As part of the Prime Writers’ first anniversary celebrations, the members reflect on their experiences of the group’s inaugural year.
We Are One marks an important anniversary, but it is also an expression of the group ethos, the camaraderie and support we give to each other.
Writers’ groups abound, some genre-based, others geographical. The Prime Writers is unusual in that it serves authors who are all at the beginning of their writing careers. Most joined as debut novelists, and during the course of our first year, several have gone on to publish their second books and more. We’ve had a lot to celebrate, and some things to commiserate. We’ve done literary events together and gone on our first retreat, and the group has bonded through the good and the bad.
This month, the members reflect on what the group’s first year has meant to them, in the hope that it will be instructive for others. We hear from them in their own words below, but first… a song, sung to the tune of ‘That’s Life’ (with apologies to Frank Sinatra):
Just write, that’s what people say
Bestseller on Kindle deal, remaindered in May
But we know we’re gonna make it through
With those splendid scribes, the Prime Writers crew
We’ve won prizes, donned guises, binned drafts and had laughs,
All over the place
Been beaten and eaten our weight in Digestives
(Much stuffing of face)
But through the bad news and the one-star reviews, Prime Writers keep the faith
And pick ourselves up, and get back in the race
Antonia Honeywell, founder of The Prime Writers, starts us off. ‘What I love most of all about TPW – the thing I’m proudest about having started – is that it’s a space in which every single one of us, whether we’re wrestling with day jobs, dependents or demons (or all three, often simultaneously) is a writer first. I needed that. I still do.’
As Antonia suggests, writing requires dedicated single-mindedness, which makes it a lonely business, and this underlies much of the reason why TPW is such a lifeline. Becca Mascull says, ‘It gives me a real sense of belonging and comradeship and water-cooler chat during the long days of writing. I couldn’t do without it!’ This is echoed by both Claire Fuller, and Sarah Vaughn, who liken it to a ‘virtual office’ – as Kerry Hadley says, ‘one where you actually like your workmates!’ Terry Stiasny says, ‘This group is the best bits of an office or a newsroom: the pub after work; the gossip when the bosses are somewhere else; the bits I miss.’ As Martine Bailey says, ‘Without TPW, I’d be up here in Chester incredibly isolated and confused.’ Fleur Smithwick feels the same: ‘I don’t know what I would have done without the Prime Writers. I definitely would be a lot more confused than I am. It’s so helpful sharing our mishaps as well as our triumphs.’ Kerry Fisher says, ‘I really appreciate hearing the truth about so many aspects of publishing, not the Facebook filtered versions!’
Friendship is another strong theme for the members. In such a competitive industry, where it feels like everyone is fighting for attention and sales, strong bonds have developed between writers in different genres, who would not have met otherwise. Vanessa Lafaye says, ‘My TPW friendships give me joy and satisfaction on a daily basis. Not only that, their insights have helped me in tangible, practical ways- better than any workshop I’ve been on, and more fun!’
And this brings us to TPW’s fundamental raison d’être: everyone in the group is on the same journey, whether it’s their first, second or third book. As Claire Fuller says, ‘It’s great to know a wonderful group of people who are going through pretty much the same thing as me at the same time – the good things and the not so good.’ There is no degree course, no definitive guide to being a new writer (watch this space), and there are so many pitfalls, so many decisions to make. For any question, there is usually an answer to be found in the group’s combined experience—sometimes several, contradictory answers! Sarah Jasmon says, ‘Being in this group meant always having someone around to answer questions, share frustrations and have a proper good laugh with’. Kerry Drewey says, ‘Being part of this group is being able to post a sensible question someone will know the answer to one day to having a debate about something the next.’ Louise Beech says, ‘This is a place to talk openly about writing, where all opinions and thoughts are respected, where I’ve learnt an incredible amount about other writers’ experiences, where there’s practical help, emotional support, a sympathetic ear.’ Martine Bailey describes being in the group as ‘a wonderful crash course on being a debut novelist.’ And Rachael Lucas has found that mixing with different writers in a safe space has benefited her in another way: ‘It’s been really interesting to discover that whether you are a genre writer or writing literary fiction, the process – and often the struggles – are the same.’
The mutual support is crucial. As Fionnula Kearney says, ‘I know there is support here on a daily basis and for me that’s the crux – support. There will always be someone ready and willing to respond to a moment of angst, madness, and joy too.’ This relies on trust and respect—not always guaranteed in groups, especially online. Both Karin Salvalaggio and Alison Layland were initially hesitant about jumping in, but were pleasantly surprised. Karin says, ‘Our correspondence in our Facebook group and the lunches we hold on a regular basis strengthen our connections. It’s a group of people that appreciates both our privileged and tenuous positions as published authors.’ Alison initially felt self-conscious as well, but has found it has helped her generally on social media: ‘The friendship and support of the group has actually given me much more confidence in developing my own online presence.’ Jason Hewitt says, ‘Starting to write a new book sometimes feels like jumping off a bridge into an enormous pool of water not knowing whether you are going to bob to the surface or sink straight to the bottom. Being part of the Prime Writers is knowing that either side of you, before you jump is another writer each holding your hand.’
Jane Lythell sums it up: ‘The most special thing is that we are a community. To be happy you need a roof over your head, enough to eat, a chance to express your potential and the sense of belonging to a community. Most of us have a number of communities that hold us and the Prime Writers is my writing community.’
This isn’t just a celebration of The Prime Writers; it’s a celebration of what is possible when people come together and give their best to each other. It’s also a rebuttal of the idea that writers are uniformly misanthropic egomaniacs jealous of anyone else’s success. True, we all have our private, dark, bitter moments; in general, however, in the group it’s a case of ‘the rising tide lifts all boats’. However, it’s not all luvvy hearts and flowers. As Karin Salvalaggio says, ‘The work ethic is phenomenal.’ Word races are frequent, as are research questions, and draft swapping. What we learn helps us to be better writers and navigate this tricky business with more confidence. And confidence—along with talent and grit and perseverance and luck—is essential to any writer, and so easily undermined.
TPW is closed to new members for now, but we hope that our story will inspire anyone out there thinking of setting up a group or joining another group. It is possible to come together with like-minded fellow writers, and set aside competitiveness for a greater good.
What you give, you get back. In abundance.