We had our first ever book launch on Saturday 8th July. The place was jam-packed with friends, family, students, ex-students, supporters and even a smattering of strangers. We had to get extra seats, budge good-natured people along rows.
After a nervous start by me, the students read their pieces. Perfectly. Without a hitch. And with such deft ease and honesty, the audience were held for the whole hour. Afterwards, to our pleasure, almost everyone stayed to talk. The word I heard over and over was 'inspiring'. They were right. The students were inspiring.
This was a truly community affair. Wine was provided by the Kemsleys and their boys served. Barnaby and Noah, my sons sold books and manned the door. And Duncan, my lovely husband, did the sound and provided music.
We raised over £400 for Inside Out Community: an arts and mental health charity which offers free arts classes to people with mental health issues. I am lucky enough to be their writer in residence.
If you want to see what all the fuss is about, our book 'Paths Made by Walking' is available from Wivenhoe Bookshop and The Red Lion Bookshop, Colchester. If you want to be part of one of our many writing groups, please contact me or sign up to any of our courses on the website.
Below are some comments from the writers. We are missing Bryan's feedback but I'll come back and edit this as soon as I get it.
There was a great, supportive vibe in the room. People really responded to each piece and each reader. Afterwards the comments were about how good each piece was: how polished and impactful. I got the impression that friends expected to hear amateurs and discovered we were pretty professional.
I felt that the process of getting ready for publication and then reading aloud has helped me develop as a writer. I had to make sure that whatever appeared in print was what I really meant, not an approximation.
A delightful mix of people arrived up the stairs: those with youth on their side; those with walking sticks and supporting arms. It was a blustery day but the showers stopped as soon as the readings began and the room went quiet.
After the readings, the party that emerged was a pleasant suprise: chatting, consuming wine, nibbling cheese biscuits; conversation easy.
It was the first time we had put our work, our thoughts, our words and ourselves under scrutiny. Bare for all to see. Each person spoke with sincerity about the self. It was a development of ourselves as writers; a belief that we can do it!
We had written, created, then edited and edited again. The day had come and our laughing dress-rehearsal of the day before was all that prepared us to face a real audience. I felt elated wit a bubbling excitement throughout the day. I attended to practical details, making mini-quiches and washing my hair as nerves and doubts began to creep in. I wondered how people would react and whether I was prepared for their reaction.
My memory of a wonderful evening was the intense bond between audience and reader, a rapidly formed, tangible trust and shared emotion. Such intimacy in a crowded room.
Now I want to come to terms with what is next?
What was interesting was the way in which the pieces seemed new. Even though I'd been reading these pieces for months, on and off, and had heard it the day before. We were somehow listening with the audience's reaction in mind.
At the anthology launch I told the story of my coming to Wivenhoe, starting creative writing, and what that has meant to me. It was quite a vulnerable story, being open about my struggles with physical and mental illness and how writing has helped me cope. I was so nervous beforehand, but the reactions were overwhelmingly positive. It made me realise that perhaps my writing is not just self-indulgent but that others, who are dealing with similar issues, can benefit from my sharing my experiences. It’s made me gain some confidence in my abilities as a writer and visual artist, inspiring me to keep at it and try to eventually reach a larger audience.
The final word must go to David, who is an ex-student from the group, who contacted us with the email after the event. I think it says everything I feel about the students and all their hard work.
Hi Petra and you wonderful writers, I love this book from it’s title, wonderful cover and everything inside. It’s just marvellous how the writing quality has soared to new heights, and the editing so tight not a single word is wasted. The launch was a great success with wonderful heartfelt readings, everyone deserved the congratulations they received. Your preface was well considered and encapsulated the group ethos wonderfully well. I am treating it like a box of chocolates, to dip in for a treat now and again, rather than wolfing the whole lot in one go. I remember a couple of pieces from when we were writing together, by my how they have developed and improved. So far I am sure I remember Angela E’s Christmas walk, and Frederike and her Mum’s computer games. I am going to steal the line from Angela E’s piece ‘ we could never have loved the earth etc’ and maybe use it in the future. I love the way the group has bonded together and support each other, Jan asked me why I would want evert to leave such a group. So congratulations all round, splendid stuff, may you all go on to even more success. Best Regards,