Notes from the Chair

Our outgoing Chair’s take on a year like no other.

It’s been my privilege to hold the post of Chairperson since our last AGM on 24th April 2019. The odd interval to this year’s AGM reflects the unusuality of 2020. Nevertheless, we have persisted. Indeed, we have done considerably more than persist. Over the last nineteen months we have:

  • Evolved into a fully-fledged Writers Group meeting on a fortnightly basis.
  • Grown our membership to a peak of 25 individuals
  • Conceived, developed and progressed a new anthology project
  • Helped critique work that members have gone onto publish or win prizes for
  • Been the inspiration for a new body of work by Pitlochry Festival Theatre
  • Revised our Constitution
  • Updated the way we run our meetings
  • Embraced technology

A fully-fledged Writers Group

In early 2019 we numbered ~12 writers, with some of us continuing to meet with Zoe Venditozzi for more structured sessions with some taught aspects and critique. Over the period Apr 2019 – Nov 2020, the additional meetings with Zoe were phased out and we operate exclusively as a Writers Group now.

For the period up to March 2020, we held meetings bi-monthly in the Dalhousie building of Dundee University. We adopted a £20 annual fee for all members to cover meeting room cost. Nobody attended all of the meetings all of the time but most us attended some of the meetings some of the time.

Our membership doubled over the last 19 months. Some of the old guard remain but the Group has been refreshed by an influx of new people, giving us a real critical mass as well as breadth of new writing and constructive criticism.

Our members have produced a wide body of work, from the prolific outputs of Roddie, Colin, Susan S., and David C, to the much-loved and intricately-written exploits of Richard’s characters. Our collective oeuvre is historical and futuristic, Dundonian and international, descriptive and dialogue driven and so much more. 

We’ve experimented with new ways of structuring our meetings, including:

  • rotating the roles of chair and minute-taking – addition to being a more equitable sharing of the load, this has helped members become more embedded in the fabric of the group, and possibly more confident in their wider abilities.
  • Critiquing works-in-progress as well as finished pieces
  • Publishing some of our work on the NGW website
  • Inviting guest speakers
  • Writing pieces of literary criticism

David C championed a review of the NGW constitution, which he worked on with Susan S and Gillian. There are plans to have the revised constitution reviewed and adopted by the group. 

Covid-19 has forced us to look at new ways of working together, including embracing technology. To start off with, this took the form of enhanced e-mailing, with members sharing their work and critiques flying through the ether. Participation in the critiquing elements has not been as wholesale as some would prefer – this maybe something to address in the year to come. Latterly, we have started monthly Zoom calls, assisted by Gillian’s generosity in sharing her account.

Effective operation of the group during the last 19 months would not have been possible without Rosie Baillie, whose contributions have extended well beyond her official role as Treasurer to include much of the secretarial work. Rosie has kept track of our membership and room-bookings at the Dalhousie building and updated us all accordingly. A full-time working mum, she brings unfailing energy and positivity to the group. Thank you, Rosie!

Craig has been another bedrock for the Group both in his role as Webmaster and in regularly volunteering for additional duties. Quietly witty, Craig gets the job done – including the actual job of writing and getting published. Like Rosie, he is stepping down from his office-bearing role this year, so sincere thanks to you Craig for all you’ve done!

A new Nethergate Writers Anthology

Flushed with the success of 50 Shades of Tay, we Nethergate Writers were keen to start a new project. After much discussion, we determined to produce a new, themed anthology of short stories and poems. In searching for a theme, a delegation comprising Sue, Roddie, Abby and David F visited the Dundee city archives in May 2020. It was incredibly interesting but somewhat overwhelming. One of the archivists suggested that we focus on a single street of geographic area – when we took this suggestion back to the wider group, it was agreed that there was one area of Dundee with a particular relevance: the Nethergate. Our theme was born.

A committee formed soon thereafter to lead on the development of this project. Old guard members Rosie and Craig took on the roles of Co-ordinator and co-co-ordinator, with support from Sue and newbies Rupert, Ian and Fraser. The committee determined a timeline for the new project, where submissions should be in by the end of January 31, allowing 6 months for editing, formatting, designwork etc, with a view to publishing in autumn 2020 and a marketing push in months leading up to Christmastime.

Things were on track until Covid came to roost. The project committee decided to relax the timelines but have managed to keep momentum going such that we have 21 final pieces, a running order and a plan for procuring the designwork and printing. All we’re missing is agreement on the title!

Fraser has been heroic in pulling together and contributing significantly to the activities of the editing team and I congratulate him for staying steady and true for us all. Kudos also to the rest of the committee, with Rupert playing a notable role in keeping up momentum.

Darker Shades of Tay?

David C alerted the group to an article in the 14th December 2019 Scotsman Magazine that revealed our 50 Shades of Tay book had been the inspiration behind Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s Shades of Tay project.

The then new artistic director of the Theatre, Elizabeth Newman, described how she got the idea. 

It “began one day when I was walking in Dunkeld and Birnam, just south of here on the Tay.  It was raining very heavily, and I went into the shop at the Beatrix Potter garden there, and found a book of short stories which had the title Fifty Shades of Tay.  I just loved the “shades of Tay” idea; then I went on a trip to Dundee, and saw the sheer scale of the river there, and the idea of this project took shape.

Well, we could hardly pass that up.

We contacted Elizabeth Newman who invited us to develop a collaboration with the Festival Theatre. The first stop was a workshop where Nethergate Writers would blue-sky ideas with PFT staff. Unfortunately this was scheduled for March 15th and had to be postponed in light of the impending Covid-19 lockdown.

I can report today that I’ve successfully re-connected with Pitlochry Festival Theatre and that they still want to collaborate with us. They’ve supplied a proposal for us to supply dialogue-based pieces that are inspired by the theme of ‘change and changes’. These pieces would be produced and shared as  part of PFT’s COVID-19 response online series #PFTLightHopeJoy. This is just one idea – we are not constrained by it and they are open to continued dialogue on the best form of collaboration.

Honourable mentions

  • One of our most prolific writers, Roddie MacKenzie has had a stormer of “a NGW’s year” where his publications included:
    • His story “Dinnae Look Noo” was published online on the Scottish Book Trust’s “Blether” competition site.
    • Discovering Tatha” in “River of Words” (pamphlet), The Wyvern Poets & Dundee University (Nov 2019).
    • Poems “Behind the Clown”, “Head Hunted”, “The Mask of Pain”, “Self Portrait in Oil Pastels 1976”, “Dr Settled and Mr Jive” in Writers Café Magazine 17 “Masks” (Dec 2019).
    • Poems “Winter in Glasgow” and “The Barras” in “Glasgow: Historical City” (book by Seahorse Publishing, 2020).
    • After the Virus” Scottish Book Trust on line poem, “Future” project.
    • Poems “Heroes”, “The Hypocritic Oath of the Chief Medical Officer”, “Touch”, “Lassitude in Lockdown” and “Mercy Missions in Lockdown” accepted for the Elphinstone Institute Archive “Lockdown Lore”.
    • Back to Nature” in Shanghai Poetry Laboratory, Summer 2020 (on line).
    • Poem “Bluebells in May” in “Our Botanics” (book), Friends of the Botanics, Dundee.
    • Story “If Anyone Asks” in: “Razur Cuts” IX, (magazine), Dec 2020.
    • Poem “Regeneration” in: “Paper Moon”(pamphlet), The Wyvern Poets & Dundee University (Nov 2020).
    • Poem “Confessions of a Caledonian Anti-syzygy” in: “Confessions of a Sinner ”, (pamphlet) The Wyvern Poets & Dundee University (in press Dec 2020).
  • Craig’s story ‘A Guid Blether’ featured in issue 12 of ‘Blether’, as well as a physical book published July 2019, giving rise to a local interest pieces in the Evening Telegraph on Nov16th, and Courier Weekend Magazine in Dec 19, also
  • Gillian Duff won Val McDermid Prize for best dissertation following her graduation from UoD MLitt in Crime Writing and Forensic Investigation
  • Martin Dey had his third novel published on Amazon. “The World Turned Upside Down. A Tale of a Highlander in the American Revolutionary War.: Book 3: Brandywine to Yorktown”. Readers have rated it 4.7/5 stars.
  • Sandra Anderson completed an autobiography, wrote a children’s story – Lara’s Tales – which was illustrated by her daughter’s friend and is keeping busy, writing a story for the U3A (University of the Third Age) every week.
  • Susan Storrier had several short stories accepted for publication (listed below), has completed another 40 short stories/ pieces of flash fiction (and one poem!) and is hallway through penning a Scottish historical noir novel, Qhuarrance.
    • Flash Fiction ‘Beeches’, published in Gutter Voices 1 (2020)
    • Short Story ‘Lily’, published in Writers’ Cafe Magazine 19 (2020)
    • Short story ‘Dogs’, accepted for Lockdown Lore archive project, Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen
    • Short story ‘Red Rock’, accepted for Pushing Out the Boat 17 (April 2021)
    • Short story ‘IVFA’, accepted for Being Frank anthology, Kensington Gore Publications (2021)
    • Short story ‘Clotheshorse’, accepted for Nethergate Writers 2021 anthology
    • Short story ‘Venus Café’, accepted for Nethergate Writers 2021 anthology

In conclusion, we Nethergate Writers have accomplished much in the past 19 months and have exciting prospects for the year ahead, including publishing our new anthology and collaborating with Pitlochry Festival Theatre.

With very best wishes for the new cadre of Office bearers,

Abigail A. Lyons

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