// BLOG

WordWatchers: Priceless

February 14, 2016

20150201_114958

Working hard at Symondsbury

As I write this, I’m nestled in a corner sofa in a rambling and eclectic house in deepest Dorset. The fire is crackling, I can hear the tap of keys, the hum of voices as two authors sit in the kitchen bouncing plot ideas around. The atmosphere is peaceful, relaxed, yet focused.

 

This is Symondsbury, the yearly writing retreat of WordWatchers, and the lovely folks who surround me are some of the most important people who have accompanied me on my writing journey.

 

I joined WordWatchers in 2008. I’d just moved to the area, was keen to meet new people and had an idea for a novel that I really wanted to write. One dark November night, I drove to a cottage in the woods and began the chain of events that led to the publication of my first book in February 2015.

 

What blew me away about WordWatchers was how dedicated everyone was, how invested they all were in their craft, how seriously they took it. I was shocked that they minuted their meetings – as if we were at work! Every meeting, each person made promises of what they intended to do that month, and those promises were revisited during the updates the following month.

 

I wondered if this was for me. It all seemed so formal. It was, after all, just a hobby – not a job. But as I got to know the group members, I realised how many of them had completed novels … yes, actually finished them! Katherine Webb, WordWatchers’ most successful member, had written six novels. When I joined, her seventh, The Legacy, was being considered by a major UK publisher. And then I realised something. Whatever it was this group had, it worked.

20141205_212023

Some WordWatchers at Katherine’s book launch

 

The first promise I made was to write 10,000 words. I’m a conscientious person and found the fact that I’d have to account for myself the next month very motivating. Of course, no one would’ve minded if I’d rocked up and said that I’d only managed 2,000 words, but I so wanted to hit that target.

 

Six months later, I had a first draft. Six months after that, an extract from my novel won a competition and was circulated in an anthology to agents and editors. The following year, I had signed with an agent.

 

WordWatchers provided the most nurturing, encouraging and supportive atmosphere in which to grow as a writer. Thanks to their careful critiquing, gentle guidance and advice, I have improved more than I did during my degree in English Literature with Creative Writing. And it has been considerably cheaper!

 

It’s not just about writing, though. I was delighted to have two ‘WordWatchers’ tables at my wedding. I’ve been to summer BBQs, Christmas meals and weekend retreats. I’ve roped some of them into moving furniture around my house. When I was stuck at home with no power and unable to access the copy edits on my latest novel, a WordWatcher (John) was the first person I called.

Playing hard!

Playing hard at Symondsbury

 

As you can probably tell, this is so much more than a writing group. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that WordWatchers is like a family. I won’t name names but I know who I think of as the matriarch and patriarch, everyone’s favourite aunts and uncles, the squabbling cousins (yeah, I’d be one of them!), the naughty children. And – in the same way a family does – WordWatchers listens, sympathises and supports when ‘life stuff’ gets in the way of writing.

 

As I sit in this fabulous house where we’ve shared food, drinks, games, ideas and laughter over the last few days, I think about how comfortable we all are in each other’s presence, how easy it is to sit in silence while we’re working, but equally how easy it is to look up, ask someone’s advice on a particular word, phrase or scene.

 

I am taking a break from writing, and therefore from the group. I’m not allowed to say I’m leaving – I’ve been told it’s a sabbatical. I shall miss these warm, funny, creative, intelligent and generous people very much, and am just glad that I will still be able to see them at socials.

 

I was talking to Julian yesterday about some plot problems he’s been wrestling with. At the end of the conversation, I could see from his face how much better he felt, how – just from talking – we’d raked back some of the brambles and he could see a clearer path ahead of him. He told me, ‘That conversation was priceless.’ I replied, ‘WordWatchers is priceless.’

 

A Christmas 75-worder #27

December 31, 2015

Photograph by John Hoggard

Photograph by John Hoggard

Well this is it my last 75-worder of this Christmas period, and, just like the double doors on the Advent calendar, I’m going for a big finish and I’m going to offer you two 75-worders today.

The first was written way back in September and actually appeared on the Paragraph Planet website on September 29th. Using the first few words of the story as the Paragraph Planet site does it is not inappropriately entitled, Autumn returns to the valley.

So, why am I sharing with you a story about autumn? Well, it was my fellow WordWatchers member, Charlotte Betts, who suggested that she’d like to see a complete series of these, one for each season. As this was never my intention, but an obvious thing to do once it was pointed out, so I decided to take her up on her suggestion.

While I have been unable, so far, to complete the series, lacking suitable inspiration for Spring and Summer, it was inevitable that during my musings over the Christmas period that a follow up to my Autumnal story would make itself known. So, here they are my two seasonal 75-worders back-to-back:

Autumn returns to the valley for the anniversary of my birth, as she does every year. I tip my hat to her, the first morning my breath blossoms as a cloud from my chest. I watch as she dances between the branches, igniting them in flickering flames of red, orange and gold. As the days shorten, she shakes the proud oaks, warning them of the coming of Winter and they shed their crowns in fear.

*

Winter comes to the valley and, tapping gently on the ground, he turns water to diamonds, a gift to those who slumber below. But they do not answer his call and in his frustration he rages at them, turns the earth to stone, entombing them. But anger turns to sorrow. He does not like the sad, grey world he has created, so he covers the world in a blanket of white and waits for her…

I am hoping I can write about her when real Spring arrives and not this strange pseudo-Spring that many of us seem to be in at the moment.

Thank you for all your comments, shares and likes on this series of stories, here on the blog, on Twitter and on Facebook. They are all very much appreciated and I have tried to follow up on each – so I hope I have not missed anybody out.

Until 2016!

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-worder #26

December 30, 2015

Christmas Sparkle by Yvie Hoggard

Christmas Sparkle by Yvie Hoggard

If there was a hint of sentience about wrapping paper then perhaps this is the tale it would tell…

Only a few days ago it had encased a Christmas gift, adding sparkle to otherwise bland packaging. Then it was laid amongst others, nestling down beneath an ornamental tree to await the morning light. Then it was ripped asunder and cast aside, its purpose fulfilled. Now it sits, poking from the top of an overstuffed bin, twitching in the breeze like the death-throes of a silvery carp, but such is the life of wrapping paper.

We have recycled as much as we can, but the recyclers will not take foil/metallic wrapping paper and so, despite our best efforts, our bins, which won’t be emptied for another 10 days due to the seasonal bank holidays, are approaching critical mass.

Until tomorrow…

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-worder #25

December 29, 2015

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

Unseasonably warm and sadly, for many, unseasonably wet, weather was the seed that grew into this 75-worder.

They found him sitting quietly on the sofa closest to the window. They watched as he gave the snow globe a shake, staring intently at the tumbling, sparkling flakes as they settled back over the fairytale castle. After a moment he turned away, stared out of the window and then sighed at the bright sunshine. His gaze returned to the snow globe and he shook it again. Perhaps it would snow tomorrow, they said hopefully.

Here’s to better weather, more appropriate for Christmas, for us all.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-Worder #24

December 28, 2015

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

I wrote this last year on a wet and grey and miserable day not unlike today. My youngest still rides the scooter with as much relish and vigour as she did that first day, although the scooter looks a little smaller now…

Despite the rain and the icy wind the child persisted, nagging her father into submission. Dressed as warmly as possible in their new hats and coats, they ventured out into the street. The child raced away, a single leg, piston-like, driving her forward on her new scooter, seemingly oblivious to the rain, wheels curving sweeping arcs in the surface water. Dad watched on while water dripped from his nose and his feet turned to ice.

Hope you’re all having a wonderful Christmas.

Until tomorrow.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-worder #23

December 27, 2015

The Deity Club by Helen Withington

The Deity Club by Helen Withington

This is one of my favourite 75-worders. I loved the idea of some ancient “Gentleman’s Club” where the divine hung-out when they weren’t being omnipotent. That idea seemed to get wrapped into the thought of whether Father Christmas would be allowed into such a club. He certainly has great powers, but it’s pretty specific and that potential conflict became the essence of the story. I think Helen’s water colour did a wonderful job of capturing the mood of both the chilled out Santa and the despairing God of Thunder.

The old man sat down heavily by the fire and patted his distended belly. “One Billion Calories an’ still only a fifty-two inch waist. Ho Ho Ho.” He pulled off his red hat, patting his sweaty brow with it. “I fear the million shots of whisky may have got the better of me this year!” he bellowed, snorting loudly. Thor shook his head and glared. Letting Santa into the Deity Club had been a terrible mistake.

Hope you’re all having a wonderful Christmas Time.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-Worder #22

December 26, 2015

Christmas Tree by Yvie Hoggard

Christmas Tree by Yvie Hoggard

I suspect that we won’t be the only household this Christmas that will be like this on Boxing Day. We were last year (when I wrote the story) and I’m sure we will be again.

The Boxing Day Menu: There were homemade mince pies for breakfast and a small bar of recently unwrapped chocolate for brunch. There was some deliberation at lunchtime and examination of tinfoil wrapped bowls before general indecision lead to a mixture of pigs-in-blankets, a few leftover Brussels Sprouts with half a tin of previously opened baked beans. Tea was a non-event although the fridge was grazed repeatedly and a generous portion of Christmas cake was devoured.

Hope you all had an wonderful Christmas Day and that the festive period continues to bring you happiness.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-worder #21

December 25, 2015

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

Do I know somebody who tried this…? Possibly…

When Martha and Ronald arrived at their son’s home a little before Eleven on Christmas morning the tension was palpable. Despite the pleasantries towards them, the daggers Jessica, her daughter-in-law cast towards her son, Ron Jr, each time there was an ominous ‘BOOM’ from the utility room was rather disconcerting. Martha eventually enquired about the noise when handed a sherry by Jessica. “He’s defrosting the turkey in the tumble dryer,” Jessica hissed between clenched teeth.

Hoping that you have a flawless day and that your turkey is suitably defrosted.

Merry Christmas to you all.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-worder #20

December 24, 2015

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

Last year, a few weeks before Christmas, several messages were left on my land line and mobile phone, urging me to ring back at the soonest opportunity. I did and I discovered I was a match as a potential Bone Marrow donor. As it was Christmas there was some concerns about getting me to a suitable location to have additional blood tests taken before the lab shut down. However, my wife, Vee, is a qualified phlebotomist and so they sent the kits directly to me. So then, sitting at the kitchen table, Vee filled a series of small vials with my blood and we hurriedly packaged them up and posted them back to the lab…

He’d almost forgotten that he’d joined the Bone Marrow Register years earlier. Their call, especially while he was distracted by preparations for Christmas, was unexpected. He’d gone through the questionnaire and they had sent him the blood sample kits. Now he was stood in the queue at the post office, returning those tests back to a lab, wondering if he was going to be the best match and give somebody the best Christmas present ever.

I can’t believe that was a year ago already. It turns out I was not the best match and so I have no idea what happened. I must hope however, that, the person who needed the transfusion, is still with us and doing just fine…

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-worder #19

December 23, 2015

Angel by Yvie Hoggard

Angel by Yvie Hoggard

Sometimes there is no story to write, sometimes the truth is all that is required, topped and tailed to wrap it neatly into 75-words. What you will read here is exactly what my then seven year old wrote in her hand made Christmas card last year. I cried.

They carefully opened the card and read it aloud to their daughter who had just presented it to them. ‘To mummy and daDdy. You are the bestest. I lov you very mucH. MeRry Christmass. Xxxxxxx’ Around the outside of the card there were many witnesses to the statement: Father Christmas, Rudolf, snowmen, angels, the family cat wearing a Santa hat. They scooped up their little girl and they cuddled, knowing that such gifts were priceless.

Merry Christmas to you all.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

« Previous PageNext Page »

The Palace of Lost Dreams

Charlotte Betts, 7th Novel is out now for Kindle (and will be available in Paperback in Oct '18).

Read more »

‘Time’ for an update…

ChronosWith the inclusion of two drabbles in the forthcoming 'Chronos' anthology, WW member JohnH has bitten the bullet and has created an author's page on Amazon.

We may need a bigger bookshelf »

Creative Writing Escapes

CWECreative Writing Escapes

WW member Charlotte Betts and former member Danielle Auld have something wonderful to offer you.

Cleared for launch!

Elite Encounters Elite Encounters is a Role-Playing Game set in the Elite: Dangerous Universe and is the work of David 'Selezen Lake' Hughes. It features drabbles from John Hoggard.

Read more »

How to survive a critique

Maurice

WordWatchers is reviewing one full novel a month. By the end of 2017, it will have critiqued 7 novels. 5yrs after she wrote it, Abbie's blog about the process is still very relevant.

Read more »


Recent Posts

@WordWatchers Twitter

Follow @WordWatchers on twitter.