Saturday, 15 October 2016

CPD FOR WRITERS - #writersroomABDN

‘My dream is to see the Writers’ Room model rolled out country-
Kaite Welsh, Literature Officer, Creative Scotland 

Shane Strachan - creator of the Writers' Room
For eight weeks over the summer, I enjoyed the privilege of being part of the inaugural Aberdeen Writers’ Room, a creative project both produced and delivered by talented northeast writer, Shane Strachan.

But this was no ordinary writers’ group - if such a thing exists - Shane’s vision was bold and different. He dreamt of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for writers, where the Writers’ Room Project was only the start.

But what would we learn?

Having recently completed a PHD in Creative Writing, Shane attended a series of modules entitled Sustaining Life as a Creative, where he discovered himself to be the lone writer in the group.

So why weren’t other writers coming forward? Did they not consider themselves part of the creative industry? Did they even know such support exists? 

Shane suspected not. But he also knew the skills and knowledge he’d gained from the Sustaining Life as a Creative sessions would be useful for other writers. He’d identified the need for structured support for emerging writers in and around the Aberdeen area.

So, with the backing of Aberdeen City Council, in his role as Creative Project Practitioner, he
designed a series of workshops, focusing on the ancillary skills professional writers require, whilst continuing to improve their craft. Such skills as being social media savvy, financially aware, knowledgeable of potential funding opportunities, the benefits of building strong networks with other artists… the list goes on.

Lofty ambitions but what did this mean in practice?

Well, as I’m normally alone with only my laptop for company, it felt a fairly intense experience, as we met weekly on Thursdays. Not in a bar or café, ahem - as writers are want to do - but in a large, quiet, bright, airy space that is part of Rosemount Community Centre – The Writers’ Room. Freshly brewed coffee was always ready on arrival and a stock of biscuits at hand - all conducive to creativity. Then it was down to business.

Here’s a taster of the topics covered:

  • ·      Applying for funding as a writer – informative walk through of the application process by Kaite Welsh, Literature Officer, Creative Scotland
  • ·      Giving and Receiving Critical Feedback – masterclass by poet and novelist, Dr Wayne Price, Senior Lecturer at Aberdeen university
  • ·      Planning and Delivering Writing Workshops – attended by Amanda Matheson Aberdeen City Libraries
  • ·      Creative Projects and Collaboration – where we met with artists from Gray’s School of Art
  • ·      Performing your Work – training by professional actors, focusing on voice

In addition to weekly meet ups, we were also assigned a variety of useful tasks to complete, such as preparing our writers’ statements, trying out creative experiences around the city, actively looking for opportunities to use our practice.

In addition, Shane kept a strong focus on increasing our web presence - our website (mine’s still a WIP!), social media, blogging.

Were we:
·      Being professional (the do’s and don’ts  - considering the dangers of over sharing…)
·      Being consistent in both design and message across all platforms
·      Keeping abreast of which platforms best reach our intended audience (eg YA fiction writers engaging on Instagram)

What else made The Writers’ Room different?

For me, as well as the content of the workshops, I gained so much from learning alongside other practitioners, who write in a variety of forms.

Laura Lam, author of False Hearts
Laura Lamis the author of BBC Radio 2 Book Club selection False Hearts (2016), as well as the award-winning Micah Grey series Pantomime (2013) and Shadowplay (2014).

Gavin Gilmour - has a background in filmmaking and works in the forms of screenwriting, playwriting and prose fiction.

Megan Primrose - has a MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow and a
Artist Dalia, discussing ideas with writers
Megan Primrose & Emily Utter
postgraduate in General Journalism and enjoys writing middle school children’s fiction.

Emily Utteris a Canadian prose writer based in Scotland. She recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen, and is an Honorary Fellow of the WORD Centre for Creative Writing.

John Bolland  - is a graduate of Glasgow University's M.Litt. programme, who writes novels, short fiction and poetry.

Rachelle McKimmon - is a recipient of a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award and has completed a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Aberdeen.

Avril Heffernan – has a background in Literature development; having worked as a Literature Officer for the North West of England at Arts Council England. She has an MA in Creative Writing and an MLitt in Irish and Scottish Studies, preferring to write short form fiction.

Having fun at the Booked! Festival
Part of the Edinburgh Festival
Outreach Programme of Events
And me! - Novel Points of View blogger, Arts' Correspondent for TV Bomb and women's fiction novelist (in the making).

We sound a rum lot but our knowledge of writing in various genres and forms only added interest to our learning.

Next Steps… 

Now our planned Writers’ Room sessions are almost over, where do we go from here?

With one final workshop to look forward to in November, we're  busy working towards goals set in our Creative Action Plans. Whilst also preparing for a performance evening – further details coming soon… With a number of various projects in the pipeline.

Remember that dream of Kaite Welsh’s to see the Writers’ Room model rolled out country-wide’?

Well I love to dream BIG and hope that one day CPD will be available to all writers who require a helping hand to further their practice. So if you’re invited to join a Writers’ Room, or set up one of your own, I’d love to know…


  1. Fascinating to hear about this Rae, would not have thought it possible and now I'm very jealous! Writers groups can help with some of this, but not in such a structured way.

  2. Shane is very experienced at both identifying opportunities and using his writing skills alongside other artists in collaborative projects - a useful additional income stream whilst writing that bestseller!

    1. It sounds fantastic, Rae. Unfortunately, I doubt I live in a large enough town or that our council would have the money to fund this. However, I'd be interested to know more about how someone would set up a group and whether there is a Writers' Room running or being set up anywhere near me. Dorinda (Scarborough

    2. Your first point of contact might be your local council, Dorinda, enquiring about what funding/support is available for local writers. Sometimes it might seem as if there's no funding in place, but if you consider yourself an artist (trying to improve your practice) then funding may be forthcoming, under the artist's banner. It's worth enquiring. As to whether there's a Writers' Room running or being set up anywhere near Scarborough, I would doubt it - as this was a pilot project created by writer, Shane Strachan, and funded by Aberdeen City Council. That's not to say there might be similar projects being run in your area, or you may wish to share this post with your local council, showing what can be achieved with vision and a realistic amount of funding. Good luck. Be sure to let us know how you get on. : )

  3. Well, that is all very interesting, Rae. All sorts of things covered that I needed to learn (and how imperfectly) on the job as it were. Enjoy the November one, too. anne stenhouse

  4. Thanks, Anne. It has the feel of a model which could so easily be replicated elsewhere, if only funding is made available.

  5. What a great initiative, Rae. I hadn't heard of it but it sounds perfect for writers at all stages. The whole area of ancillary skills is one most of us are at best hazy about. Keep us informed of progress please.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Bill. I know the hope is for another group of writers to benefit from the Writers' Room Aberdeen experience - as soon as funding is in place. I'll keep you posted but it might also be worthwhile keeping an eye on the Creative Learning Facebook page, also @CC_Adn on Twitter.

    2. Sorry Bill, Michele just pointed out that the Twitter address I gave for Creative Learning didn't work. It should read @CC_Abdn

  6. What a valuable experience. Most of us would benefit from something similar to validate our writing.

    1. Thank you for reading, Vonnie. It was a fantastic, focused experience which I hope will be repeated for other writers.

  7. Sounds brilliant. I can't find @CC_Adn on twitter.

    1. Sorry Michele, I was rushing! Creative Learning can be found @CC_Abdn on Twitter. Hope that works and thanks for reading. : )

  8. Crikey, I feel quite giddy reading all that ....probably the wrong generation to get my head around all of it. I was dragged kicking and screaming to social media but concede that, yes, it does have its place for a writer these days. Well thought out post, Rae.

    1. They were full sessions, Linda, but Shane Strachan was excellent at leading us gently through what was required. Also, they were simply a fantastic group of writers who helped make learning fun!

  9. That's a fascinating concept, Rae. But it sounds so intense! I don't know if I'd be able to process it all...

    1. The initial series of workshops took eight weeks to complete, so it wasn't quite as intense as it appears when all squashed in one blog post. I think you'd enjoy the experience, Jennifer, as much of it was really about writers helping other writers. : )