Shortbreaders Share: The Lemon Tree Writers
Shortbreader Bill Robertson shares with us his inspirations for writing, and his experiences with the famed Lemon Tree Writers.
I can always remember having an urge to write and tell stories. Whenever I have something published my mum likes to remind me of the time I told her I was going to write a book when I was still in primary school. I loved the rare opportunities we had in school to do creative writing – I even remember being given a punishment exercise, which I turned it into turn a World War 2 action adventure yarn. In secondary school I had a sci-fi story and a few record reviews published in the school magazine. I also messed around with a friend writing funny and often crude stories which featured our classmates. By the time I went off to Dundee University to do my degree my creative writing mostly stopped. I was entertaining notions of going off to be a music or film writer working for magazines – thus combining all my passions into a viable career. Sadly despite a few encouraging rejection letters (now there’s an oxymoron for you!) I became discouraged and gave up on the idea. Still, the writing bug refused to leave me. I would find myself hunched over the keyboard late at night, pecking out ideas for stories that would sit gathering digital dust on my hard drive as I didn’t have a clue what to do with them. On a visit to the library a came upon a publication called Fife Fringe and sent a couple of poems and stories off to them. Much to my surprise they were accepted. I even won a prize for one of my poems. However, fate intervened again when I went off to Aberdeen to become a student teacher. My writing slid further and further down my priority list – I had a career to concentrate on and being a new teacher kept me very busy for a few years.
But the writer inside me wouldn’t go away.
In 2007, I decided I needed some direction if it was ever going to go anywhere. I needed to get feedback on my writing, maybe even find someone who knew how to get published!
I searched on the internet for writing groups in my local area and found the website of a group called the Lemon Tree Writers. The group was established in 1992 by an American writer called Todd McEwen. The website said that they met every two weeks to discuss new writing and to organise readings, workshops and retreats. Not really knowing what to expect, I plucked up the courage to go along to a meeting – at that time the group still met in Aberdeen’s famous Lemon Tree venue. I was shown to a cramped little room upstairs filled with people. I squeezed myself into a seat and a nice lady gave me a copy of something she called “the script”. Members, she said, could submit their work and read it out for the group to offer constructive criticism of it. I would later discover that the nice lady was called Gillian Philip a well established writer of young adult fiction. By the end of the meeting I had spoken to a few other people and decided that I would come to the next meeting and have a look through my hard drive for something to put into the script.
In what I hope is just a coincidence, not long after I started going to the meetings the Lemon Tree was closed down due to a funding crisis. Since then the group has met at the Douglas Hotel in Aberdeen’s city centre. Members have come and gone but the core ideals and principles of the group remain the same – to promote writing in all its shapes and forms across the north-east of Scotland and to provide a forum to support and develop the writing of its members. The group regularly holds prose and poetry workshops from guest writers and group members on all aspects of writing. The group also contributes to Word, the University of Aberdeen Writers’ Festival, and at New Words, the festival of new writing for Aberdeen and North-East Scotland as well as putting on performances of work by members. Through funding from various bodies and membership subscriptions the group has published a series of anthologies and chapbooks most of which can be found on Amazon.co.uk.
The membership of the group is diverse; we have young and old, prose writers, playwrights and poets and each one brings their own unique personality and genre of writing to the table. Group meetings are open to anyone with the one stipulation that they leave £1 for the coffee and biscuits the hotel provides. Only full members can contribute to the script but the subscription cost is a very reasonable £20 per year. All of the money is put back into the group and helps pay for workshops and publishing books.
The emphasis at meetings is on constructive criticism and advice. As writers it’s often difficult to have perspective on our work but take it from me – listening to twenty or so people read your story and then offer an avalanche of good suggestions on how to make it even better will soon sort that out! Members are all invited to take turns chairing meetings and decisions about publications, performances and workshops are arrived at democratically.
I joined the group looking for a bit of advice on developing my writing and while I’ve certainly done that, I’ve also been able to chair meetings, have my writing published, take part in literary festivals and in shows put on by the group. Most important of all though, I’ve made a lot of new friends who share a love of writing in all its varied forms.
One of my proudest moments as a Lemon Tree Writer to date was reading a story out to a packed room during the 2011 Word Festival and getting to meet Margaret Atwood afterwards in the writer’s green room – maybe there was something to this writer’s lark after all I thought.
If you attend a writing group and would like to share your experiences with other Shortbreaders, please email firstname.lastname@example.org