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 Horwood 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.