A few weeks ago, I got an invitation from Matt Ewens to check out a writing competition hosted by his writing group, the Plymouth Writers Group. After talking with him a while, I decided it’d be great to interview him about the competition, as well as to find out what it’s like to be part of the core team that runs the group. Matt graciously agreed, and here we are! Please take a moment to meet Matt, discover a little more about the group and their competition. I know I found what he had to say inspiring. 🙂
How did the Plymouth Writers Group (PWG) come to be?
I joined the group a couple of years ago, when it was then part of the Plymouth Proprietary Library here in Plymouth. About a year ago, we decided that we needed to branch out and move into a more conducive area for our group and so we wanted to rename the group and gain ownership of it. This meant that we could explore the possibility of having our own branded website and thus explore other opportunities, like the competition and publish our own books.
What is its mission? Is its focus on the local group itself or in interacting with outside writers?
We don’t particularly have a mission, in the way a business would. I think as it’s early days, we just wanted to be one of the leading local writing groups for our city. Having said that, we do want to reach out on an international level to writers from all over the world, specifically in terms of our competition. So encourage writers to get involved, with the opportunity of being included in our anthology release. It’s a critical time for us because the first competition and anthology really starts things off, and if we don’t get enough people entering then it may well not happen in the future. So our first competition is crucial to interacting with writers.
Do all the members write in the same genre?
Oh, not at all! Take me for example, much of my work has been horror and science fiction. I would say many of the older writers seem to like drama in general, preferring to write fiction-based stories that are housed within the modern world, so set within a world that’s current and I guess one in which most people could relate to. I would add that we also have comedy and also plays, where we all act out parts. So yes we have a real mix of styles and types of writing, as well as poetry, prose crossed over with poetic styles, it is really nice.
What initiated the development of a writing competition?
We wanted to devise the competition as a means of connecting with other writers from around the world, it’s not a profiteering venture at all – we just want to do something that will encourage people to write and feature in a real book, albeit self-published. I can remember when I was first published within an anthology some years ago and how that made me feel as a new writer. It inspired me to write more and I saw that as a success. I knew it was a small-scale, but getting that first book in the post, with your work inside, is a triumph. So I think it’s about that more than anything for me. There’s also the fact that there is that monetary prize as well, so if it’s a small-scale competition, fewer people will probably enter, so you’ve more chance of doing well. Let’s face it, with the big competitions – that have prizes in the thousands, your chances are far less for success and obviously the accolades are far greater. But I know as well what it feels like when you hear nothing and have spent considerable time and money. I once had a short story professionally edited and it was a baptism of fire, my work was torn to pieces in a positive way and genuinely improved, I was really excited about entering these big competitions, only to no success whatsoever. This story has not featured in any competition at all. So I think our competition is really important for new and up-and-coming writers as well as writers that have experience and want to get their name out there more.
What does it take to organize a writing competition?
It does take a lot of work, I know that my writer friend, Alan, who is also in the group, has spent lots of time arranging the financial payment-side of things with our hosts (The Arts Centre, Plymouth) and a lot of work organizing a press release as well as judges from the university.
In terms of my work, I have spent a lot of time developing our website as well as setting up PayPal and making sure people can pay relatively easily. It does require a degree of trust from writers entering as they need to insert the correct fee, so if they submit two stories, they’ll need to enter a fee of £10 as payment. I have had questions from international writers asking if they are welcome to enter and they most certainly are! I think that another issue is the promotion and marketing of a competition, I have put a lot of time contacting writers personally and inviting them into the competition as I felt that a generic post was not working. I want to extend that personal touch to writers I know on Google +. At the end of the day, if I have contacted someone, it’s because I want them to succeed as a writer as well as naturally wanting the competition to blossom and be successful. In the end if it’s a huge success, we can then offer bigger prizes.
Was there a reason behind not setting restrictions on genre?
I think that this is to try to encourage writers with different styles and interests to enter, so as it’s the first competition, encourage as many people to enter as possible. The main reason is that we need to cover the prize amount, so this requires quite a lot of entries to cover costs. I should note that even if we don’t cover the prize amounts, we will still be able to offer the prizes to writers, even if that comes from our own pockets. I think in the future we may explore more themed competitions, or look for other ways of making it a bit more interesting possibly. The main things is just making it a success to start with, as it would be a shame if it did not work and we couldn’t then have another competition next year.
What is the best thing about being in a writing group?
I think the best thing about being in a writing group is the chance to read out your work and you’ll very quickly be able to see if it’s any good or has captivated people from their responses. Many times you may read something out expecting hand clapping and great feedback, but find only the quietness of tumbleweed as it slowly and painfully rolls past you. But if something does really work, people will tell you and you can think about developing that work. Critical but constructive feedback is useful, and I must say you’ll slowly improve your delivery and learn how to speak more slowly when reading, and if you ever attend open mic sessions, this is a great skill to learn. It’s also nice to meet like-minded people as well, and some interesting characters. Once I got to perform a short piece at a real event, act it out and dress in costume and, although frightening, I loved doing it and I had a sense that people enjoyed my work and performance.
What is the most challenging thing about being in a writing group?
There are no real challenges as such, it depends on your involvement. If you take up being the chairman for example, you’ll need to send out regular emails to members. Or if like me you have taken up designing books covers, the website and promotion – you’ll find that time is stretched and your writing may start to suffer. But, it’s all about what you want, and I was finding that a writer’s block was making me question whether I should continue, so by then being more involved in aspects of the group, I have been able to keep my interest going. I am still writing and hopefully coming out of my block now!
Do you meet, or is this an online group? And if you meet, where?
Yes we meet at the start of every month, on the first Saturday. We use the Plymouth Arts Centre and our meetings are a chance for writers to read out writing based on activities set at previous meetings, so for example we might pull out 3 words from a hat and have to make up a story about them.
Is this a closed group? If not, how can interested people join?
It’s not a closed group, so local people can send an email to us to ask if they can join. We are usually quite full and have a set core group of members. Writers interested in joining must make their arrangements with the chairman through our contact page on our website:http://plymouthwritersgroup.co.uk/contact/
People can visit our website for more information and news here: http://plymouthwritersgroup.co.uk/
Possibly in the future, we may start up more social media groups and have members online, but this is yet to be thought about.
Tips for people wanting to set up their own writing groups?
I think you need a core group of people who want to invest their time, you need good writers as well and make it interesting for members, so have writing activities during a meeting. Challenge writers by giving them time limits on writing a story, or poetry. Make it engaging and include events, get guest speakers – have workshops on writing styles or activities to improve writing. As these things are usually created, expect to volunteer your time, don’t expect to make money or see this as a profiteering enterprise, it’s not a business – so you need to do it for the love of writing. If you find like us you want to expand, get a dedicated website, blog and social media going. Get people that can self-publish and sell your own books. Make sure they look professional.
About Matt Ewens
Matt Ewens was born in Solihull in the same year as Star Wars and the silver jubilee.
An avid reader by the time Matt was 11, he had discovered many meaningful and influential authors and books, including Fighting Fantasy, which were a series of choose your own adventure books. These really helped to open up whole new worlds of possibilities in terms of fiction writing.
A few years ago Matt wrote a short play, called Send me to Hell, which was performed in front of a small private audience. This helped to spark a renewed interest in writing and since then Matt has been busy writing short stories, including a children’s book and a continuing work in progress is his own version of a FF book, which he is hoping to get published in the future as well.
Books by Matt Ewens
Devonshire with a Hint of Albanian: The magical stick of legendary wizard Thalamos Thunderfire has been stolen! Thalamos must follow the stick’s aura and find out who the culprit is before the World Annual Spellcasters Competition, or he will stand no chance of regaining the accolade of the best wizard in all the kingdoms.