I love this group!
It meets at Kingscliff Library, under the auspices of U3A (University of the Third Age in case anyone doesn't know, which gives oldies — er, senior citizens — the opportunity to get together and learn or teach all manner of subjects).
There are about 17 people in the group, I'm told, but usually only about 8 turn up, which is a nice number for a group. Each week we are given a letter of the alphabet (not in consecutive order) with examples of what it might stand for, and we choose a topic beginning with that letter to write on for the following week. We are allowed up to 1500 words.
We don't make copies; we just listen well as each person reads out what they've written. We are encouraged to bring photos too, if relevant. I haven't so far, but I probably will at some point.
After each piece is read out, we have a little discussion of it. We can ask for feedback, but so far I'm the only one who has. The first time I read, they praised my writing. I said, 'So it held the interest?' and they all assured me it did. That was it — and it was all that I needed. Mind you, today was only my second time there, but I have the feeling that what I've seen is typical. Except for me, the people in this group don't see themselves as writers; they just want to write their life stories for their families. Nevertheless they all write very well.
People turn up a little earlier than the starting time, or sometimes a little later. We have a bit of chit-chat as people arrive, of the 'Hello, how are you, what have you been up to?' kind. Then the group leader says, 'I think everyone who's coming is here. Shall we start?' Immediately everyone happily stops their conversations, and we go around the room taking it in turns to read. The leader picks who will start and in what direction we'll go around. It's all very polite and gentle.
The discussion of each piece consists of how it makes us feel — 'That sounds lovely', 'What an amazing experience' and so on — and what someone I know calls 'self-referential' — 'When I was there ...', 'Oh, my brother-in-law's family came from that area', 'That reminds me of ...'
No-one keeps time or asks us to please move along. The discussion is relaxed, and finds its natural end, then the next person begins to read. This doesn't steal time from other activities; we meet for two hours, and today we finished ten minutes early.
After we've all read and each piece has been discussed, we have a writing exercise. A box is passed around, containing words on slips of paper. We each take one, then we read them out. The exercise is to write a piece containing all the words, and if possible have it make some kind of sense. Then we all read out in turn what we've written. It raises laughter and admiration. Today our lone man set himself an extra challenge: to use the words in alphabetical order. He did a very good job of it!
They're nice people, down to earth and friendly. My memoir now has the working title, A Psychic Life. Last week I wrote about giving myself a migraine by an effort of will when I was a litte girl. This week I wrote about about my second husband Bill's very sudden and dramatic psychic awakening when he was 49. Everyone is very accepting of this way-out stuff. They are interested and ask intelligent questions. No-one's judgmental; they take it at face value that the experiences I recount are real, even if unusual. They are equally interested in all the other material that people bring and share. I'm just one of the mob.
I love this group!