The long and winding writing road

Gail Swann“We have helped each other deal with rejections and criticism; changes of tense, point of view, direction, and the odd agent … Creative blocks have been dislodged, self-doubt dissolved, technology mastered.”

Gail Swann reminds us of our writing group’s history – and some of her own.

‘How long has your writing group been going?’ is a question I am sometimes asked. The answer tends to bring a tinge of pink to my cheeks. Twenty, um, something years. Maybe twenty five…?

The truth is I am astounded that we’ve kept it alive and well, not just across several decades, but through the epoch-making transition from pen strokes to pixels, to this age where a score of internet hits eclipses the euphoria of rattling out a good word count.

It all began in the preceding century.  I was new to Bristol, afflicted with a burning compulsion to write, and knew no other writers at all in the area. With no handy social networking at my fingertips, the closest I got to feeling part of a writing community was to read Writers Monthly avidly.  But that grown-up writing world seemed way beyond me, until one day I spotted an ad for a new women’s writing group in Bristol. It took a lot of nerve for awkward little me to pitch up at that house in Redland one Thursday evening. I don’t think I said a single word to anyone. The room was crammed with women of all ages, talking animatedly about writing matters. Clearly the ‘call for women writers’ had garnered an enthusiastic response.

Why women? I never really knew and I was too shy to ask! But I went back to a second meeting. I don’t know what propelled me as I felt so utterly out of my depth, but it was meant to be, clearly. The second meeting, in Montpelier, was much less well attended than the first. Perhaps I wasn’t the only writer who felt at sea. Maybe I even managed to say something. Like my name. My contribution (a poem aptly named Fate) remained securely inside my bag, even then. But what did happen was, that I met Nina Milton.

In the Moors
Nina’s book out now

Nina’s friendliness and encouragement has been enduring. We both continued to attend and take our turn hosting those Thursday evening meetings. Members of all writing-shapes-and-sizes came and went over the years, including the two women who had placed the ad and brought the group into being. Sheila and Suzanne moved away from the area but  they would certainly be amazed at the longevity and achievement of the group.

I have always loved the diversity of the group’s membership. For me, this has been much more than just a writers’ group. BWW, if we think of it as an entity, has seen babies born, and children grow up. It has seen degrees acquired, careers re-imagined, retirement celebrated, and not least, a swing towards cakes rather than biscuits at meetings. We have helped each other deal with rejections and criticism; changes of tense, point of view, direction, and the odd agent. Raison d’être has been re-installed in the wake of writing-crisis episodes, creative blocks vigorously dislodged, self-doubt dissolved, technology mastered.


Writers Unchained is the perfect way to describe the collective I’ve been a part of for these past – and I say it unashamedly – twenty five years or more. Being ‘in it together’ has allowed us, over time, to shake ourselves free from the various constraints we all encounter on the long and winding writing road.

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  1. So pleased you have managed to find the time to continue with your passion – I remember the Agatha Christie days at West Park – an ‘ol friend! XX

    1. Always a story imaginer! Bossing my friends around and telling them “who” I wanted them to pretend to be. Lovely memories of the park which, to me, was the setting for a whole world of adventures! xx

  2. Hi Gail
    Enjoyed learning abut our history. How well I remember the trepidation I felt in going along to my first ever writers’ group meeting (before BWW I have to confess!) and I was reminded of this again last week in my writing workshop where for some people it was their first ‘outing’ as a writer. I’m trying to work out what it is about writing that makes us nervous/embarrassed/ to acknowledge it to others, or sometimes even ourselves. In fact I think I feel a blog post coming on! Ali B

  3. Glad the article has inspired you to write a related blog. I will be fascinated to read your findings!

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