SECRETARY’S REVIEW FOR 2016-2017
Once again the year 2016 – 2017 has been a very busy one for HW members, with many events and earlier projects coming to fruition. Our new, vibrant HW website was up and running by the end of June, with a blog; an online shop selling our books; latest news and events sections; and the ability for each member to update and edit their own entries and examples of work. Website maintenance and support has recently been taken over by TGIS and we look forward to another exciting year filled with more events and blog entries.
At the end of September 2015 we had successfully applied for a grant from the Vattenfall Clashindarroch Community Fund, for funds to publish three books: our paranormal anthology ‘Open With Care’; the selected works of Margaret Grant, including poetry from her first 3 books together with previously unpublished material; and Ron Brander’s book ‘Over the Hills from Huntly’. Our ‘Open With Care’ anthology was available for the summer and many copies were sold prior to the official launch at the end of October, which was timed to coincide with Halloween. Ron Brander’s book was available for sale in the run up to Christmas with its official launch when Ron returned from the USA in February 2017. The final proof of Margaret Grant’s book, ‘Young at Hert’, is now with her family and once they have agreed the final content, the book will be available for sale within just a couple of weeks. With the launch of Margaret’s book, we will have completed the three major publishing projects that we initiated in 2015.
EVENTS: 2016-2017 was a very busy year with numerous successful and enjoyable events.
We began with the ‘White Wood’ collaborative peace event on June 8th, which took place in the Bin Forest ‘Peace Wood’ planted by artist Caroline Wendling. The event was organised by Deveron Arts who provided a grant that allowed us to purchase a large white gazebo for sharing between Huntly Writers, Orb’s Bookshop and Handmade in Huntly (now known as ‘Artists at Orbs’). These three groups contributed to the event under the banner of Peaceful Pursuits. It was a very successful and memorable day, blessed with glorious weather. Several Huntly Writers were able to take part; with Mary and Linda specifically at the Babel event, which involved simultaneous poetry readings in a variety of languages. For our other poetry readings we took up an idea which had been tried out at ‘Books and Beans’ in Aberdeen; that of reading a poem and asking the audience to repeat each line after it has been read. We did that with haikus by Linda and Susan which were alternated with a series of main poems on a theme of ‘Peace’ read by Annie, Cara, Anne Forbes and Maureen amongst others.
On Monday 11th July Helen Lynch, a noted local author and lecturer in Medieval Literature and Creative Writing at Kings College, University of Aberdeen, held a wonderfully interesting and creative workshop for members of Huntly Writers and guests. Helen gave two readings; one from her collection of short stories entitled ‘The Elephant and the Polish Question’, based on her experiences whilst teaching at the University of Lodz, in Poland; and the second a story set in a queue called ‘New Era, New Perspective’. We then had an exercise in writing descriptively, choosing a topic from ‘the world you know’, or ‘arriving at a place for the first time’. We all agreed it was a very useful and stimulating exercise.
Later in the month, on 16th July, members took part in two events related to George MacDonald. The first was an afternoon walk, led by Patrick Scott, around various locations in Huntly described by the author in his books. Patrick was an excellent narrator and as an extra ‘delight’ the owners of ‘Howglen’ invited walkers to explore their beautiful garden. In the evening, Rebecca Langworthy, a PhD Student from the University of Aberdeen, gave an illustrated talk that explored the impact Huntly had upon this Victorian Novelist and his creative inspiration.
On 3rd September HW members took part in our regular fund-raising event, with a joint stall at the Huntly Hairst. Once again this was a very successful day with Huntly Writers’ own books for sale. We also handed out invitations to our book launch in October, which led to lots of great discussions with passers-by. In addition the bookstall did a roaring trade in bundles of S/H books, mainly crime, thrillers, biographies and cookery books from Orb’s Bookshop. A selection of S/H Scottish Interest books proved particularly popular, as did the face-painting by Cara; and we plan to do similar things at the 2017 event. Linda also acted as the Doric judge for the Hairst Poetry Competition, with poems on the theme of ‘Dreams’. In addition, the afternoon of 3rd was the launch of visiting author Nabin Chhettri’s new book, with readings in the library.
Moira McPartlin joined our HW meeting on 7th September, as part of her ‘Highland and One Island Book Tour’, during which she was visiting local writers’ groups, bookshops and schools to promote writing in general and her books in particular. She gave us some excellent tips and insights into the world of publishing and read excerpts from two of her books; namely ‘Incomers’ and ‘Ways of the Doomed’. This was an excellent evening enjoyed by all.
On Saturday 22nd October we launched our new anthology of short stories ‘Open With Care’, to an appreciative audience at the Ex-Servicemen’s Club, in Huntly. Members worked extremely hard to transform the venue into a Halloween-themed grotto of delights offering refreshments and devilishly good entertainment! Whilst Moira, the ‘Continuity Witch’, kept proceedings on track with her hilarious participation and introductions; members enthusiastically embraced the theme of Halloween and went to great lengths with costumes and performances to intrigue, thrill and scare our audience; to the accompaniment of our excellent musicians, who captured the mood of each story perfectly. As a special treat, member Anne Forbes read her touching farewell poem to end the evening. Thanks go to everyone who helped to make this evening such a fantastic and successful event.
On 25th November Huntly Writers were delighted to be invited to perform readings from our anthology ‘Open With Care’ at the DAFT Writing Group’s Book Week Scotland event at Banff Castle. Members Anne Rogers and Annie Lamb read ‘The Farm’ and ‘The Other Market’ respectively, contributing to a wonderful evening of prose and poetry including work from well-known local author Brian Johnstone.
At the beginning of December, we took part in the Huntly Christmas Market celebrating 21 years of Deveron Projects, in conjunction with ‘Artists at Orbs’ who had a sales table. HW members used the opportunity, on a cold winter’s day, to promote and sell our books and Ron Branders’ newly published ‘Over the Hills from Huntly’.
Christmas and New Year celebrations came and went so quickly, that in just the blink of an eye it was February 2nd and the Harry Potter World Book Night. This was an event run in collaboration with the Brander Library under the banner of the Huntly Book Festival. The Harry Potter Night event is planned annually world-wide by Bloomsbury who publishes J K Rowling’s work. Our event was registered on their website and run according to an events kit, supplied by Bloomsbury, on the understanding that the event was free. The theme was “The Professors of Hogwarts”. It was a huge success with old and young turning up, many in costume, to take part. It would be too much to recount all the highlights in this report but some deserve mention. Rachel Didsbury and her friends Sophie and Uist made a sorting hat and dressed up as Professor McGonagall, Harry Potter and Hagrid respectively. Leon made a truly splendid Dumbledore and Paul, a volunteer from the bookshop, was a magnificent Mad Eye Moody. Annie Lamb was a very convincing Mrs Norris the Cat complete with metal talons and Cara was a glamourous Bellatrix. Maureen was Pomona Sprout and Sarah from the Library was a very convincing Snape. We were also lucky that Sue Mercer from the library managed to get children’s writer Dawn Finch involved. Dawn came in character as Professor Trelawney and gave a splendid reading from one of the Harry Potter books. Although this event was again a lot of work in terms of lugging around props etc. it was great fun to do and was immensely appreciated by the town.
At the Brander Library on Monday 20th February, Ron Brander launched the second edition of his much revised and enhanced ‘Over the Hills from Huntly’ with a most interesting talk, to a large audience that included many HW members. This was the second of our publications aided by a grant from the Vattenfall Clashindarroch Community Fund.
And finally, 18th May will see an exhibition of a collaborative work in the Square in Huntly; with photographs by Jordon Monkhouse and Emma Duncan of Gordon Schools, accompanied by poetry and prose written by Huntly Writers.
Our collaborative venture with Orb’s Community Bookshop continues to build steadily and our little group of volunteers has grown. We have been reasonably successful financially and have an ongoing agreement with local artists, ‘Artists at Orbs’, for the display and sale of their work. In addition the bookshop is very well supported by the local community and we have a growing band of followers on Facebook. Thanks go to all members and other volunteers that have been involved in this.
The HW membership roll this year has remained fairly steady and we are always happy to welcome new members. Anne Forbes sadly left us, when she and her husband moved south to live in Cambridge; whilst Charlie managed a last flying visit from his new home in Norfolk to update us about his ‘Mer’ stories; and Lucy continues to join us occasionally when she journeys north from Ilminster in Somerset. We have missed several of our longer-standing members, who for various reasons have been unable to join us for most, or all of this year, including: Fiona Wilson, Fiona McClelland, Ruth Bean, Phyllis Goodall and Haworth Hodgkinson. However, our numbers have swelled with three new members:
- Tricia McParland, a volunteer at the bookshop, started coming to our meetings in November and has been playing an active role in promoting reading in Huntly under the banner of ‘Joy of Reading’. Tricia is new to writing, but, with encouragement, has already produced some excellent work.
- John Robson, a member of Meldrum Writers, a small writing group that meets weekly, has decided to join us at our meetings too. John has a wealth of material, based on his observations of life; and has recently branched out into writing crime fiction.
- Thirdly, we have welcomed Jennifer Houston, who travels from Banff to join our fortnightly meetings. Like many of us, Jennifer started writing later in life, but now has a rich selection of highly descriptive poetry and prose, which captures the essence of all that she sees, hears and feels around her. As Jennifer says, she very much enjoys ‘playing’ with words and this is very evident in her writing.
Members of Huntly Writers continue to have work published in a variety of publications and to take part in readings, competitions and arts events in the North-East and beyond:
- Susan Miller – won the Open Doric Poetry section of the Strichen Festival in May 2016 and had another piece in ‘Pushing out the Boat #14’, in April 2017.
- Anne Rogers – has been shortlisted for a Writing Magazine Short Story Competition with her captivating story entitled ‘Sonata for two violins’; and also shortlisted for Writing Magazine’s Dialog Only Short Story Competition.
- Mary Burgerhout had a sonnet published in ‘Poetry and Prose – Loneliness and Being Alone’. These ‘Poetry and Prose’ series of books are high quality publications compiled by Robin Barratt and several HW members have since had submissions accepted for publication.
- Leon Stelmach – had a love sonnet ‘Untitled’ published in ‘Poetry and Prose – Love and Being in Love’; and two little war poems ‘1945’ and ‘Trench Message’ in ‘Poetry and Prose – War’
- Carol – had one poem published in ‘Poetry and Prose – Love and Being in Love’ and a short piece of prose in ‘Poetry and Prose – Travel’
- Linda had three Doric items published; a short story ‘Fer the Lost Quines’ and a poem ‘Granda’ in the Leopard; plus the poem ‘Glenshee‘ in Causeway magazine. She also entered the RSPB Doric competition with an evocative work entitled ‘Awa Tae Strathbeg’. She also came second in the Open Doric Poetry section of the Strichen Festival in May 2016 with her poem ‘Reets’ and had a poem ‘New Year at Braemar’ published in ‘Open Mic’.
- Kristin’s hair-raising story of ‘Hare Hill’ was accepted for publication in the ‘Book of Blasphemous Words’ – currently available from Amazon as an e-version and soon to be available in hardcopy. Kristin has also joined the Highland Literary Salon and is posting details of HW events on their Facebook page, along with links to the bookshop and HW websites.
- Maureen’s poem ‘Escapement’ was published in ‘Open Mic’ at Books and Beans in Aberdeen.
Congratulations go to everyone for their successes.
Over the year we have entertained each other with writings inspired by personal life stories and events; family histories; travel experiences and bucket loads of imagination. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- on-going instalments from Cara’s next ‘Sea Crow’ novel – where the tension increases as we approach the end of this fantasy story
- Leon’s further bewitching tales of Murdo and Moira and their eclectic household with Bruce the dog, Jaffa the cat, the Man who digs, the Lady who does and several newer characters beginning to emerge.
- Tom has continued to regale us with an intriguing mix of irresistible tales based on his early life and experiences of the Scottish legal system. One story in particular that stood out was entitled ‘The Train that didn’t stop at Vaddersfeld’.
- Linda has continued to inspire us with her Doric poems and we were particularly moved by her tale of a sparrow hawk that used her garden as a ‘feeding table’.
- Annie has regaled us with the ongoing story of ‘Seabright and Sample’, two fictional detectives who come to life when the publisher of George, their author, is murdered.
- Carol captured our imagination with stories about her travels and search for energy places in Alexandria and the Nile Delta in Egypt; Jaipur in NW Rajasthan; and the volcanic craters and lava tubes of Easter Island.
- Well done to all, including many more excellent contributions from Maureen, Kristin, Carol, Annie, Leon, Janice, Anne R., Linda, Mary, John, Tricia, Jennifer and all others who have joined us.
Thanks go to all the Huntly Writers, who have made every meeting enjoyable, bringing to life characters and events in each of their own inimitable styles. We are all different and write in unique ways; and it is these differences that help to make our group the success that it is. Our plan in 2017 is to encourage young writers in the Huntly area; with possible workshops, competitions, reading events and the eventual publishing of suitable works. With the publication of Margaret Grant’s long awaited book and other events in the pipeline, 2017 promises to be another exhilarating year for Huntly Writers and long may it continue to be so.