What I’ve learnt from running a creative writing night. Part 1

At the end of last year I started hosting a night for creative writers in the vintage downstairs cinema of a cult teahouse in Newcastle- Quilliam Bros.

I lecture part-time at Newcastle University, and in starting this night I was responding to a need I had picked up from my students- for an opportunity for them share work in progress. During my teaching I was struck by how many talented students were slaving away at novels- or saving up short stories for publication, but they seemed to hit an invisible buffer at some point. They expressed a desperate need to get published but felt unable to send their work off out into the world. The possibility of having work rejected (and any author will tell you how brutal rejections can be- you often don’t even get one!) was putting them off. New Art Social was devised as a buffer, to help ease writers creative work out into the world.

We have all heard the phrase that ‘everyone has a novel in them’. For some reason I was becoming increasingly haunted by the thought of these great unseen manuscripts festering away under beds or (more likely) undergoing slow digital rot on various Apple Macs. My initially naïve idea was to begin by getting artists to share their ‘work in progress’ at the night. I soon realised, however, that this would begin a game of feint and counter feint. In which authors showed off heavily polished work and tried to insouciantly pretend they had just rolled out of bed and written it. So the focus of New Art Social would be on authors sharing their prose (with the local scene already being well-catered for in poetry nights), though poets have always been welcome to read too. In fact, the poise and restraint of poetic images has often offered a sharp, welcome contrast to the sense of weight aggregated by the sheer number of words in read prose.

Another intention was to blend unpublished writers with published ones, the idea being to break down their boundaries in a social context (hence the word ‘social’). To thereby try to overcome the invisible buffer I mentioned. Some creative writing nights introduce writers by reading out every accolade an author has achieved, others with not mentioning any in the hope of leaving the audience free to make their own judgement. In my introductions for writers at New Art Social I decided to let authors give me the introduction they would want me to use for them. Something first-time readers mentioned was that when they launched straight into a reading without giving the audience time to reset themselves after the last story, their words went over an audience’s head. I realised that as host I play a useful role as a ‘palate cleanser’- giving the audience an introduction to ease the reader into the world of a new writer. More experienced authors seem to cater to this need regardless of any dodgy introductions!

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