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Nottingham Writers’ Studio

Nottingham Writers’ Studio

I was over at Nottingham Writers’ Studio on Thursday evening to listen to Susi O’Neill deliver the latest in a series of talks on subjects related to writing and publishing: as both the director of Digital Consultant and practising musician under the name Miss Hypnotique, O’Neill charted a wonderfully brisk and clear-eyed run through the various ways in which writers, publishers and performers can use social media to reach new audiences and develop new work, many familiar, but many more introducing a whole range of newfangled sites and tools I’d never heard of.

I came away from the session convinced that the digital revolution is certainly more exciting and full of possibilities than I’d given it credit for, but also just a little bit inclined to think I’d like at least a temporary return to manual typewriters, tipp-ex and three week deadlines, because all these exciting opportunities turning up at once looks pretty exhausting, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to capitalise on them all effectively. There are so many tricks these days that  it seems like we’ll always be missing one.

That small caveat aside, the real point of mentioning this latest session was to draw attention to Nottingham Writers’ Studio itself, which I suppose we might define as a defiantly old-media entity that uses a lot of new-media tools to achieve its aims. It’s basically about real people meeting in a real room overlooking St Mary’s Church in Nottingham’s Lace Market, with a part time administrator (currently the performance poet Alyson Stoneman) and a nine-strong board responsible for running a programme of events for the organisation’s 80 or so (at the last count) members.

It’s an organisation founded and run entirely by writers, initially the brainchild of novelist Jon McGregor. Since he first gathered a few associates together and got things moving in 2006, the membership has rapidly expanded. It’s not all about traditional literature and creative writing, either: any given session at the studio will bring together poets and novelists with storytellers, copywriters, journalists, screenwriters and academic historians, with all genres covered, from children’s, crime and comics to teenage, romance and fantasy. It’s a fair bet that if your professional life involves putting pen to paper with any degree of seriousness, and you live in or near Nottingham, you’ll feel at home, be entitled to join, and want to have a say in the future direction of the organisation.

Having been involved with the studio myself since around 2007, it’s been wonderful to see it evolve: from a few conversations among a small group of Nottingham writers (key figures then included Michael Eaton, Nicola Monaghan and David Belbin) to a floor of offices and meeting space above a Balti House; and from there to the current wide-ranging membership, much smarter location on Stoney Street, and dedicated series of events each month.

It’s had a huge impact on the city’s writing culture, offering opportunities to meet others working in the same or completely different fields, and begun to generate a critical mass of activity.

At least one new publisher has emerged from the mix in Ian Collinson’s Weathervane Press, while the numbers of formal and informal collaborations, brokered opportunities and new friendships are now beyond counting: the studio offers a point of contact for organisations looking for writers to work on particular projects, and is in many ways something of a unusual presence in the UK, similar to other spaces and networks in many respects, but is distinctive in being entirely led, managed and populated by working writers.

It’s a co-operative model that has proved its worth in Nottingham, and if anyone knows of similar groups elsewhere it would be good to find out about them, in order to ensure appropriate links can be forged.

It also shows that the real world of random meetings in pubs, cinemas and cafes can still be at least as good a place to create links and get new networks running as the virtual sphere: the latter oils the wheels and makes it all much easier than it might once have been, but the Nottingham Writers’ Studio proves there’s no online substitute for a proper session involving 25 people with shared interests in a welcoming room that contains large quantities of wine, beer, biscuits and crisps.

For information on membership and upcoming events, check the NWS website or contact Aly at the 49 Stoney Street address.

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