A year on ...

Jane Woodham, Dunedin, August 2018

Fifteen months after the launch of our website, on her blogspot kuracarpenterdesign.blogspot.com Kura Carpenter interviews Jane Woodham about how the Otago Writers' Network site came about, and progress to date.

Who started Otago Writers' Network? (And when)
It was started by the members of Kath Beattie’s Writing Group in 2017, and came about almost by accident.

We wanted to celebrate the fact that we had been together as a writing group for twenty-four years. Claire Beynon came up with the idea of showcasing the group’s work on a web-site. Then someone mentioned how nice it was to hear the writer read aloud their work, and words like podcasts and MP3 files started to get thrown about. As newest group member I volunteered to run with the idea and apply for funding from the DCC Community Arts Grants. A requirement of the grant is that there is community involvement. We knew Kath was often contacted by writers looking for a writing group, so we thought why not use the website to help writers find existing groups and where necessary create new ones.

What’s been the hardest aspect of launching the OWC?
It took quite a bit of organising, but eventually things fell into place. In order to record our writers’ voices we needed to find a sound engineer and Claire suggested Danny Buchanan, husband of Caroline Davies, the creator of the wonderful Down In Eden on-line magazine. While looking for a recording studio Danny asked Otago Access Radio if we could use their facilities. They came up with the idea of recording a 15-part radio series, which we could then link to our website and use for MP3 files. Lastly we got help from Yvonne Sommer from clickdesign.co.nz to help put together the website.

The most nerve-wracking thing was recording the actual radio series. Luckily for us Danny said he’d help, so he did the technical stuff while we read our work and interviewed one another. I’d warned each member we’d need about 24 minutes of material, including a reading and an interview, as well as a couple of pieces of music. We had two days in which to record 15 hours of radio. Not to put too fine a point on it, half our group are over seventy. Websites and podcasts leave them cold, but as soon as I mentioned a radio series their eyes lit up. I asked them to pair themselves up, and drew up a timetable. Danny and I weren’t sure we could get it all done in two days, but crossed our fingers and waited. We were gobsmacked. Along everyone came, clutching their pieces of paper, on time and fully prepared, and we were done in half the time. They were so professional.

We launched the website at the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival in May 2017. There being twelve of us present that day we worried the panel might outnumber the audience, but the Dunningham Suite was packed. One by one the group spoke about their experience of being in a writing group, about what they felt they had gained and why they recommended others to join or create their own groups. It was a magical afternoon. I was very proud to be part of that group.

What it is you hope to achieve with the OWN?
A strong network of writing groups across Otago. Not just generic writing groups, but also specific groups, ie groups for people who write for children, or groups for self-publishers, or groups for male writers … why belong to just one group when you can belong to several?

How can other Otago writers become involved?
On our website is a page that lists the writing groups within Otago. If you are looking to join a writing group, that is a good place to look for one.

If you’re not sure which is the best group for you, contact us by completing the form on the Contact Us page and we will suggest a group. If you can’t see a group there that appeals to you, you might wish to start your own, in which case we could list it. If you belong to a writing group that is not listed, let us know and we will add you to our list.

We have created one new group, and added dozens of writers to existing groups. We nearly started a men’s group, but so far that has failed to materialise.

Another way to meet other writers is at the NZSA Salon, which is held every second Monday of the month at the Athenaeum Library, in the Octagon. Paddy Richardson and I are on the committee. Members of our first new writing group ‘Black Ink’ have read for us, as have members of Dunedin Writers’ Workshop, Writing Dunedin and Kath’s Writing Group. It’s a great place for new writers to practice the art of reading their work aloud, as well being somewhere you can listen to the experts. Last year we had Scottish writers Lesley Glaister and Andrew Greig read, this October we have former poet laureate Jenny Bernholdt with Greg O’Brien and our very own Claire Beynon.