Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Anthea Morrison writes about organizing the Cambridge launch of our anthology

Several months ago Words And Women put out a call for volunteers to organize an event in Cambridge to celebrate the launch of their anthology Words And Women: One. Being a strong supporter of the W&W principles of giving women writers a voice, and always on the lookout for opportunities to meet other writers, I put my name forward. Lynne Bryan put me in touch with Leigh Chambers, another Cambridge W&W volunteer, and together we set the wheels in motion. 

The event, held on 3rd June, was surprisingly easy to organise. Leigh and I are both big fans of Hot Numbers Café here in Cambridge, and with its laid-back vibe and enthusiastic support for the arts, it seemed the ideal venue to hold a reading.

We contacted contributors to the anthology who live in the Cambridge area, and they were very keen to come and read. Some of them had not read in public before, so I sent them a link to some excellent advice I found on the Thresholds Short Story Forum website - here is the link if you’re interested: http://blogs.chi.ac.uk/shortstoryforum/are-you-sitting-comfortably/

Once we had our readers lined up, the next step was to publicise the event. Leigh has many contacts in the writing world in Cambridge; she studied for her MA in Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University, and she presents Bookmark, a fortnightly radio show on Cambridge 105 featuring Cambridge-based writers. I created a flyer and we emailed it to everyone we could think of. We put posters up around town, and spread the word on Twitter and the W&W website.

I had last-minute jitters worrying that either no one would turn up or that we would be turning people away. We had absolutely no idea how many to expect, but on the night we had around fifty people, just the right amount for the venue. It really was a wonderful evening. It was immensely satisfying to bring people together who have a shared passion for writing and literature, and to see the audience having such a good time. Of course the stars of the show were the readers Sue Dean, Anni Domingo, Melissa Fu, Pia Ghosh Roy, Guinevere Glasfurd-Brown, Caroline Jackson and Dani Redd, and they all told us they enjoyed performing their work, in spite of some inevitable nerves. 

Having a live musician to play in between readings provided a perfect contrast. Polly Paulusma is an extremely talented local folk singer, and had everyone entranced during her songs. The Independent described her as ‘the most literate songwriter of her generation’ and we were really lucky that she wanted to come and support our event. I urge you to go to one of her gigs if you ever get the chance. 

Volunteering to help organise the event turned out to be a fortuitous step for me in other ways too. When I told Leigh that I had only recently moved to Cambridge and was looking for a writing group, she invited me to join hers.  Angles is exactly the kind of group I have been looking for, and has already helped me progress with my writing.

So, thank you Words And Women for the opportunity to get involved. And to any W&W members thinking of organising a similar event, I would say go for it, it’s such a worthwhile and enjoyable thing to do. I will leave you with my top tips for organising a reading:

  •                   Include some live music; it makes the event
  •                  Choose your venue carefully, avoiding harsh lights and echoing spaces
  •                  Create an intimate atmosphere with candles and low lighting
  •          Make sure your readers know how to prepare for reading aloud
  •          Make sure the venue has a PA system or take your own – don’t rely on readers having loud enough voices
  •                   Keep readings short, five minutes per reader – any longer and you risk losing the audience
  •                 Ask readers to provide a biog in advance and introduce each one personally

Anthea Morrison has lived in London, Cambridge and New York, where she took creative writing classes at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. She now lives in Cambridge, where she attends the Angles writing group. Anthea’s short stories have been published online, and her story 'You Have What You Want' is one of the highly commended entries from our prose competition, published in Words And Women: Two.

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