The Oxford Writers’ Group (OWG) has a long and distinguished history. Its inception dates from 1983 and over the years it has helped numerous writers to fulfil their dreams of publication. It began when two Oxford writers, Jo Clay and Tony Horwood met on a writing course and realised that there were no writers’ groups in Oxford. They decided to change that fact, and set about contacting all the writers they knew and encouraging them to join the OWG.
The first meeting took place in the Oxford Union. The format was quickly established of members taking it in turns to read aloud about ten minutes worth of work for constructive criticism. They gave themselves the motto ‘Writers working towards publication.’ As time went on, the group found it preferable to meet in members’ houses rather than the formal atmosphere of the Union. The first such meetings took place in Jericho in the home of Jane Gordon-Cumming and her mother, Barbara. To give people a greater chance of being able to read, membership was restricted; anyone wanting to join had to already have a basic standard of writing. This meeting format remains in place today, along with plenty of encouragement mixed with mugs of tea, coffee, and homemade cakes!
Over the years the OWG has been chaired by some marvellously inspired and talented people, most recently by the wonderful Linora Lawrence. Under her quiet and tactful leadership, the OWG has gone from strength to strength. It was Linora who introduced the group to the late Colin Dexter, who became our great supporter and unofficial patron. Linora died in January 2020 and will be greatly missed.
It was during Linora’s chairmanship that the OWG set up Oxpens, our publishing arm, and we commenced writing and then publishing The Sixpenny Debt and other Oxford Stories. This was the first of our five successful anthologies of short stories, all of which are set in Oxford, or in the surrounding countryside.
Why might you think about joining a writers’ group? One answer could be that writing can be a lonely business. Joining a local group is a great way of making writing-minded friends, and receiving their support and advice to help advance your writing career.
These discussions about your work are extremely valuable and not something you are likely to be able to have with your friends and family, unless they happen to be writers too. It will vary from group to group as to exactly how often members can read, and for how long. It is important to check what the form is with the organisers before your first meeting. Some groups will welcome beginners, whilst others, like the OWG, prefer everyone to have some years of writing experience behind them, whether as a published writer, or as someone who has taken various writing courses. Joining a group is a commitment; not only do you have to be prepared to have your own writing discussed, you must also be prepared to join in discussions about the work of other members.
Lists of local writers’ groups can be found online, or possibly through your local library if you are lucky enough to still have one nearby. What happens however, if your searches bring up nothing? One answer is that you might decide to start your own group, just as Jo Clay and Tony Harwood did all those years ago.
Published current members include: Crime: Ann Granger; Fiction: Liz Harris, Mary Cavanagh, Sylvia Vetta, Heather Rosser, Barbara Hudson, Rosie Orr, Margaret Pelling, Jane Gordon Cumming; Children’s fiction: John Kitchen, Chris Blount, Jane Stemp, Sheila Costello; Non-fiction: Gina Claye, Sylvia Vetta, Heather Rosser, Mary Cavanagh
Successful past members of the OWG include: Crime: Andrew Pucket, Veronica Stallwood; Fiction: Linda Taylor, Catherine Fox; Non-fiction: Helen Rappaport.
I have been an active member of the Oxford Writers’ Group for over 20 years, concentrating on adult fiction.
I have contributed a story to 4 of the 5 published anthologies, providing the title story for The Lost College.
I have had two children’s books published, ‘Gaspar the Goal’, and ‘Rug, the Little Brown Rugby Ball’. These are both available for purchase from me directly.
Blue Cinnamon, my first my first full-blooded novel, was published in April 2019. It can be obtained through Amazon
I am proud to have been involved with the group, which has offered me support and encouragement throughout my writing career.
Mary Cavanagh was born in Oxford and lives in Kennington. Her published work includes The Crowded Bed (Transita 2007), The Priest, His Lady and The Drowned Child (Thames River Press 2013) and Who Was Angela Zendalic (Thames River Press 2014). Calling All Authors, a comprehensive marketing and publicity guide for authors, was published by New Generation Publishing in autumn 2015. She describes her writing as strong contemporary fiction, born out of her observations and experiences of humankind, and man’s battle with close relationships.
Angela Cecil Reid
Angela Cecil Reid is currently working on a biography of the Amherst and Mitford families. Her short story, Arthur’s Boy, was commended in the Sid Chaplin Short Story Competition, and the opening chapters of her novel for Young Adults, Nile Cat, reached the regional short list for Waterstone’s Wow Factor Competition. She was previously a teacher, working with dyslexic children, and now divides her time between writing and shepherding her rare-breed Cotswold sheep on her farm outside Oxford.
Sheila Costello has had two children’s novels published by Oxford University Press under the name Anne Lake. The Cats’-Eye Lighters (1991) and The Box That Joanne Found (1995). She is a contributor to the OxPens short story anthologies. Her interest in writing probably started at primary school where in her last year she regularly won the class prize of chocolate for the best story. Sheila lives in Oxford and used to work for a well known, local book company. Apart from writing, she enjoys music, dancing, walks in the country and reading.
Gina Claye’s book for the bereaved, Don’t Let Them Tell You How To Grieve (OxPens) is used by Cruse Bereavement Care to help those who are grieving. She is editor of Compassion, the journal of The Compassionate Friends (an organisation of bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents supporting and caring for those similarly bereaved). She has recently brought out another book for bereaved parents entitled Upright with Knickers On: surviving the death of a child, which shares how she survived the death of her two children; what helped her to keep going, and after experiencing the pain and despair of traumatic grief, live life again with hope and meaning.
She has had children’s poems published in anthologies by Scholastic and Oxford University Press, and has published a book of poetry for children, English Spelling is Bonkers, a fun way of helping children remember different ways of spelling the same sound.
Liz’s first six novels were published by Choc Lit. The Road Back (US Coffee Time and Romance Book of the Year), A Bargain Struck (RoNA shortlisted for the Best Historical Novel). They and Evie Undercover, The Art of Deception, A Western Heart and The Lost Girl were shortlisted by the Festival of Romantic Fiction. Liz’s latest novels, The Dark Horizon and The Flame Within, are Books 1 and 2 of The Linford Series.
A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Historical Novel Society, Liz gives talks and workshops at conferences, and regularly speaks to WI and book groups. Her website is www.lizharrisauthor.com
John Kitchen’s first book, Nicola’s Ghost (New Generation Press) won the New Generation Publishing Prize 2011 and ‘The Writer’s Digest Best Self-Published Young Adult Novel in the same year. His second Book, A Spectre in the Stones was published by Thames River Press in June 2013 and a third, for Young Adults, Jax’ House was published by Union Bridge Books in the Summer of 2015. He has also written a picture book, Kamazu’s Big Swing Band published by New Generation Press in 2014. Born in Cornwall, he graduated in English and Education from London University, and taught in Cornwall, Worcestershire and Oxfordshire. As a teacher he wrote plays and musicals for children, but retired in 2001 to write full time, specialising in fiction for young people.
Barbara Lorna Hudson
Barbara Lorna Hudson studied languages at Newnham College Cambridge and then trained in social work. She was a psychiatric social worker for several years before becoming a social work lecturer. After retiring she took up fiction writing and completed the University of East Anglia Certificate in Creative Writing. She began with short stories e.g. Click to Click: Tales of Internet Dating, a Kindle e-book. Her first novel Timed Out (Driven Press, 2016) is about an older woman trying to turn her life around. Her second novel Makeover (Fantastic Books Publishing, 2019) features an Oxford don and a personal shopper.
Radmila May has had articles published in the literary and political journal Contemporary Review on subjects including Barbara Pym, the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal, and a survey of crime fiction set in Oxford (Murder Most Oxford). Recently she has been assisting in a new edition of her late husband Richard May’s book, Criminal Evidence. Her contribution to The Bodleian Murders was inspired by an Arvon Crime Writing course, while her contribution to The Midnight Press arose from an exercise for an Oxford University Department of Continuing Education writing class. She lived intermittently in Oxford since 1987 but now lives in Chiswick, London. She reviews crime fiction for the crime e-zine Mystery People and is actively involved in the Crime Writers Association.
Margaret Pelling has lived in Oxford since she arrived in the city as a physics student in the nineteen sixties. Her two published contemporary novels are A Diamond in the Sky (Honno) and Work For Four Hands (Starborn Books). She has recently finished an historical novel, Trafalgar’s Other Admiral, which explores the experiences of the French commander-in-chief as a prisoner of war in Britain. Margaret came back to her first love, writing fiction, along a roundabout route involving research astrophysics and then the Civil Service, but after she began a novel (just for the hell of it) ‘Yes, Minister’ became ‘Goodbye, Minister’ and she took to writing full time.
Heather Rosser’s writing career began with Jounalism and Educational writing.
Her first novel, In the Line of Duty, is based on her grandfather’s experiences as a seaplane pilot in the First World War. It was published in 2014 and short-listed for the RNA Joan Hessayon award in 2015.
Growing up in the Mandara Mountains of Nigeria was published in 2018. A sequal, Coming of Age in Botswana, will be published in 2021.
As a writer Sylvia Vetta is best known in the Oxfordshire area for the 18 years she was a freelance writer on The Oxford Times and other magazines especially for her popular Oxford Castaway series which gave her the opportunity to write the lives of 120 inspirational people from five continents – six if you count the time film producer Victor Glynn lived and worked in Australia . Her novels cross cultures and cross time but have impressive endorsements for their authenticity. Brushstrokes in Time set in China and California wouldn’t have been possible without the three years she spent researching and interviewing Qu Leilei ,a founder of the Stars Art Movement (Beijing 1979), It has been endorsed by China experts from Oxford ,Harvard and Frankfurt and the poet Jenny Lewis says it is ‘Utterly mesmerising and unforgettable and among my top ten historical novels.’
Sculpting the Elephant set in Oxford and India is close to her own life experience. Her Indian born partner Dr Atam Vetta’s PhD was in Quantitative Genetics. She learned from him that each one of us is unique. Her life has taught her that when you see your fellow human being as just that – a unique human being – and refrain from attaching labels you react with empathy. That is why she and one of her Oxford castaways Nancy Mudenyo Hunt have been able to write the novel Not so Black and White together. In her free time Sylvia was involved with overseas development projects and has been a library campaigner. That is why for every copy sold the charity Nancy founded ,The Nasio Trust, will donate £5 to enable a woman to have free numeracy and literacy classes.