the writers’ group in St Antonin, members are proud of their strong connection to the region. Many of the stories which emerge are rooted in the unique experience of Quercy living: “We’ve all written about life in France,” says Doreen Porter, who hosts the meetings. “Most of us are retired, so have more time to absorb the beauty and idiosyncrasies of where we live. There’s the humorous side of coming to a different place but also the problems and dilemmas of growing older in another country.”
Doreen’s women-only group gets together weekly under the umbrella of Friends in France International (FiFi) which publishes members’ work in its monthly magazine. As well as sharing poems and stories and working towards putting together an anthology, there’s a strong social element to the meetings. It’s the chance to meet face-to-face that attracts many of the members, but that doesn’t mean more modern networks are not also put to good use by local writers. Doreen is also a member of Writers Abroad, an expat community from around the world that has been running since 2009, allowing published writers to give feedback on each other’s work remotely. Vanessa Couchman, whose debut novel was published last year, explains: “We communicate almost entirely online; one of the big strengths is having one's work critiqued in the private forum. It’s been a huge help to me in developing my writing skills.”
While Writers Abroad draws members from all over Europe and from Japan to Australia, there’s still a good representation from South-West France, which suggests there’s something special about the area when it comes to writing. Local novelist Jacqueline Yallop agrees. She runs The Writer’s Wheel which mentors emerging writers on a one-to-one basis and has clients from the UK and USA. With the advantage of Skype tutorials, distance is no object. “But often when people approach me I find they have contacts in the Quercy,” she says. “Even if they don’t live here the whole time, they’ve spent lots of time here or have friends here. And the nature of the area really inspires their work: it’s difficult to put your finger on exactly what’s special, but I think it’s a unique combination of turbulent history, a strong cultural identity and spectacular natural beauty - which is all great fodder for writers.”
Useful contacts –
Friends in France International - www.fifi82.org
The Writer’s Wheel at www.jacquelineyallop.com or email@example.com