Next Week

This is where you can find out what we plan during the next session … sometimes our ideas are quite specific and sometimes …. not!

We are continuing to meet via ZOOM every Wednesday. Please get in touch if you would like to join us!

MEMBERS’ NEWS update JULY 2020:

Jo Cundy’s story ‘the Waiting Room’ was shortlisted for the Fish Publishing lockdown prize (Flash Fiction) and is published on the Fish website.

‘The Happiness Equation’* by Chris Powell achieved an ‘Honourable Mention’ (final 10 stories) in the Momaya Press short story competition and will be published in the Momaya Review 2020. Momaya Press is based in the USA.

Jenny Spooner’s book for children ‘Cat and the Dragon’ (written with her sister, Sue Beasley) is selling well on Amazon.

Mike Kane has published 3 novels on Amazon kindle and is working on his 4th as we speak!

* if you scroll down to the paragraph that begins ‘I went back to an old story yesterday,’ you’ll find my comments about editing a story written some time ago. ‘The Happiness Equation’ was that story … 

NorthPens news, APRIL

I’ve just received my copy of Jenny’s book from Amazon (it took weeks … sign of the times!) and am really looking forward to reading it. Also, Mike has three books available to download on to kindle via amazon. what are you waiting for ?!
We’ve had some great travel pieces, I think I still have one or two to put on the website, but you can read most on the lockdown page.
I claim no credit for the exercise below, it was set as part of an Arvon writing scheme, but I rather enjoyed it and thought it was worth sharing.
First get hold of five or six books from around the house: 3 poetry collections, 2 instructions manuals for any device or gadget, and a recipe book. 
Without thinking too much, pick a short phrase, not more than six or seven words long, from three poems by different poets, from each instruction manual and from a recipe, so that you end up with a set of six prompt phrases. Don’t choose ones you think might fit – it’s the collision of random elements that really gets the creative juices flowing.
Write these prompt phrases in a list at the top of your page. Now, set aside 20 minutes to write and read through your list and see which phrase jumps out at you and inspires you to start. Then keep going, incorporating as many of the phrases as possible, ideally all of them. You can use them in any order and you are allowed to tweak them slightly – substitute “I” for “she”, say, or put something in the past tense instead of the present. Keep in mind that you need a main character as well as something that makes this into a story.
My favourite line came from a Delia Smith recipe (for mayonnaise) …’the temptation to add more will be great. Don’t.’  A bit like short story writing – and I did pick it at random, honest!
Take care, and keep writing

MARCH 2020

I hope you are all keeping well and sane.
Firstly, thank you to Susan for getting the ball rolling with that characteristically entertaining travel piece … I was there with you, throwing up on the ferry and getting rotten on Normandy cider! It is interesting to reflect on how our expectations of travel have changed over the last 40 years, and how they are changing again now …
Please do keep the pieces coming as the inspiration strikes. I am about to create a ‘lock down’ page on our website for our writing at a distance musings, so France 1980 will be our first piece!
It also occurred to me, while out taking my statutory exercise, that, at this time of year when everything is springing up and unfurling and the birds are coming back for their summer hols, each walk is a journey worthy of a travelogue – even if you are only going down the street to queue outside the co-op in a socially responsible manner. I haven’t got around to writing up today’s walk, but I’ll put up one I wrote earlier (ie. this time last year!) for starters.
If you haven’t seen the info. about the Stay at Home lit fest, check it out, it is a great initiative and some of the items look really interesting.
and finally …

I went back to an old story yesterday, one I’d written years ago, re-read it, thought, that’s not bad but it needs work, so I edited it (quite brutally!) and found the experience really quite inspiring and confidence boosting. Then I discovered these writing tips (likewise from a few years back) languishing in a file on my computer; can’t remember where they originated, but likewise found them worth re-visiting …. Apart from no. 7, which seems a bit tactless at the moment, but thought Id include it anyway!

This process of re-acquainting ourselves with our work is key to starting afresh after a break. But what if there is no novel waiting? Here are 7 ways to help you get writing after a break: but firstly take your diary and pencil in a writing day, evening, or a few hours, whatever time you have when you know you will not be interrupted

  1. Read something you’ve written, maybe the best thing – remind yourself you are a writer.
  2. Find a past notebook, open it and read – discover something fresh, something you’d   forgotten, the beginning of a poem, a note, an idea and develop it into a poem/ short piece/ story etc
  3. On a fresh page in your notebook finish this sentence: If I could write anything it would be…………..(eg. If I could write anything it would be a novella about imprisonment, a story set in on a Greek island, an historical novel set in the American civil war…) There may be more than one thing you want to write – write them all down and mull them over. In downtime listen to the radio, go for a walk, daydream, while thinking about these.
  1. Read something inspiring by someone else – your favourite novel/short story, the one you wish you’d written. Be inspired. Write a paragraph or two in the same style about one of your ideas from number 3.
  2. Find a competition you think worth entering or a magazine to submit to and as well as deciding to edit something you already have, write something new.
  3. Don’t get hung up on perfection, start small, use the freedom of the notebook in which you can just scribble away – sometimes getting away from the machine is key.

7. Find a café or a favourite spot and write there, this way writing is a treat not a task. 

Keep writing, and I look forward to hearing from you,


Those of use who were able to meet on Wednesday talked about ways of keeping our motivation alive and the group going over the next month(s) if we can’t meet. I know that some of you had already take the decision to withdraw from social contact and stay safe. I spoke to Beryl (from a respectful distance!) this morning, Stanhope Community Centre is now officially closed for the foreseeable future, so in light of that and the situation around covid-19 and current restrictions, it is important to find ways of staying in touch and carrying on with our writing independently.
There are various ways in which we can do this.
EMAIL – you will notice that the email circulation is now open – you can see everybody’s contact details from the list. So, that is one way in which we can keep communicating. It means that anyone in the group can now email everybody else with ideas for writing topics, exercises, inspirations, information or pieces of work you’d like to share.
* If you would prefer your email address not to be in open circulation, please let me know.
FACEBOOK – I am aware that some of you are allergic to facebook! However, if you do use it, we have a NorthPens facebook page where you can post items of interest, share info. about events, competitions, opportunities or the odd poem.
WHATSAPP  we have set up a whatsapp group, which is quite useful for group messaging via your mobile phone. It’s free to download and if you then send me your mobile no. I’ll add you to the group.
WEBSITE – we also thought it might be good to have a ‘lockdown’ page on the website; email me anything you’d like to share and as long as I can copy and paste it, I can put it on the website. It would be great to build up a body of work.
So … we still have some topics left to cover from our original list and thought that it might be fun to have a go at TRAVEL WRITING, yes, travel writing! We can’t do it in person, so go online, fish out the travel books, do some research and use your imagination. Write about an exotic (or even not so exotic) location from the comfort of your armchair. Whole books set in foreign climes have been written that way (Stef Penney – The Tenderness of Wolves – set in 19c Canada, landscape and setting integral to the story, she did it all through research).
500 words – and if you want to share it use one of the methods above.
Have a think about future topics, or exercises, and circulate them. You don’t get out of homework that easily!
Keep writing, stay safe, share your news, views and rants (we like a good rant) …
and look forward to meeting up in the virtual world,

February 2020

February 19th

I hope you are all surviving the white stuff.

A couple of updates:

Those of us who could make it yesterday had a go at the Agri(culture) comments. We made  some decisions about what to use and how to structure the material. The result was 6 or 7 A3 sheets, each representing a different theme, with images and quotes stuck on. It is very rough, but shouldn’t take long to edit and refine. I’ve emailed Louise with our ideas; the photographers are going to meet at the weekend to discuss how they want to put their book(s) together so they’ll add our thoughts into the mix. We’ll wait to hear what they think before we do anything further.
Writing Award
Judging completed; certificates done; I think the prizes are in hand, so once that is confirmed we just need to see if we can sort out a prize giving at Frosterley – Clare, the headteacher, will take prizes and certificates to children at Woodland and Butterknowle & I’ll post the certs to Hamsterley.
WordFest  Susan & I met up with Avril Joy last Friday; we had a really productive session, lots of ideas – too many to list here so I’ll put something together when I have a moment – and when we’ve (hopefully!) managed to confirm a few things, and report back.
I won’t be there, I’ll be on an archaeology course (indoors, thankfully!). So perhaps use the time for a work share and to maybe do a bit more writing around the theme of magical realism …?
See you on 26th,
February 12th
I hope you are all still in one piece and weathering the storm!
We said that we would spend our next session looking at the Agri(culture) comments that Louise sent with a view to seeing what comes up, how we think we might order them, give them some kind of narrative, perhaps … Ideas started to bubble to the surface when we read them (briefly) a couple of weeks ago, so. have another look and see if anything comes to mind.


January 29th

Many thanks to everyone who was able to spend some time penning comments for the award certificates last week – I’m sure the recipients will appreciate it. We looked at our list of suggested topics for sessions, and decided to leap in at the deep end and begin by looking at magical realism. So, we probably need to spend some time on Wednesday looking at some examples, definitions (possibly) and getting our heads around it as a genre before we experiment with it ourselves.

If you want to do some research in advance, or find some examples to share in the session,  that would be fab.
January 22nd
The judging for the writing award is finally complete and we have our list of prize winners and specially commended entries. It hasn’t been generally circulated as I want to make sure that everyone who was involved in the judging has a look at it first, and made sure I’ve got it all right. I’ll bring a copy along on Wednesday.
So, next session; we have a few loose ends to tie up for the writing award first, we didn’t make any firm decisions about what to move on to next so perhaps we can have a go at some general writing exercises again

January 15th

We had great fun writing ghost stories last session … so much gothic humour, who’d have thought it?
A reminder that we are meeting on Monday afternoon (13th), 2 -4, at the community centre (upstairs) to look at the 9 -13 yr old entries for the writing award. Jenny (and Ed!) has been hard at work devising a score sheet, so look forward to seeing as many of you as can make it then.
On Wednesday, during our normal session time, Louise (Wideyed photography) is going to pop in at the start to chat about the anthology proposal & then we will look at the 5 – 8 yr. old entries.
The overall entry total is 61 – which is pretty amazing!
We discussed topics that we might pursue during the year – including romance, science fiction, magical realism, travel writing, book reviews, favourite authors and collaborating on a group story (novella?). So, lots to think about.


September 4

Just a reminder that David Napthine is coming to work with us this Wednesday. The plan(!) is to work with the pieces we wrote for ‘Living in a Landscape’ and to start to put a programme together for our performance at WordFest.
Last session, we started off with a good old NorthPens rant about the state of the nation, and then things just got worse. So, moving swiftly on … we had some great pieces about ‘keys’ and plenty of ideas to work on. We did like the approach (I think it was Jenny’s?) that explored different definitions of key and riffed on them. So, developing that theme, we each wrote down a couple of concrete objects that could have multiple meanings, put the bits of paper on the table and picked a couple of new ones out at random. The next task is write a piece that begins with a dictionary definition of your object, go off at a tangent, bring in another definition … just see where it takes you. If you couldn’t be at the session, choose your own object (it needs to be something concrete, not an abstract concept) and see what you can make of it.
e.g. – one of my words is kettle. I could start with the conventional definition: a metal container with spout and handle etc., move on to figurative uses – a pretty kettle of fish, police tactic of kettling protesters, possibly bring in kettle drum etc. etc.
Just go for it, you know you can do it!

August 28

We had great fun working with Susie last week, plenty of inspiration and new ideas to get the creative juices flowing. It seemed like a good idea to continue with some of those themes, so the theme for next session is ‘keys’. Interpret that in whatever way you want … literal keys, metaphorical keys, symbolic keys, musical keys (?). Bring along anything you have written in the meantime and would like to share, and we can also do some more digging around on the idea of keys. It might be good to share any stories based around keys (e.g. versions of bluebeard) you can think of, as well.
ALSO … I’ve been in touch with Sarah Gibbeson about her workshop on 18 September and she is happy to work around our suggestions, ie.
1) an intro. to the market for childrens’ books:
    her personal journey, what inspired her to start writing and illustrating books for
    children, where she is now etc.
    General advice on how to start out, getting published, getting an agent, targetting your   audience, how to present work etc. (Appreciate that it will, given the time, be a bit of a         whistle-stop tour … but it is all of interest!)
2) Some practical work – maybe a version of the workshop she does with children (just
    treat us like big kids, we love it!), using visual triggers, storyboards etc. She is happy
    to work around our underground theme for the writing award.
Hope that all looks ok,
see you on Wednesday,

August 21

Just a reminder that we have another of our masterclasses on Wednesday.
Short Story writing with Susie Dufort; It sounds as if she has something quite special prepared, so looking forward to seeing you all there at 10 a.m.!

August 14

Great follow-up session with Ellen last week – and some fantastic poems.

We didn’t really get the opportunity to think about the next session, so a hasty decision was made to use it as another work share and time for any general feedback on pieces that people are working on.

August 7

Just a reminder that Ellen is coming back to run a session with us this week; She will spend part of the morning giving feedback and talking about the work that we sent her in advance and part on some more general poetry exercises.
So … nothing else to prepare!

July 31

See below images produced by the Weardale Art Group and forwarded by David Napthine; he is hoping we will be inspired by the art work to produce some writing and is asking us if we would like to reciprocate?
NEXT WEEK … if all goes according to plan, Louise Taylor (photographer, Agri(Culture)) will be coming along to the session, so please bring along any pieces you have written in response to the agricultural show photographs and we can talk to her about how they will work with the exhibition etc.
That shouldn’t take up the whole session, so we can also use some of the time for a workshare … anything you are busy with that you would like to run by the group.

July 24

Fascinating session last week!
We didn’t make any plans for  next Wednesday, so suggest that we use it as a general work share session – bring anything you are working on and would like to run past the group.
We’ve set ourselves a deadline for the Agri(culture) pieces – 31st July – so we could perhaps use part of the session to have a last push at the photographs as well.
If you think of anything else, let me know!

July 17

This Wednesday, novelist Elizabeth Gill is coming along to the session to meet the group and have an informal chat.
Liz will be coming to the community centre for 11.00 a.m., So if you have any work you want to share – maybe from Ellen’s session last week – please do bring it along.

July 10

There is no task to prepare for the next session as on Wednesday 10th we have a poetry writing workshop with Ellen Pthethean, 10 – 12 as usual.

We haven’t ‘done’ poetry for ages, so I’m really looking forward to it. It has been publicised locally and we can accommodate a few more people, so if you know anyone who would be interested in coming do let them know

July 3

Our experiment swapping objects/descriptions and giving them different contexts produced some very interesting results last week. I think we found the process of investing an everyday object with contrasting ‘stories’ surprisingly challenging. So, never ones to shirk a good challenge, we are going to try pushing the idea a little further in the next session.
The task, should you accept it, is to bring in a short biography/cv (note form is fine) for a character. Keep it fairly neutral – age, gender, occupation(s), family, places they’ve lived a couple of likes and dislikes … that kind of thing. Don’t give your character a name, or a physical description and, as last week, write it on a separate sheet so it can be passed around. We thought it would be interesting to experiment by combining these CVs with alternative names and physical attributes, see where that takes us!

June 26

We had some splendid, and surreal, dialogues to share last week, but it’s time to move on.
So … this week’s taskette is to write a straightforward description of an everyday object, max 100 words. It could be anything – find something around the house, plonk it in front of you and tell us what it looks like!
You’ll need to bring your description on a separate sheet or tear-out-able page of your notebook as we are going to swap them around and do interesting things thereafter!

June 19

Conversations prompted by objects/characters

June 5

We’re still looking at dialogue in our sessions, so here are a few scenarios we came up with last week for you to have a go at. Each one is a location plus the opening line of dialogue.
AT THE TIP : ‘Are you throwing that away?’
BUS OR RAILWAY STATION: ‘Does this one go all the way?’
IN A CAFE:  ‘Do you think they’ve got any bigger buns?’
AT THE BAR: ‘What are you having?’
A CHARITY FANCY DRESS DO: ‘Who are you supposed to be?’
Have fun!
Re. Writing workshops: Ellen Phethean has confirmed she is happy to run two poetry workshops for us and has suggested 10th July and 7th August – so put those dates in your diary.
Also, Sara Gibbeson, who ran the children’s workshop at WordFest last year has also said she would love to come and work with us – so we can have a chat about dates on Wednesday.

May 22

We had a lovely time sunbathing by the bins last Wednesday (don’t ask!). Anyway, the plan is to crack on with the agricultural photos and flash fiction that we didn’t do last session. Please also bring along any other work for sharing that you would like feedback on.

May 8

We had great fun last week, working on dialogues with David Napthine. The session also revealed the hidden dramatic talents among our number – what a bunch of thespians.
The plan for this week’s session is to carry on with some work on scripting dialogues. We’ll perhaps do some general exercises; we could develop the pieces begun last week and also use some of Louise’s photographs as starting points, let’s just see where it takes us! If you weren’t able to make it last week, absolutely not a problem as we will be starting some work from scratch.  See you on Wednesday,

April 17

We had a very fruitful session on Wednesday talking to Louise and Richard from the WideEyed photography group; they spent last year documenting the Weardale and Teesdale agricultural shows and the resulting exhibition will be toured this year (in a cattle truck!). We are hoping that we can work with them on some words to go with the photographs and there may be a follow-up anthology. Some of us have already written pieces on the subject of agricultural shows, but Louise left us with a large collection of photographs as starting points for new work. Short pieces (poetry, flash fiction) would work best with a photography exhibition.
The exhibition will also be staged as part of this year’s Weardale WordFest.

April 10

This  week, photographer Louise Taylor will be joining us to have a chat about ways in which we could collaborate with her and the Wide-eyed photographers’ collective on their planned exhibition about the agricultural shows. So, if you bring along the show-related pieces you have written (we created some specially for the Sedgefield festival last year …) that would be really useful.
Last session we listened to a few more ‘Living in a Landscape’ pieces, which were fabulous and developing really well.
Do carry on working on all of your ‘Living in a Landscape’ poems and stories, even if you can’t make all of the sessions, as there were some fantastic pieces of writing and really intriguing ideas.
If you want to send work to David you’ll find his address in my last email.
Also a reminder that he’d like pieces to be sent using the font courier new , size 12 point.

April 3

It was great to see David Napthine again last week, and to listen to everyone’s ‘Living in a Landscape’ pieces.
I think we now have a clearer idea of what he intends, so I guess the plan is to now work on polishing up the poems and stories as you see fit.
He is coming back for a session on 1 May, so that gives us a deadline.
Meanwhile, the plan for our next session is to … not have a special plan but to have a go at some random writing exercises, so if you have any good ideas bring them along with you! I also quite like the idea of sprinkling a few choice limericks into the ‘Living in a Landscape’ stuff …

March 27

We had a great time with Ghost Stories last week … perhaps didn’t quite scare ourselves silly, but some of the stories definitely demonstrated max shiver factor.
So, this session. David Napthine is coming back, so it is a progress report on the ‘Living in a landscape’ pieces. As I said in the previous email, it is very much a sharing/work in progress session and please don’t feel that there is any pressure to have actually finished your stories/poems let alone polished and refined them. Whatever stage you are at, it will be really useful to get some feedback.

March 20

We had some really interesting ideas for pieces linked to the “Living in a Landscape’ project last week and, as always, plenty of variety of subject matter and form.
So, to the next session. We thought, as David Napthine is returning on 27th, that we would just have a general writing morning. Ghost stories was suggested as a theme, so have a go at that if you fancy it or just bring in anything you are writing on and would like to share for feedback. We’ll have a go at some writing exercises as well if time allows.
REMINDERS of upcoming dates etc.
Wednesday 27th March: workshop with David Napthine; Living in a Landscape. This is a follow-up, so an opportunity to get feedback and ideas about your writing so far. There are no rules about format – people have already started working on poems, drama, stories and reflections, and no restrictions at this stage in terms of word limit etc. as the end product has not been finalised. If you feel that you need firmer guidelines, probably best to have a chat with David as, ultimately, he is running the project.
You don’t need to have any work finished for this workshop – it is very much a work-in-progress session and a chance to discuss your ideas.
Monday 15th April: 12. 30 p.m. in the upstairs studio – Caroline’s podcast/discussion with Andrew Michael Hurley on his book ’The Loney’. she says ‘It would be great if we could meet maybe two or three people who’ve read The Loney so they could talk about an experiences of their own that chime in with themes in the book (religion, superstition, remote landscapes). 
Tuesday 30th April: 12.30 p.m. in the upstairs studio – as above with Carys Davies on ‘West’  ‘to talk through some of the themes of the book (myth-making, the search for impossibility in a vast landscape, parents who are fixated on things at the expense of their children, particularly daughters)’.  
She would ideally like 2 or 3 people for each session and should be able to get some copies of the books for us by the beginning of April.

March 13

Weds March 13 – come to the session with some ideas about how you want to develop the work on Living in a Landscape we started with David.
Weds March  27 – David is going to re-visit us (glutton for punishment – either that or Geri’s pork pie did the trick …) to talk about work in progress. NB there is no pressure to have completed a piece by then – it will literally be a progress report & an opportunity to get some valuable feedback.

March 6

Weardale Tub workshop. Don’t forget that we start at 9.30 a.m.

We had a very enjoyable – and productive – session with David Napthine yesterday.

So, a reminder of how we decided to carry things forward:

Weds March 13 – come to the session with some ideas about how you want to develop the work on Living in a Landscape we started with David.

Weds March  27 – David is going to re-visit us (glutton for punishment – either that or Geri’s pork pie did the trick …) to talk about work in progress. NB there is no pressure to have completed a piece by then – it will literally be a progress report & an opportunity to get some valuable feedback.


Writer David Napthine will be running a Creative Writing workshop on the theme LIVING WITH A LANDSCAPE on Wednesday, 27th February 10 – 12 a.m. at Stanhope Community Centre, hosted by NorthPens Writers. Everyone is welcome, regardless of experience. There is no charge for the workshop, although participants are asked to contribute £3 towards the running costs of the community centre. Contact Chris at if you would like to come along.

20 February

Some fantastic characters and stories again last week … all valuable material in the writing notebooks!

This week’s task is on a similar theme; choose a character (or invent a new one); describe a fairly typical day or activity in their life and then lob in a random event – (a car crash outside the house; alien invasion; the kitchen sink falls off the wall …) it can be as mundane or as bizarre as you fancy. Chuck it into their life, see what happens. Have fun with it.

Don’t forget our upcoming events:

Wednesday 27 Feb – workshop with David Napthine

Wednesday 6 March – Weardale Tub, writing and glass making

13 February

We had some great unsuitable candidates for a wide variety of occupations last week – plenty of material to develop and expand on!

Most of our characters from the previous exercise were blissfully unaware that they were in the wrong job, so for this week’s writing challenge we are sticking with the same broad theme but moving our ideas on a bit and thinking about cognitive dissonance (oh yes!).  Briefly, cognitive dissonance occurs when ‘the way you are living your life is no longer fully in line with the way that you feel’; this feeling can build up until an individual is no longer able to sustain the consequent unease/dissatisfaction and has to make a change. Sometimes it seems like a snap decision, but it is usually the result of a much longer process. Our example was the farmer who while taking his lambs to the abattoir had a change of heart and drove them to an animal sanctuary instead. He now grows vegetables on his farm.

Could be a mid-llfe crisis, could be something else! Have a go at writing a piece that involves a sudden change of life direction, see what happens …

6th February

We’re still working on characters, following on from the ‘Hearing the Voice’ session. The challenge for next session is to come up with a character who is totally unsuited to the job they are doing. We started on that in the session by each thinking of an occupation and listing the positive attributes needed by somebody doing that job successfully. The next step is to create someone who possesses none of those attributes – whose character is the complete opposite to the ideal. Then … write about a day in the life, or an incident in the working life of your character. That character may or may not be aware of their own unsuitability for the job. (For any radio 4 addicts, the inspiration for this came from listening to ‘Clare in the Community’ – Clare is a complete nightmare of a social worker, but she thinks she brilliant at it; it’s v. funny!) Do your worst!

ALSO – Prize giving at Frosterley School has been confirmed as 3 p.m. on Friday 15 February for anyone who can come along. Still working on a date for Wearhead!

30 January

Well, another thought-provoking session on the Hearing the Voice project with David and John last week! SUGGESTION  for next session either carry on and develop any of the ideas you came up with during the session OR you could start another piece based on either of the exercises we did.

If you weren’t able to make it last week, one of the exercises we did was a kind of random story generator task … some very interesting, and (inevitably?) some rather macabre results from that. I won’t try setting out the exercise because it’ll just end up being terminally confusing, we’ll explain on Wednesday!HOWEVER, in the meantime here are a couple of lists: pick one to have a go at. The idea is to create a brief story which incorporates all of them.

1) STACEY, FRIENDLY, ARROGANT, BEDROOM, HANDBAG, BORED (so, for eg., Stacey is a friendly person, she is also arrogant, she’s in a bedroom with a handbag and she’s bored; it’s a bit like cluedo!)


The other exercise we did was based on memory, take somebody from your past (a school teacher was a favourite) and transpose them into a contemporary context – how do they cope, react, respond to life in the 21st century? that was an interesting one to try out as well.Have a go at either, or both, exercises.


17th October 

On Monday, some of us went to Frosterley School to run a couple of workshops for the OUT OF THIS WORLD writing award. The Children were absolutely amazing and wrote a couple of cracking group cinquaine poems, and the older ones will be working on stories using our structured worksheets.

Wednesday was our gig at Sedgefield; our morning reading didn’t go exactly to plan, but that really didn’t matter … We met the ‘Sedgefield Scribes’ and they seemed very keen to discuss what we were doing, nonetheless, we got most of our readings in and sold a few copies of ‘Talking Threads’. They are also giving us some good publicity for the Weardale WordFest. The afternoon session was on flash fiction. It was great to meet up with another Writers’ group and exchange ideas and experiences, mutually beneficial. I’m sure we can collaborate in the future.

A couple of things re. next week: on TUESDAY we have another workshop at St. John’s Chapel School (Rookhope school will be there as well), 10.30 – 12.00 a.m. Re. WEDNESDAY’s  session, we thought, as we bounced back from Sedgefield in the Community mini-bus, that it might be fun to have a go at writing something on the theme OUT OF THIS WORLD ourselves. Please don’t try to pass yourselves off as 8yr olds and enter the competition…. Also – Julie Wilson from the Home Group – I was on holiday when she visited, but she has emailed re. us visiting her group in Newton Aycliffe. Logistically difficult perhaps, but have a think about it.

3rd October

Well, Wednesday was a bit hilarious! We discovered not only that there are some very talented comic writers in our midst, but we are well on the way to completing our programme for 10th October at Sedgefield. If you couldn’t make it on Wednesday, then please do bring your work in next week. So far we have two distinct themes to play with: committees and sex. 

So …NEXT SESSION: have another bash at the Weardale Song Cycle piece; stir any additional ideas, images, lines into the mix. Share any more pieces for our Sedgefield gig. (NB: those of us who were there on Weds. were keen to stop on for the afternoon session on 10th, 1.30 – 3.30, workshop on Flash Fiction.) 

WRITING AWARD: we now have two workshops confirmed:

Frosterley School, Monday 8th October 1.15 – 3.30 (including playtime!)

St. John’s Chapel School Tuesday 16th October 10.30 – 12.00 a.m. Donna is going to also invite Rookhope School. Apologies Katy & anyone else who said they couldn’t make that date, but it was literally the only time we could find (harvest festivals, tag rugby, swimming … for goodness sake!)

Wearhead School also wants us to run a workshop and I hope to speak to Liz tomorrow afternoon to arrange a time, so I’ll let you know ASAP.

I have also been in touch with Sarah & Shane at the AONB about getting hold of some Stargazing stimulus material from them.

15th August

We had great fun playing our own version of ‘Would I lie to you’ last week, what a bunch of story-tellers! Thanks Julia for the suggestion! It is something we can pursue further for our gig at the Sedgefield Book Festival on 10 October.
For the next session, we are going to concentrate on pulling something together for the Weardale Song Cycle. What’s is like to live in Weardale now? Lines, words, phrases, stories. We’ll maybe begin with some prompts, see what we come up with and look at ways of putting it all together.
ALSO … have a think about a theme for this year’s young writers’ award.
WEARDALE BOOK EVENT … needs a decent title!
So far, four authors have confirmed that they will take part: Phil Mews, Avril Joy, Margaret Manchester and Chris Ruskin. I have a couple more to follow up/hear from, but everyone has been really enthusiastic and supportive … so feeling quite chuffed!
Am meeting with Debbie Connell on Tuesday, so hope to have more to report back on Wednesday.

8th August

Our gig at the Sedgefield book festival has now been confirmed as Wednesday 10th October, 11 – 12 a.m. and I will sort out mini-bus to take us there. Once we have sight of the full programme, we can think about whether we want to take part in any of the other workshops taking place that day.
So, we’d better get writing – although this humour business is proving more challenging than we thought!
A couple of things for next session:
Would I lie to you? Write two pieces, max 200 words, one of which is true the other fiction. Make us laugh and make us guess which one is the true account.
Think about: what made you laugh when you were a child? What makes you laugh now? is it the same things, or has your sense of humour changed?

1st August

So, we’re still having a laugh, although trying to write comically is providing us with a few challenges and many questions.
A few suggestions for the next session:
bring a couple of headlines, from any publication, the more weird and wonderful the better and we will have a go at using them to prompt some writing.
Think about your own comic style – what works best for you?
Bring in a piece of writing – your own, or a published piece that makes you laugh.
If anyone got The Guardian on Saturday, there is an interesting extract from Michael Rosen’s book ‘How to make Children Laugh’. I’ll stick it in my bag for Wednesday.
Also, we have had a positive response from the Weardale Community Choir re. creating something for their song cycle, so that is something else to think about.

25th July

We’re still having a funny turn this week, So the brief is to have a go at some humorous writing ourselves. Anything goes, but we did decide on a theme:
Take a familiar situation or characters and put them into a completely different context (e.g. travellers on the bus could turn into sheep on one of those double decker sheep transporter truck things …) or take it to an extreme, exaggerate  what is happening to absurd lengths to find the humour.

18th July

We are hoping to have a spot at the Sedgefield book festival in October, and decided that our theme for the reading should be humour – Lighter Threads, or a Funny Thing happened on the way to Sheep Show.
So, accordingly, our focus for the next few sessions will be funnies.  We thought that a good place to start would be to each bring a piece of writing, poem, story, memoir … whatever … that makes us laugh. We’ll share thoughts, jokes etc. and start gathering ideas for our own pieces of humorous writing. If you have any work or your own to share, please bring it with you as well.

11th July

Absolutely fascinating session with David and John on the writer’s ‘Inner Voice’ last week – I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did! It was really good to take time to discuss the process of writing as well as get some actual writing done, and interesting to hear about the different ways in which everyone heard and used that inner voice when creating a character/poem/story etc.

They left us with some questions, which it would be good to follow up on:
What do your voices say?
When do you hear the voices?
Where do you hear voices?
How do the voices speak?
So, have a think about it and we’ll see if we can put something together to feed back to David.
Also, It would be useful to see how we can take the museum tweets forward, so maybe dig out your short pieces as well and we can decide how best to consolidate what we have and forward them to the other David!

4th July

Workshop with David Napthine on the WRITER’S INNER VOICE

20th & 27th June

A few things to keep the creative impulses going over the next couple of weeks:
Photographs – we’re thinking about themes/ideas for a film poem project and using photographs of or relating to Weardale seems like a good place to start. So … anything inspired by the place where you live.
A headstone or memorial – one for those of us addicted to poking around in graveyards – find one that intrigues you, take a photograph of it and fill in the background –  write its story. Or you could create your own headstone…
Reverse a previous exercise, write an item currently in the news as if it were a nursery rhyme or fairy story (plenty of scope for villains and incredible goings on there!).
On-going ‘projects’ – the Fay Weldon ‘Finish the Story’ idea.
Weardale Museum Tweets – Still no solid news to report about the future of the museum, however. David has been in touch asking how we got on with the tweets. I’ve said we have quite a few ‘in stock’; I think that his idea is that if he has them he could release them as and when. So, it might be useful just to consolidate, try and sort out just how much material we do have and the best way of gathering it all together. If you have completed some tweets or are doing some new ones, check the character count so that David doesn’t have to do that. It would be good to send them to him in transmittable form1 I think maybe Sarah has some as well …?
JULY 4th – WORKSHOP with David Napthine on ‘the writer’s inner voice’. Looking forward to that, and I’ll see you then.

6th June

Just a quick reminder before I head off to Suffolk tomorrow ….
the taskette for this week is to re-write a nursery rhyme as if it were a factual account of an incident; the events can be interpreted quite literally (e.g. small woman terrorised by large arachnid, or metaphorically – the spider could be a tall thin man with very long legs …)
30th May
We had some fantastic fairy stories last week – very inventive and, ever so slightly, bonkers! If you have written an outline but haven’t yet shared it with the group, please do bring it with you to the next session.
Otherwise, a couple of ideas to keep you going:
We looked, briefly, at the short poem below by Trumbull Stickney (yes, really, that was his name!) a little known 19th C American poet, which intrigues because of its brevity and the sheer weirdness of the imagery. He is addressing somebody who obviously really annoys him by talking too much, too boringly maybe … anyway, he doesn’t appreciate it!
Sir, Say no More
Sir, say no more. 
Within me ’t is as if 
The green and climbing eyesight of a cat 
Crawled near my mind’s poor birds.
So, the challenge is to write your own 4 line poem. Address it to someone who does something that really irritates you and try to frame it in a striking and appropriate metaphor.
The other (on-going) task, on the theme of re-writing classic stories,  is to take a nursery rhyme and re-write it as if it were true – apply naturalistic description, dialogue and logical motivation – try treating the information in the rhyme literally.
Shall look forward to hearing the results!
re. workshops, David Napthine will come to work with us on July 4th. 
23rd May
Quick update on workshops etc.
Both Tony Gadd and David Napthine are keen to work with us. Tony is working out some costings etc. David’s workshop is free as it is part of a research project, so we can have a chat about when would be the best time to invite him so that the maximum no. of people can take part.

There were only a few of us at the last session, but we had great fun with fairy stories! We also set a challenge for next week, using a state of the art random story generator consisting of writing some stock fairy tale characters, plots and themes on bits of paper, adding in a few unlikely locations and mixing them up. So we all left with a set of 3 characters, 3 themes or objects, a plot and a location. Using the same principle and story generator I’ve devised another for anyone who wasn’t there last week and wants to have a go, so, your mission, should you choose to accept it … is to create the outline of a fairy story that incorporate the following elements:

A young girl disobey instructions to deliver succour/comfort to an elderly relative and in so doing falls foul of an evil villain. She is saved by an honest and upright passer-by. Villain gets come-uppance.
CHARACTERS (In addition to the main protagonist/young girl):
a good fairy or friend
a malicious troll
a wise person
a place of imprisonment
a curse
contrast/conflict between poverty and wealth
either … a stately home
or … swimming baths

16th May

We had a busy session last week, sharing our work from the DLI workshop of the week before and discussing some plans for the future.
For the next session our theme is (wait for it …) fairy stories: invented, re-invented, re-interpreted, take that theme in whatever way you choose!
We are also considering  themes for our next collection, so have a think about that as well.
RE. future plans, we are hoping to organise a couple more workshops: with Tony and Ros Gadd, who some of us worked with for the Holocaust Memorial session, to look at performing our work. We have also had an approach via Rachel about working with DAvid Napthine on the writer within, which sounds fascinating. Nothing firmed up as yet, but we are investigating both of those.
We have also been asked to participate in the Sedgefield Book Fair at the beginning of October, and I hoping to formulate some plans with Debbie Connell for a Weardale version as well.
So … lots going on!
2nd May
A reminder that this week our session is a workshop with the DLI team.
The workshop will be at our usual time, 10 – 12, but in the DURHAM DALES CENTRE (not the community centre!).
We will be in room B13, which is the space where the DLI exhibition is being held. You will find it via the door to the left of the tea room entrance and up the stairs.
If you know anybody who would like to come along, please let them know about it as we can accommodate a few more people.

25th April

We’re going to indulge ourselves for the next session … we always spend time putting the world to rights on Wednesday mornings, so have a rant! What do you feel strongly about? Pour out your feelings, opinions and judgements – they will go no further!
You can either write as yourself, or as a different character (which can sometimes be more fun).
Also, the workshop with the team from the DLI has been confirmed and will take place at the Dales Centre on Wednesday morning, 2nd May. They will be bringing along examples of writing by serving soldiers, objects from the museum collection etc. to inspire us. Please do spread the word, they are happy to work with up to 20/25 people, so plenty of space to bring other people in.
Don’t forget the Fay Weldon story if you fancy having a go at finishing it off ….
18th April
Just a quick note to let you know that Anna Caygill, who was to come and chat to us tomorrow, has postponed our meeting – I think plans are still a bit up in the air!
So … we could hold a general work share and discuss plans for projects etc.,
see you in the morning,
11th April
We had a surprising amount of fun writing about floods and flooding last week … after initially acknowledging that it was actually a difficult thing to do, we got stuck into writing a list of essential items everyone should stock up on when flooding threatens. Oddly enough, most featured hip flasks, sloe gin, cases of wine etc. among the chick peas and sou-westers! And if you missed Geri’s little gem written by Mrs. Noah, persuade her to read it again.
I won’t be able to make the session on Wednesday, so here are a few ideas to keep you going:
* re-visit your essentials list and write it up as a survival guide in case of floods
* take an existing draft of a poem or story and re-write it with a dramatic change in the weather conditions – to incessant rain, maybe.
* find some examples of writing about floods – extracts from Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage (in which an apocalyptic flood is the main player), Margaret Attwood – the Year of the Flood, spring to mind. I’m sure you can find more.
Anna, from the environment agency, is coming to have a chat with us on the 18th and I’ll see you then.

28th March

I think we have some budding crime writers in our midst! Fabulous background scenarios to the story we looked at last week. Inevitably, our task for this week is to finish the job off. Write the denouement, the final chapter, the moment of. discovery, Hercule Poirot gathering all the suspects in the drawing room, however you choose to do it! If you heard other people’s bits of background context last week and want to use some of that information (and can remember it!), then that would be great. If you weren’t there or just want to go off at a tangent, then, equally, we want to hear your conclusions. I look forward to it.
Looking further ahead, Anna from the Environment Agency is coming back to have a chat with us on 18 April, so we thought it would be a good idea to do some preparation along the lines of floods of words, opening the floodgates, stories about local floods etc.
Also, Keep thinking about an appropriate handle/angle/theme for our next Weardale project; we’re thinking  story-telling, performance stories about Weardale in a broad sense,… but need to find a definite focus.
21st March
Some great pieces reflecting on the fire (in the snow!) at Hartside Cafe last week – if you were unable to make it, but nevertheless wrote something, do bring it with you to share with the group this week.
On the subject of unresolved mysteries and writing about events from different persepectives, we looked at a crime story scenario written by Anne Cleeves. She wrote it from the viewpoint of Suzie, the victim’s foster mother. This provoked a fair bit of discussion and ideas about ‘whodunnit’, so we thought it would be interesting to each contribute some background to the ‘case’ from a different angle, as someone who was connected with the victim, or the crime scene, in some way and see where that takes us. We didn’t, by the way, come to any consensus about the perpetrator.
So, if you weren’t at the session last week, the crime story is attached for you to have a go at.
We came up with a list of possible characters to write ‘as’ (see below) – but you might think of others … feel free!
Ben (the victim)
Ben’s birth mother
The social worker who was attached to him until he was 18
The girl in the photo
Rob (Suzie’s husband)
The landlord/bike shop owner
one of Ben’s housemates
Forensic investigator on the scene
police officer

14th March

Really enjoyed listening to tweets based on the Weardale Museum photos last week, that seems to be a project that will keep us going for a while; an absorbing thing to do just as and when inspiration strikes, so I’ll bring some more of the photographs along on Wednesday.

We also got quite involved in a discussion of how we all perceive incidents, people etc. completely differently, so the search for some kind of objective truth is always going to be frustrated. And then we thought it would be interesting to experiment! The mission for next session is for everyone to write about the same incident, and see what comes of it, what different stories we get out of it. And the incident is … Hartside Cafe burning down last week (when the cafe was shut for the winter, all surrounding roads were blocked by snowdrifts …) Do your worst! And if you have composed any more tweets, then please bring them with you as well.

7th March

Well, the snow got the better of us again last week so for this week’s session, see below!

28th February

What a great evening on Thursday! Lovely audience- (nearly 40 people) and everyone read so well. Really warm, supportive atmosphere – possibly assisted by just the right amount of wine consumption! Thanks to George for doing such a sterling job on the ‘bar’.
We sold 20 books, which is brilliant
So, to the next session … Jenny has suggested that, now we have got our first publication out, we should spend some time discussing a set of guidelines for any future publications. I think that is an excellent idea, and now would be a good time to tackle it while things are still fresh in our minds.
Also, the deadline for applying for a grant from Northern Heartlands will be galloping up soon, so if we could consolidate our thoughts about the NorthPens on tour idea a bit more, that would be really helpful. I have put together a v. brief outline of ideas etc. to get us started (attached) – it is very much a work in progress!
If you have done any more work on tweets, please bring them with you to share … now that Sarah has done such a great job of getting us going, that is going to be an on-going project that we can keep coming back to.
See you on Wednesday; if anyone wants more copies of Talking Threads, please let me know. I also still have some We are Weardale books for anyone who hasn’t yet got one.
21st February

Big thank you to Sarah for last Wednesday, no easy task dragging us lot into the world of tweets and twitters! I found it really interesting and, hopefully, the photographs will have given some good starting points for composing our own tweets for the museum.

Unfortunately, it looks as if I definitely won’t be able to make it on Wednesday but suggest that it might be a good strategy to bring some draft pieces in with you; don’t worry about the character count for now, but perhaps use the time to share work and have a go at editing down to ‘tweet length.’
So, I’ll see you on Thursday evening for the TALKING THREADS launch.
14th February
This week we are mostly looking at Twitter with Sarah. Reminder: if you have a laptop, tablet or smartphone it would be really useful to bring it with you on Wednesday.
TALKING THREADS is reviewed in the latest edition of the Weardale Gazette, all very positive!
7th February
We had some fantastic ‘walk lists’ last week, it was really interesting to hear what both what people noticed and the kinds of digressions those observations inspired.
The natural follow-on for this week is to pursue those ideas/digressions and to see where that takes you.
If you missed last week but are still interested in having a go at this type of writing, you could either bring along an initial list or go straight for a brief factual foray into something you have observed and has piqued your curiosity while out walking.
Don’t forget, 14 & 21 Feb. Sarah is going to run a couple of Twitter workshops and this Wednesday, 7th, is the We Are Weardale book launch with the children from Wearhead and St. John’s Chapel – 1 p.m. at the Durham Dales Centre.

31st January

Some fabulous pieces last week in response to the ‘headlines’ challenge – wonderfully inventive, and hilarious! Thanks to all who contributed to the enjoyment.

Thinking about our long term project writing about Weardale, we decided to spend a few sessions working on ideas connected to our local environment. Quite a few us are drawn to the concept of producing work that is both creative and factual (along the lines of Jean Sprackland’s ’Strands’) and using a walk as the starting point. So … the taskette for next week is: while you are out walking, just make a list of things and people that you see. It doesn’t have to be a long walk by any means, and certainly not a special journey … a trip to the shop, the pub, out with the dog etc. Bring the list with you next week and we’ll start by seeing what has been produced and what ideas are triggered by the lists. A journey could make a very productive framework for our project …
 David Heatherington has given us some more photos of objects from the Weardale Museum to look at with a view to composing tweets and short pieces that he could display alongside the exhibits.
Sarah is going to run a couple of sessions on how twitter works and and the art of composing effective tweets. These will take place on FEBRUARY 14 & 21. It would be really useful to bring laptop/ipad/phone etc. to the sessions.
24th January
A small but select and enthusiastic group met at the community centre last week – we had to decamp to the small room next door because of the racket coming from above our usual venue where refurbishments are in full swing, but spirits were not dampened 
We spent some time knocking ideas into shape for our ‘touring’ project and look forward to sharing those with everyone next week … We also did some writing using headlines as a starting point. The worksheet we used is attached to my circular email, so if you couldn’t make it last week do have a go at a couple of the exercises, or do your own thing, and we’ll begin with a workshare on Wednesday. NB the headlines reproduced are all genuine and from recent editions of the Weardale Gazette!
17th January 2018
Lots of food for thought from our conversation with Tariq last week, so I thought it might be good to pursue some ideas around landscape and heritage in our next session; not quite sure what yet, but will have a think! For those of you who couldn’t make it, Tariq works for Northern Heartlands who are actively promoting and funding arts projects in our area so, a good connection to make. We had quite a lively discussion about possible projects we could get involved with. On the theme of Northern Heartlands and arts projects, I also had a chat with Jill Essam at Harehope Quarry in Frosterley at the weekend … more food for thought.
We also decided that we would hold our next book launch at the Community Centre, rather than the Dales Centre, on 22nd February in the evening.
We have some more photographs from David Heatherington to contemplate with a view to composing tweets – so looking forward to getting stuck into that as well, once we’ve had Sarah’s expert input on the art of twitter!

10th January 2018


I hope that everyone has survived the festive season and that your writing brains are raring to go.
We meet again on Wednesday, 10th January for our first session of 2018.
Anna, Tariq and Emily (or any combination of the above) from NORTHERN HEARTLANDS are coming to have a chat with us about ways in which we can work together and, more specifically, ways in which they could support any writing projects we want to engage with. Some of you met Tariq and Anna at our exhibition, they are really enthusiastic and were v. impressed by the talent on show.
There was a review of the exhibition in the Weardale Gazette. We need to have a think about our next event – the re-scheduled book launch in February; I will try to get a date firmed up this week, now that things are staggering back to normal and people are back in their offices!
See my email for details of writing workshops that Rachel Cochrane is running at local libraries – there is a session at Crook library that you might be interested in. Also – a reminder about the POWER OF WORDS workshop at the Durham Dales Centre on 27th January. So … lots going on already!
22 November 2017
As ever, some really interesting, thought-provoking responses to the ‘create a character by writing a list’ task and some very constructive feedback about the possibilities presented, ways of developing characters, stories etc – so thank you all for that.
We decided to go off in a slightly different direction next week and tackle writing about landscape. The plan is that if everyone could bring to the session some ideas about a landscape they want to describe (urban, rural, even a seascape … your choice), a list of thoughts or facts maybe, or a photograph … We will share those ideas, have a discussion about them, see where that takes us and then do a piece of writing in the session. I’ll see if I can find some good landscape description exercises.
Part of the thinking behind the landscape plot is to perhaps prepare some ground for a couple of future sessions when people are coming in to talk to us about ways in which we could collaborate on some work.
* December 13, Anna Caygill of the Flood Resilience Scheme (which is more interesting than it sounds!) is paying us a visit. Jenny & I both spoke to her at the WAAP forum event, she is a really nice young woman with some interesting ideas.
* January 10, Tariq, Anna and Emily from Northern Heartlands will be coming to talk to us about the Northern Heartlands project and ways in which we could, as a writing group, work with them and tap into their funding.
* 20th December … the NorthPens Xmas fuddle. Lighthearted contributions along the lines of ’Twas the night before Christmas …’ (even using that as your first line) required please!
Re. the Book launch and Exhibition, things are moving on apace. Thanks to Jenny and Geri for all their hard work getting us organised for the exhibition … it is going to be excellent. Publicity for the Launch and Exhibition appeared in the latest Weardale Gazette. I have also just spoken to a very nice reporter from the Northern Echo who is going to put a piece into the paper about both events and also intends to come to the launch on 30th to take photos, do a write up etc. Hurrah!
1st November 2017
We had fun playing around with the story-telling dice at the end of last week’s session, so the ‘task’ was to pull together a (v. short!) story using all six elements. Looking forward to Susan’s take on her favourite writers this week. It will be the last of our ‘authors” sessions. We have the Weardale museum tweets to work on, but aside from that, have a think about topics you would like to work on for the next few weeks … or we could just spend the whole time planning our book launch party …
18th October 2017
Many thanks to Carol for another great session, on Susan Hill, last week. It prompted a lively and productive discussion of crime novels and ‘serial’ detectives and settings. Some keenly observed character studies emerged in response to Chris’s intro. to Raymond Carver the week before as well.
This week, following on from Carol’s enthusiastic exposition of Susan Hill’s crime novels and her detective, Simon Serrailler (have I spelled that correctly?) the challenge is to create a potted biography for a fictional detective. Or … if you don’t fancy that, you could create a setting for a series of detective stories (Hill’s series is set in the fictional cathedral city of Lafferton, for e.g.).
11th October 2017
Another fascinating session last week, some great responses to the previous ‘challenge’!
Big thank you to Chris for the introduction to Raymond Carver, it provoked a really thought-provoking and stimulating discussion about the role of self and realism in writing.
So … this week’s challenge is to produce a paragraph of intensely observed, detailed and realistic writing which, if you want to remain true to the spirit of Carver, will probably be about people/relationships.
This week also, Carol is going to talk to us about Susan Hill – so looking forward to that.
WE HAVE BEEN SET ANOTHER CHALLENGE … by David Heatherington from the Weardale Museum – to compose a series of TWEETS about objects in the museum that he can use for their twitter feed …. could be good!
4th October 2017
Thank you Geri for a fascinating insight into two very different writers last week.
Inspired by Laurie Lee’s wonderful descriptions of his travels, the task for this week is to write a character sketch – somebody that you have met on your travels; this is memoir rather than biography, so be as creative and as entertaining as you dare!
This week’s writer, courtesy of Chris, is the American poet and short story writer, Raymond Carver.
See extract below from Rachel’s weekend supplement – should work if you double click and then open link …
We are Weardale audio recordings
Over the summer, I have been editing and uploading to the website work from schools and an adult writers’ group as part of the We are Weardale project.  This week I am bringing you an audio recording with the pupils of Wearhead Primary School and North Pens writers’ group who share their work and talk about their writing process.  To listen CLICK HERE
25th September 2017
Many thanks to Jenny for a great session on Agatha Christie on Wednesday.
Her challenge to us all for next week is a piece on the theme: ‘I want to break free …’ (poems about cross-dressing cleaners welcome).
I look forward to hearing what people come up with.
Next session: Geri is going to to be talking about Laurie Lee and George Seferis, two writers she clearly feels very strongly about, so very much looking forward to that as well.
18th September 2017
Thank you for last week’s session, I’d forgotten how enjoyable it can be just to talk about books/writers you enjoy yourself!
A reminder of the ‘challenge’ for next session – two options based on the two books I brought in (Hag-Seed by Margaret Attwood and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver)
a brief re-write of a story that already exists (e.g MA wrote a version of The Tempest in Hag-Seed) – transpose it to a different context, re-tell it from the perspective of one of the peripheral characters etc.
a short account of an event, but told from two or three different viewpoints (as BK does in The Poisonwood Bible).
30th August 2017
Another interesting session, looking at use of view point and especially that troublesome second person! However, some really good pieces of writing emerged, well worth pursuing.
I won’t see you next week as we will be on holiday in the Outer Hebrides (sun-seeking, as ever!).
However, Geri has suggested an interesting exercise to try.
Write a polite conversation, leave gaps between each exchange and in the gaps write down what each person is really thinking (subtext).
You could extend this by writing a polite conversation, leave gaps, pass yours on to somebody else to complete the subtext.
We agreed that this would be something to do in the session next week, but have a think about it in the meantime.
Following week, we’ll make a start on looking at writers who we admire/have influenced us.
I’ve said I’ll kick off with the first one and then we’ll take it from there, so have a think about that as well!
23rd August 2017
We spent most of the last session working on material for display at the Community Centre on Saturday and didn’t really get around to looking at view point and voice in much detail, so we will be carrying on with that this week. The task to prepare is to write a paragraph, maybe go back to your view from the window, that is character based, but write it in the third person. In the session, we’ll have a look at ways of altering the view point and how that affects what you have written.
16th August 2017
Some really lovely stuff last week – I hope that some of you will be able to develop the ideas generated by the ‘looking through a window’ exercise because there was some incredibly thought-provoking material.
Just a reminder that we are going to look at ‘voice’ next, and have a go at writing in the second person (now there’s a challenge!) on Wednesday.

9th August 2017

So, last session we looked at an extract from ‘Mrs. Mansey’s View’ by Edith Wharton and the task for this week is …. to try to create something similar. Begin by just writing a paragraph. Your character is looking through a window, either inside looking out or could be outside looking in. Describe what s/he sees, let that description say something, as much as possible, about that person and their life. It’s quite a challenge, more difficult than it seems as first … but you can all rise to it, no question!  

NB Mrs Mansey’s View is written in the third person, that was very much the accepted convention when Edith Wharton was writing (mid 19 C). Your piece can be 1st, or even 2nd, person if you prefer.
The whole story is worth a read, you can find it via the writing magazine website:
26th July 2017
Just a reminder that the challenge for this week is to describe our intrepid Lola as seen through the eyes of somebody that she meets on her travels.
I’ve always found this a really useful exercise for developing characterisation generally – it makes you step back and think about your character from a different perspective – you may discover something totally unexpected about her as you are doing it!
If you fancy taking ideas about Lola further, try a luggage audit … describe what she has in her bags at any stage during her voyage. A straightforward paragraph about what she is actually hoping to achieve, what does she want is always a good thing to do as well.
I’ve just been emailed a proof of the We are Weardale anthology … Jenny, Geri, Judy – you’re in there!
19th July 2017
We had great fun exploring with Lola last week!  So, we decided that we would each take her a little further along on her journey – expand on whatever adventure she was undertaking in your particular location. If you weren’t able to be at the last session, that may mean starting her off in your spot on the globe. We’ll just take it as it comes!
12th July 2017
So, we have created another of our composite characters!
Her name is Lola, she is intelligent, resourceful, has a nervous tic, was married to a farmer, she wears a straw hat and extravagant earrings, she is seeking adventure and likes real ale.
Lola is setting off on her travels via Glastonbury, Lands End, the Scilly Isles then by yacht to Skiathos, from there to Biarritz, Helsinki, Cape Town, Lancaster Pennsylvania and Paris.
Quite an itinerary! Everyone who contributed to Lola’s route map is writing an episode in her story, based in the location they put in. If you couldn’t come last week, just pick one of the above (she can always have two adventures in one place) or add another destination to her travels!
5th July 2017
What a lovely morning at Wearhead school with all the budding audio technicians last week! It would be really good to keep up that connection, especially as LIz seemed so keen to do so. We’ll have to think up some projects! I spent most of today helping with the selection for the We are Weardale exhibition/book – that was so difficult! Loads of good stuff from the children.
Next session … Haven’t had a moment to think about it yet …bit of a busy weekend etc., but will attempt to get my head around something for Wednesday … If anyone has any bright ideas in the meantime, feel free to share!
28th June 2017
A reminder that this Wednesday we are going up to Wearhead School. Rachel is going to be working with the children and staff from around 9.a.m. and they are expecting us for 10 a.m.
Frances has very kindly offered to let us park at her house, so if you aim to get there for 9.45 that should leave us plenty of time to walk up to the school.
Rachel will be organising the session. Please bring your own copies of your pieces for reading with the children. Don’t forget to look out those cinquaines we composed during the session with Rachel, apparently the children have been working on their own, so it would be good to contribute a few of ours as well if possible.
If you haven’t yet managed to send me an electronic copy of your work, let me have a printed copy on Wednesday and then at least I’ll have that ready for the selection meeting next week.
14th June 2017
I hope that those of you who’ve been away have had good holidays.  I’m on holiday this week, so here is your taskette for the session – maybe something you want to work on in advance and share work or ideas next Wednesday?
Think of the worst gift you ever received. What was it? How was it wrapped? Was it posted, ceremoniously handed over, thrown? Consider the ways in which a gift can be an imposition, where it expresses the needs of the giver rather than the receiver. There’s the too-generous gift; the miserly one; the meaningless generic gif; the gift intended to assuage – or elicit – guilt. Write a poem or a story from the recipient’s point of view about a problematic gift. (nicked from Mslexia!)
Have fun. I’ll see you on the 21st, and don’t forget that is our deadline for bring We Are Weardale pieces to share with the group in advance of our visit to Wearhead School on 28th.
7th June 2017
We decided to spend another week working on some ‘random’ exercises, so if you have any thoughts or inspiration please bring them with you!
LIkewise – any pieces finished or developed from last week, bring to share with the group.
REMINDER re. dates coming up:
21st June – share We are Weardale work with the group
28th June – visit Wearhead School to share work with the children.
31st May
\We enjoyed ourselves so much last week we’re going to do it again this week and next! Pick some fairly random exercises and see where they take us.
24th May 2017
We’re going to focus on getting some writing done in the session this week – working on some spontaneous group exercises, vibrant corpse etc., just to see what happens!
10th May 2017
Some great pieces of work again last week.
Just a reminder that we agreed we would have a go at editing our flash/micro fiction stories to get them down to perhaps 100/150 or 200 words (or fewer).
It might be quite useful as well to have a look at each others’ work, get a fresh perspective, wield the highlighters etc. I do think that we will have some really good stuff to go with the photographs, whether the Weardale Museum photos or our own.
We also need to talk about the workshop at St. John’s Chapel school (next Tuesday).

3rd May 2017

Really inspirational workshop last week and some great pieces of work emerging from the Weardale Museum and other photographs.

We are going to carry on with exploring some of the work we did with Rachel, so if you have one of the Weardale Museum photos and you want to carry on with some ideas, please bring it along with you – maybe we could swap some of them around? Similarly, if you have any photos or objects of your own that you would like to bring, then please do.

19th April 2017

Another great morning last week, everyone really got stuck into the editing process … cutting Dan Brown’s prose down to size!

And thank you, Jenny, for letting us loose on your pieces.
A theme for the next session arose from our discussions and reading Jenny’s stories: childhood images. Ours all seemed to be quite chilling, images that evoked fear … but they don’t have to be …

Anyway, have a go at composing a piece of flash fiction based on a childhood memory/image. Keep it short, but don’t worry too much about the word limit for your first draft as part of the point of what we’re doing at the moment is to critique and EDIT our work.

REMINDER: RACHAEL is coming to do a flash fiction workshop with us, connected to the We are Weardale project, on Wednesday 26th April.
See below for what she is asking us to bring to the session:

Bring a photo or image, either developed or on an i-pad / tablet/ phone which shows something that is part of everyday life in Weardale. If people are unable to bring along a photo – please bring an object or make a note and brief description of your choice.

Possible ideas: a location, a building, an object, a person (taken with permission)

There is no wrong or right answer and it does not need to be grand – it is up to your own interpretation. It could be a building, a door, a field, a roof, a shop, a neighbour.

5th April 2017

We’ve spent a few really profitable weeks looking at poetry and poetic form following on from Jo Colley’s workshop in February – some great pieces of work came out of those sessions. We also went on a NorthPens outing to The Word in South Shields last month. Fantastic to get a tour around such a beautiful building, and to find such inspiring contents, activities, exhibitions etc.

Time to move on. We re getting involved with the WE ARE WEARDALE Creative Writing project with local schools and also looking forward to a workshop at St. John’s Chapel Primary School in May.

In the meantime, we have a workshop planned with Rachel Cochrane on 26th April. The topic is flash fiction & it will be linked into the WeareWeardale project. So …We are going to spend a few weeks working on FLASH FICTION as preparation for Rachel ’s workshop.
Judi suggested that it would be useful to look at some examples of the genre to start with to try and identify what it is all about and what WE think makes a good piece.
I have attached some examples to my circular emails, so have a look at those – I’m not proposing them as models of excellence necessarily, but as pieces for discussion on Wednesday.

25th January 2017

Interesting glimpse into parallel universes last week when we looked at some of the specialist magazines!

The task set was to pick one of the magazines (the more esoteric the better!) and write a letter to the editor; it can be quite short (have a look at the letters published and assess what you think is the best length), but try to find an appropriate angle – something that’ll appeal to the editors. Look forward to hearing those!

Otherwise, we’ll carry on with the idea of writing for a very specific audience & see what insights we can come up with – so if you have any good ideas or tips bring them along to the session.

18 January 2017

Firstly, best wishes and sympathetic vibes to everyone who’s been feeling under the weather recently – I hope you all feel better soon.


JO COLLEY has agreed to run a poetry workshop for us on Wednesday 8th February – so put that date in your diary! We can open it up to anyone else who would like to participate, so if you know anyone who you think would like to come along please let them know about it.

We thought it would be good to try a different tack for a few weeks, so we are going to take a look at writing for magazines – i.e. targeting specific audiences. We can expand that to encompass both fiction and non-fiction, let’s just see how we get on! SO … if everyone could bring a magazine along on Wednesday, preferably one with a narrow appeal/audience, we’ll make a start by doing a bit of analysis and (with a bit of luck and a fair wind…) experimenting with writing.

21st December 2016

NorthPens Christmas fuddle! Everybody welcome, Bring a contribution to the feast – but just one thing, you know we never eat it all! I’ll have a think about a fiendish quiz (oh yes I will!) see you on Wednesday.

14th December 2016

A really interesting session last week, and some great pieces of ‘factual’ information to play around with.
Our challenge for this week is to re-visit those passages (or pick a different one if you like!) and to try making a ‘list’ poem.
One way of approaching this is to simply go through your piece and highlight any words or phrases that appeal to you, take them out of their context and try fitting them together so that they make a different kind of sense.
Or, you could simply take a sentence or a snippet of information from your factual piece, use it as a starting point and let your imagination take you … wherever …!
Really looking forward to seeing how everyone gets on with this one,
see you on Wednesday,

7th December 2016

Some great pieces to finish off the Rosa Napoli cruise adventure – thanks to everyone, and I hope your characters will be very happy together!

We decided it was time to have another go at doing some writing during the session, So for this Wednesday could everyone please bring in with them a short, but purely FACTUAL piece (not your own work, copied from a journal, research document, book about fossils etc. etc.). We did something similar earlier in the year when we were looking at ways of using research, but we’ll try something a bit different this time!

Sarah has undertaken to knock into shape the group poem we compiled at the end of the session, it would be really good if we could put something that a number of people have contributed to into our anthology … speaking of which, we had a good session on Friday looking at all the submissions again, including the short pieces people have written recently and have now got the ‘running order’ finalised. Some pieces still need a bit of editing, they’ll be emailed to you to check over as and when.

30th November

Debbie Connell from DCC is coming to talk to us about We Are Weardale – the big schools creative writing project that is just getting under way, and to discuss ways in which we could be involved.

23rd November, and beyond!

Our characters’ adventures on board the SS Rosa Napoli are drawing to a close. For next week, write your final ‘scene’ – back on the ship, back around the dinner table where we started. A lot has happened, people have jumped ship, got involved in criminal activities and other dubious enterprises. They have forged alliances, formed prejudices, judgements preferences. Don’t worry about not being up to speed with absolutely everything that has been going on, focus instead on your own character and their observations, thoughts and actions and see if you can bring their chapter to some kind of close.


the editorial team had a good session this morning, looking at how all of the pieces submitted for the anthology could hang together and how we could order them. We’ve got a strong selection and an idea of how it is all going to work. We would like to fit in some more short pieces between the longer items.

So …. we are looking for haikus, short poems (max 8 lines), flash fiction or monologues (up to 200 words max) to complement the existing contributions. Have a look in your back catalogue, is there anything there you could polish up? Have a go at something completely new … remember the theme is TALKING THREADS – so we are looking for pieces with links to clothing, fabrics, quiliting, embroidery, sewing etc. etc. (they don’t have to be specifically about those things, but we need to be able to make the connecitons.)

Get creative, and either email new submissions to Chris or bring them along to a session between now and 30th November.

16th November 2016

At last week’s session, we decided that it was time to (literally!) move things along on the Rosa Napoli.
So … the next chapter or scene is a trip ashore; the ship is going to dock in Gibraltar (where, apparently, you have a long walk though customs).
What is your character going to get up to on dry land? As ever, look forward to hearing about it

9th November 2016

Carry on writing … the next scene in your character’s journey

2nd November 2016

Great Session as always last week – lots of great ideas re. our characters on the SS Rosa Napoli. We are enjoying them so much, we are going to carry on inventing new situations and encounters – so let let your imagination and creativity flow and bring the results along
on Wednesday!

19th October 2016

TALES FROM THE MUSEUM – Writing award presentations at High House Chapel (next door to the museum in Ireshopeburn) 1.30 p.m.

7th October 2016 – workshare

28th September 2016 – no session

21st September 2016

Some fantastic pieces re. what your characters did just before the first dinner on board the ‘SS Rosa Napoli’ … imaginations were well and truly fired!

So, we are continuing with this engaging soap opera. Next task is to take your character to that first meeting with the other guests and to write a paragraph (or two) about your encounter with the people sitting either side of you around the table. We did a rough diagram of the seating plan – my computer skills aren’t up to duplicating it, so hope you can all remember who you were sitting next to!

If everyone could email their first brief character study (i.e. not last week’s exercise, but the one before) to the group it would be really helpful – I’ll include Judy’s with mine.

Hope that all makes sense,

see you next Wednesday for the next instalment!

14th September 2016

Some great character studies came of last week’s session – what a fascinating collection of people, and we have already begun to forge some fictional links between them!

So, we have put them all together around a dinner table on a cruise ship (so they can’t escape!). This will be the first time they have all met. The task for this week is to write a paragraph or two describing what your character(s) are doing in the hour immediately PRECEDING this first meeting – so they are on the boat, getting ready or doing … whatever …!

Just a reminder of the characters: (this is just for info, you don’t actually need to remember anything about them, because YOUR character hasn’t encountered them yet.)
Jimmy and Babs (Susan – we decided Jimmy couldn’t possibly go on this cruise without BABs, and that they probably won it as a competition prize!)
+ Fay the waitress

If you weren’t at the session last week, doesn’t matter – feel free to fling a character into the mix.

7th September 2016

We’re still working on the theme of how a person, and what they have to say, comes across in different ways to different people and in varying contexts.
With that in mind, a reminder that the task for tomorrow is to create a character, and to describe that character as briefly and as accurately as you can (we had a great example from Geri last week).
Word of the week: SUCCINCT! Say as much as you can about your character in a short paragraph.

We also thought it would be useful to have a brief look at what competitions are around at the moment, and which ones might be good to enter.

24th August 2016

For the next session we are setting ourselves a dialogue/playwriting challenge! A character uses the same chat or small talk with different groups of people, each group reacts quite differently to what s/he has to say … So, quite a lot to get our writing heads around … First step and the ‘task’ in advance of Wednesday is to think about/invent the central character. Who is s/he? what does s/he talk about? etc. subsequently, we can think about refining the topic and about the groups encountered. This stems from a chance remark made by Avril last week (thanks Avril!). Looking forward to hearing your ideas.

Also, the editorial group had a very productive meeting after the session last week. A very clear ‘Talking Threads’ theme emerged from the submissions, which enabled us to make some important editorial decisions about content. Thank you to everyone.

See you on Wednesday, armed with characters,

17th August 2016
We had a great time reading the children’s writing award submissions last week, and two clear winners plus two more special commendations in each age group – which is good!
I haven’t been in touch with winners as the ones that were submitted via the schools don’t have contact details on them!

This week … shall we do some general writing exercises, plus work on table if anyone has been productive in the meantime? I think there is still a lot of mileage in invisible women!

REMINDER  for those involved – we are holding our first editorial meeting after the session. Exciting stuff!

10th August 2016

Very much enjoyed the pieces about invisible women on Wednesday!

Next week, we need to spend most of the time looking at our writing award entries and making decisions about a shortlist.

ALSO … another reminder re. your anthology submissions: don’t forget to send them to the editors if you haven’t already done so.

3rd August 2016

Two reminders:
Because had such a good time discussing the concept last week, the writing theme for this week is INVISIBLE WOMEN! Take that in whatever way you please!

Also, please don’t forget … We need to have your final submissions for the anthology BY THE END OF THIS WEEK (5th August) so that the editorial group can read them.
Please email your work to all of the editors: Sarah, Geri, Jenny, Susan, Chris … it will make our lives so much easier! Any problems, let Chris know.

27th July 2016

Some thought provoking discussion arising from the dialogue extracts we looked at last week, so this week we aim to do some practical writing exercises based on dialogue.
However, again this week, if you have any good/interesting/unusual examples that you think we would get something from, please bring with you on Wednesday.

20th July 2016

We didn’t get around to talking about what we want to do tomorrow, so shall we have a workshare session? Bring anything you’ve written and would like feedback on, or, indeed anything you’ve read that you think it would be good to look at.

13th July 2016

Some thought provoking discussion arising from the dialogue extracts we looked at last week, so this week we aim to do some practical writing exercises based on dialogue.
However, again this week, if you have any good/interesting/unusual examples that you think we would get something from, please bring with you on Wednesday.

6th July 2016
A good feedback session re. the workshop at Frosterley last week, looking forward to hearing how the sessions at St. John’s Chapel and Wearhead went this morning.

We made some decisions about the anthology/editorial process.
We are aiming to have the editorial work complete by the beginning of September; so there will be a series of editorial meetings, beginning on 27th July, and the editorial team will feed back any decisions etc. to the whole group in the session the following week.

TOMORROW …. we are going to take another look at writing dialogue, so if you have any good examples up your sleeve please bring them with you!

22nd June 2016

Another fruitful session on Wednesday – some REALLY interesting and poignant pieces based on memories.
In the next session we need to focus on the schools’ workshops – planning, tactics etc.
The first one is on Monday 27th at Frosterley School with Sarah, Katy and me and then Jenny and Avril will be at ST. John’s Chapel at the beginning of July.
It would be good to fit a couple more in if we can …

We also need to think about arranging some dates for editorial sessions for the anthology, so perhaps we can have a chat about that as well on Wednesday.

15th June 2016

Well! What can I say about last week’s session…
I’d just like to point out that it was Susan’s idea to do some exercises on erotic writing! Never has so much smudged mascara been seen in Stanhope Community Centre.
We’re going to carry on with some more random exercises this week, if you have the strength …
This is where you can see what we plan to do during the next session …. sometimes our ideas are quite specific and detailed, and sometimes …. not!

11th May 2016

Another entertaining session yesterday!

In case you haven’t picked up on it – the last instalment of our podcasts is now on Rachel’s website, so do have a listen.

I’ve emailed Frosterley School to suggest we do a couple of workshops there on Monday 20th June. Jenny has been contacted by St. John’s Chapel School and Frances is liaising with Wearhead – so that is all really encouraging, as is the great news that all of our primary schools are going to survive!

I don’t think we got around to discussing what we want to do next week, so shall we continue with the theme of taking an object and creating a story or poem from it?
OR if anything else comes to mind from what we have been doing or talking about lately (I can’t get Judy’s American observations out of my head!) then go for it, and we’ll have a work share next week.

May 2016

 A great session at the Weardale Museum last week; David and Jean Heatherington were wonderfully hospitable and we really enjoyed ourselves poking around and guessing the function of various weird and wonderful objects. There is also a tin trunk full of curiosities in my attic … ready to enthral unsuspecting children (any resemblance to the witch from Hansel and Gretel entirely coincidental …)
Word seems to be getting out about the Writing award, so let’s keep up the information drizzle!
Next week … general feedback session from the museum trip; start to make some plans re. workshops; If anyone has written something inspired by the objects or stories in the museum, please bring it along.


The session next week – 27th April – will be at THE WEARDALE MUSEUM, Ireshopeburn.
See you there!

20th April

At the last session, we decided that next week we would all bring a photograph in and do some writing in response to the images. Similarly, if you have a an anthology or album you would like to share, please bring it with you.

NB – change of date: we are now going to the Weardale Museum on WEDNESDAY 27TH APRIL (not 20th, as previously arranged).

13th April

Good news this week! The Weardale Area Action Partnership has awarded us a grant of £1,500 towards the publication of our anthology. We still have around £750 to find, but that is a substantial amount to put in the pot and get us going.
Please don’t forget about approaching local businesses, even if we can get a handful to sponsor us for £50 each it will really help.

CREATIVE WRITING AWARD (see Young Writers’ Award page)
We are steaming ahead with that as well. Information has been circulated to schools, along with a reminder about the creative writing workshops so if anyone is able to use their contacts to publicise the award that would be good.

Is scheduled for Wednesday 20th April, in our normal session time. It will be a great opportunity to work somewhere different as well as get a feel for what is in the museum, which will help with the workshops. We can also have some input into what goes into the travelling tin trunk we are going to take to schools.

It was good to be able to spend some time discussing/feeding back on work in the last session, but we forgot to talk about what we want to do NEXT WEEK, so unless anyone has a brainwave in the meantime, can we say that we’ll have another general WORK SHARE session next time?
Hope that’s ok, see you then,

6th April 2016

Just a reminder of this week’s ‘themes’ …. LOST AND FOUND; MISALIGNED PERFORATIONS or, basically, anything inspired by any of the great pieces read last week …!
Do with that what you will, and look forward, as always, to seeing you on Wednesday.

p.s. our grant application will go to the appraisal panel tomorrow … fingers crossed …

30th March 2016

Some amazing pieces came out of our research – really varied and interesting.
This week is a general workshare – so bring along anything you have written, recently or from the back of the knicker drawer, to share with the group.

Otherwise, things are moving on. We can fix a date to go up to the Weardale Museum and start thinking about the schools’ workshops. Grant applications for the anthology … young Writers’ Award … busy, busy, busy!

16th March 2016

Well … we go so involved in our discussion about the value and ways of using research that we didn’t actually get round to any practical analysis/writing. I think it was worth it however, as it was a really interesting topic and a lot of incredibly worthwhile ideas and debate came out of it.
It was also good to talk to David about this year’s writing competition and put together some thoughts about that – feels as things are moving forward constructively. Definitely think we should decamp to the museum for inspiration ourselves one Wednesday morning!

SO … next session, let’s carry on with what we planned for the last one. If people could bring their pieces of factual material to the session again we’ll start by looking at and working with them.

9th March 2016

Lots of interesting results from our ‘Writing out of the Blue’ experiments last session!

Next week, we are going to focus on research: how much do you need to do? What part does/should factual accuracy play in our writing? How do we judge when something needs to be correct (historically, technically, environmentally etc.) and when can we allow ourselves more creative leeway? All really tricky stuff – the more I think about it, the more frequently questions pop up!
So … plan is that everyone should bring in a piece of factual information or research – something that you are interested in or that you might incorporate into a poem/story. We will then share them out, look at each others research, highlight what we think is important and compare notes. This could then lead on to some writing for the following week.

re. this year’s creative writing competition for children, David Heatherington of the Weardale Museum is going to call in for the last half hour of the session to have a chat about the competition.

2nd March 2016

Another constructive, enjoyable session this week, it felt as if we got a lot done, decisions made etc. (not to mention a bit of writing!)
Please do keep thinking about sponsorship possibilities – it’ll help with the grant applications.

The plan for next week, 2nd March is to do some more ‘writing out of the blue,’ so come with pencils ready sharpened!
next Wednesday (2nd) is our deadline for hard copies of work for the anthology so that the editorial group can make a start ASAP.

24th February 2016

Another really good session on Wednesday, I’ve really enjoyed listening to everyone’s work.
So … we’re on track, we have an editorial group, all systems go!
We will eventually need electronic copies of everything that is going to go in the anthology.
However, If you could submit a hard copy of your contributions for a couple of weeks’ time (march 2nd) that would be ideal as it would save me from an avalanche of printing at home.
See you next week, when we will get back to writing … some random exercises, I think!


Drama in the Dale’s annual open day event is sunday 21st at St Thomas’
11-3 if anyone’s interested to come along/see what we’re doing. We’re performing
an extract of our upcoming Murder Mystery play which is an intriguing show!

17th February 2016

Brilliant session on Wednesday, it was great to hear all those poems and stories, some new some re-visited – we have got some fantastic material for the anthology.
We didn’t finish listening to everything, and not everybody could be there, so we are going to carry on next week. If you have any more pieces to be considered, please bring them in next week.
Really looking forward to round 2!

10th February 2016

So … 10th Feb. is our date for bringing work in for the anthology.
Really looking forward to seeing the range of pieces – and I know there is a lot of very high quality work out there, we need to get it published!

Don’t worry if you still have some polishing to do, there is time, it is more important at this stage to have a look at what we have got.
If you can’t make it on Wednesday let me know; you can email work or bring it in for the following week (it may well take us two sessions to get an idea of what’s what …)

27th January 2016

So …. this week a radio script! Let’s see if we can harness our fertile imagination constructively, put all those ideas into practice and come up with something amazing!
See you then

20th January 2016


WORKSHOP with Caroline Beck on Writing for radio this Wednesday, 20th January.
Really looking forward to it … see you there.

13th January 2016

So …. for this session we are going to try an experiment!

Plan is to have a go at co-operative writing – creating a script between us, everyone to have an input. The scenario is ‘an emergency’ … to be penned with our usual peculiar brand of humour. Casualty’s got nothing on us!

ALSO we are forging ahead with plans for our anthology.
Plenty of thoughts re. funding and other ideas last week and we have an initial DEADLINE – February 10th – for everyone to bring in pieces of work that they want to be considered.
I will email reminders, but we are looking for submissions from everyone who comes along to the group, whether or not you have managed it regularly lately. If you can’t make the session on 10th, you can send or email work.

6th January 2016

HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone!
Hope you have all had a splendid holiday.

For our next session we said we’d try and get our heads around various projects for 2016 (childrens writing comp., on-line magazine, anthology etc.) and do some general goal and deadline setting – as befits the first meeting of the new year!

Looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday,

16th December

So … next session is the last one for 2015
things to discuss:

– our anthology, let’s get it sorted next year!
– on-line magazine
– children’s writing competition 2016

time to celebrate, bring nibbly bits as discussed this morning (I have napkins and plastic glasses!)
any good questions for an end of year literary quiz and your SECRET WRITER piece*

see you next week,

write up to four lines, prose or poetry, must be completely anonymous (so typing is better …)
bring along to meeting; we will all then try to idenitfy who has written each piece. Person who guesses most correctly wins a prize (maybe)

9th December

It’s a work share week this week!

Following on from Jeremy’s excellent workshop ….
1) the opening page of your novel: it needs to establish character and viewpoint and also be a page turner ….. no pressure then!
2) bring in an effective opening page from a published novel, one that really grabbed your attention …
3) and/or come along with any other work you want to share.

REMINDER … we’re going to meet next week (16th) and then take a break until Jan 6th.

2nd December

Jeremy’s workshop on novel writing mark 2. We will be looking at:
* characterisation and development
* longer length, steadier pace
* narration
* personal style
* planning and plotting

a reminder of the tasks Jeremy set us :
write a list of all the main possessions of your central character (personal and other)
identify 3 KEY points in overall plot when things change, or surprise a character
write an opening paragraph that begins your novel with INTRIGUE and INTEREST.

25th November

We were going to have a go at writing poetry – specifically organising ideas into STANZAS of 2, 3 or 4 lines (couplet, tercet, quatrain), possibly, although not necessarily, with a rhyme scheme built in.

ALSO, Jeremy is going to give us some work to do in preparation for his follow-up session next week (2nd December) on novel writing.

18th November

General plan for next couple of sessions is to re-visit poetry, especially poetic forms.
As a starting point, it was suggested that we should all bring a copy of a poem that we particularly like for the group to look at/listen to on Wednesday.
After that, we may have a play around with composing a group poem as a warm up and then think about stanzas and given forms – so if there is anything specific you would like to have a go at come armed with some ideas!


December 2nd, Jeremy is going to run a follow-up workshop on novel writing, thinking about voice etc. and will give us some tasks to go away with the week before that.
January 20th, Caroline Beck is going to give a workshop on writing for radio.

4th November

Another interesting session last week … great diversity of opinions on Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ monologues … all good stuff!

The ‘task’ emerging from that was to try to not emulate his writing, but to learn from the techniques and devices he uses in creating our own radio monologues.

This is one of my favourite Alan Bennett quotes, from ‘The History Boys’:

‘History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men.
What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket’.

28th October

Last week we listened to Julia Darling’s short radio play ‘Sealife’ which provoked some interesting thoughts and discussion. Next session we plan to extend our ideas re. radio drama and developing a distinctive ‘voice’ by listening to some extracts from Alan Bennet’s ‘Talking Heads’ (as in listening to the audio versions, not watching the TV versions!).
It might be interesting to start developing our own radio monologues

21st October

An interesting discussion last week re. writing for radio, looking at pros, cons, the potential for using the imagination in terms of setting, timing and characters plus pros, cons, scripts, tips, formatting etc.
It seems to be an area that has ‘grabbed’ people, so we are going to pursue it this week. The task we set ourselves was to write a short piece in a distinctive voice: a person (real or mythical), object, place … be as inventive as you like, see what you can get away with! So, this will be an introductory narrative or voice over that conveys as much info. as possible about the protagonist and their situation as economically as possible.

Or, if you prefer, carry on with the dialogue/subtext piece you began (or not!) last time.

14th October

Subtext + looking at writing for radio

7th October

We didn’t, in the end, get around to sharing our pieces of dialogue, so carry on with these for next week -experiment! Nothing actually needs to happen in your scene, so just focus on what the characters are actually saying.

30th September

At the end of last week’s session we decided to continue with dialogue/script writing.
the plan is to work on the dialogue we wrote last week building in a sense of anticipation/dramatic tension.

A suggestion:
2 characters, A & B.
A has a secret
B knows something is going on and is trying to find out what it is
A is doing her best to prevent B from finding out.

Try writing the dialogue. The audience may or may not know what the secret is, interesting to think about how any prior knowledge affects an audience’s response to character ….

ALSO we will be critiquing Geri’s story in the session

23rd September

At the end of last session we discussed various aspects of writing that people would like to pursue and concluded that there are two main strands: script writing/dialogue and poetry.
So … the plan is to work on each in ‘blocks’ (4 or 5 weeks, depending on how things go), beginning this week with script writing.
If you have any useful exercises/ideas tucked away, please bring them along to the session – if we don’t get around to using them on Wednesday I’m sure we will do so in future sessions.
Likewise, it might be helpful to look at examples of script or dialogue, so if there is a play or perhaps a piece of dialogue in a short story* that you admire please do bring an extract along.

  • e.g. we did look at some prose dialogue  by Raymond Carver, Hilary Mantel etc. (quite a while ago!) that read almost like a play script.

2nd September

A Good day at St. John’s Chapel show – plenty of people read the letters, and commented on how good they were. Quite a few took flyers and expressed an interest in the group, so it was a v. useful profile-raising exercise.
Huge thanks to Katy and Denis for coming up early and sorting me out! Also to Geri, for manning the fort in the afternoon. And thanks to all readers/judges – it was a really hard job – I was worn out by the end of it, so next year when we get hundreds of entries ….. anyway, the young writers have now got their own page on this site.

This weeks’ session: I THINK we said we were going to carry on with the flash fiction (as we didn’t get any writing done last week), so bring in anything you have written plus any useful stimulus material – photos etc. and we’ll try going back on some of the exercises Amanda gave us.

26th August

Still flashing this week – we are enjoying it so much! Hope to post some examples on OUR WORK page soon. We also have important business to discuss re. the Writing Award and, of course, we need to read the entries and make our decisions; really looking forward to that!

19th August

The first podcast is now on Rachel’s website ( – so do log on and listen! It looks and sounds really good. She will put our work on in about 4 different podcasts, this is only the first one – so if your work isn’t included it will be in the next ‘batch’.

NEXT SESSION… After a really good session with Amanda on flash fiction we decided to carry on in a similar vein. So, for next session please bring something in with you – an object, a photo etc. and the intention is that we will swap them around and experiment with varying different word counts.

We also need to discuss the Creative Writing award

12th August

Writing FLASH FICTION with Amanda Quinn.

29th July and 5th August

Really enjoyable session last week, working with Rachel Cochrane, recording our podcasts for her website and our own website. Looking forward to recording the rest this week (12th).

Thanks to Jeremy for a great workshop on 22nd.

22nd July

Jeremy Warr will lead a workshop on beginning your novel – don’t miss it!

15th July

This is our deadline for bringing in work that you would like to read for the podcasts. It can still be a work in progress – there will be a couple of weeks grace for honing and polishing!

1st July

NEXT WEEK: On Wednesday Katy and Judy both distributed copies of their work for us to read  so that we can give them some detailed feedback in the session on 1st July. Please don’t feel excluded if you haven’t got copies, we can organise extra ones on Wednesday. Feedback may not take the whole session, so if you have work of your own to bring in and share, please do.

DATES: we have some dates confirmed …
22nd July – Novel writing with Jeremy /warr
29th July and 5th August – podcast recording sessions with Rachel Cochrane
12th August – Flash fiction with Amanda Quinn

So … that is all excellent news!

24th June

Based on where we all are with our writing, it seems like a good time to start holding occasional ‘in depth’ critique sessions: if you have some writing that you would like to offer up for  intensive critical surgery, mention it to the group then next session bring in copies of your work for people to take away with them, read, make notes on etc. for feedback the following week. We should probably undertake to read maximum of two in any one week, and obviously need to be a bit sensitive about the amount of material we expect people to read. That feels like a really positive step forward in terms of developing our work as a group as reading/seeing words on the page will enable us to deliver a qualitatively different level of criticism to listening to work read out in sessions.

Katy and Judy are going to bring copies of work in next week (24th June); the rest of the group can then read it at their leisure and offer considered feedback the following week (1st July).

Otherwise: NEXT WEEK will be a general workshare – bring work in progress, finished pieces etc.

17th June

We decided that next session would be devoted to a bit of consolidation … a round the table discussion of where we are, individually, with our writing plus some goal and deadline setting where it is needed.
We should also think about the writing award – publicity, going into schools etc.

The other thing we need to do is talk about our contributions to the podcast; I saw Rachel on Friday, she is quite flexible about timing so it will be down to us to set a schedule.

Do also bring in any work that you want to share.

10th June

Some great pieces came out of the ‘real stories’ as stimuli last week, so we decided to carry on working with STARTING POINTS.
The idea is that for the next session everyone should bring in a prompt (or three!) and we can take a look at them, discuss ideas and see if any will be a good basis for a story poem, etc.

GOOD NEWS …. we succeeded in our recent bid for funding, so that means we can go ahead with plans to work with Rachel on the podcasts and also on commissioning our table top ‘banner’ (I’m sure a better description exists … just haven’t quite found it yet!).

3rd June

Some interesting, and thought-provoking, starting points to get us going last week … so the task for 3rd June session is to put some ideas together, start writing a piece that is based on an actual incident/character/report etc. and see where that takes you.

27th May

We were feeling a bit lacking in momentum on Wednesday (I blame the weather, it’s going backwards to winter … is there a song about that?) so thought it would be a good idea to re-visit some basics.
So – for the next couple of weeks we’re going to look at starting points.
For Wednesday’s session the focus will be using real incidents/characters, so bring in something that takes your eye from a newspaper, magazine, website, twitter etc. and we’ll see where we can go from there.

Update on other ‘stuff’:
* the organisers of St. John’s Chapel show are v. keen on our creative writing award for under elevens, so that is steaming ahead; Jenny has produced some fliers & is liaising with the school;
* Geri has come up with a gorgeous logo which works well when copied; just needs a tweak here and there and we’re sorted;
* Constitution also sorted and am in the process of organising a bank account so we can apply for funds re. Talking Threads and the podcasts asap;
* Have go some quotes from Lintons Printers in Crook so we know what to apply for!

20th May

And the theme for this week is ….. preconceptions!
have you been a ‘victim’ of somebody else’s preconceived idea of you? Have you had your own preconceptions overturned when you got to know a person or situation better?
Or you could invent a story based on a preconception …

22nd April

The theme for this week: THE LETTER I ALWAYS WANTED TO SEND

see link to the feature in The Guardian on Saturdays for inspiration

15th April

Last week a few issues came up concerning the direction of the group and future plans/projects, so we thought that it would be a good idea to allocate some time to ‘business’ this week when more people are able to attend. That shouldn’t take up the whole session, so please bring any work you want to share with you as well.

8th April

Another work share session this week.

1st April

Following a really interesting and productive session with Rachel, our brief for next week is to each bring in two pieces of work (or more, if you have more … we can see how the time goes and play that one by ear) that you think you would like to read for a podcast. We’ll share around the table and see if a theme emerges rather than try  to force one. In the meantime, have a look at and listen to Rachel’s website – Get Your Words Out/Listen Up North

p.s. – It’s also Carol’s birthday!

25th March

Rachel Cochrane is coming to talk to the group about her writing website and to explore the possibliities for us to produce a series of podcasts based on our own writing, specifically TALKING THREADS; the podcasts would be available as a link from this website as well as from Rachel’s own. There is no need to have anything prepared, it will be very much a development of ideas type session, but have a think about what you would like to contribute.

18th March

Carry on with the memoir writing and we’ll find time to listen to any work in that you want to share with the group, either this week or next. We also plan to look at ways of working from photographs or pictures, so bring in a photograph you would like to use … or bring a few so that we can share them around.

11th March

a bit late posting this week …. but continuing from the wonderful pieces people contributed in the last session, some consolidation. We’ll look at extracts from some published memoirs and discuss their effectiveness as pieces of writing. Please bring in anything from your bookshelves to share with the rest of the group!

4th March

feedback session; bring in any work you want to share with the rest of the group

25th February

Continuing work on memoir writing – using personal prompts. Something that is important to you, as a memory, aide memoir for a story from your life, piece of family history etc. etc. Think about the ‘W’ questions first – Who, What, When, Where, Why; move on to sense memory, and then emotional recall and lasting consequences (helps to give your memoir some structure)

18th February

Work on memoir writing – in a fairly broad, general sense.  Ways of using personal experience to inform our writing, whether in a fictionalised context or as straightforward memoir.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s