A Rough Guide To Leicester’s Writing Ecosystem

 Welcome to my jungle. As I peer through the fronds and creepers, it feels like I’m not in Leicester anymore. It’s a dangerous environment for a writer. A bit like I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here but with two critical differences.

  1. There are no celebrities
  2. No-one is getting out of here.

    Leicester in Bloom...

Still, you can make a good life for yourself if you’re careful; dodge the large predators, avoid the snakes, leeches and weasels and reach a pleasant modus vivendi with your fellow creatures. I for one have over a year’s experience in handling this environment. Oh, yes. I’m dead good at this, me. So if you are new to Leicester or to writing (or both), let me show you round the place and squeeze the life out of this jungle metaphor. So strap on your pith-helmet and glug down your quinine. Quickly! We haven’t got all day.

Now, lets start at the beginning. If you are new to writing and/or Leicester, you do need a place to start. A safe haven to learn a few tricks, meet a few fellow travellers and get an idea of the lie of the land. Some sort of base-camp, if you will. The safest place to begin your journey is in Wellington Street. In the college, next to the library is Writing School Leicester. An essential stopover for aspirant wordsmiths. WSL run courses on all kinds of subjects related to writing (Poetry, journalism, Sci-Fi, writing stories for women’s magazines). They cater for all levels and abilities. There are courses on almost anything you can think of. Sign up, meet some fellow scribblers and take notes. It will set you up with what you need to continue on.

Hopefully these courses will give you some confidence to proceed. If so, perhaps it is time to approach a writing group. These are the watering-holes in the savannah where the animals congregate. There are big beasts, dinosaurs, cheeky monkeys and fluffy bunnies galore. Be prepared for the occasional mishap, but give them a try; you might make some good friends there. There is a pecking order in amongst the apparent mayhem. At the top of the food-chain, you have Leicester Writer’s Club. These guys are serious. You have to be a published writer (or have two years of WSL courses under your belt) in order to join. They do have public events, though, where you can meet them and make useful contacts. One day you might get to join them.

 

More accessible groups for the neophyte include The Leicester Casuals, The Speculators (For SF/Fantasy/Horror), Grace Dieu Writers (Coalville). All are good and worth a visit. Libraries (a great resource, wouldn’t you know) have details of many of them. That interweb thingy can also be useful in identifying a group near you. It may be that you prefer to get together with friends and run your own group-writing or critique sessions. Do it. There is nothing that improves your writing as much as exposure to fellow lit-heads. Find them, bring them (rule them and in the darkness bind them) together.

At certain times of the year, writers flock and migrate. These ‘conferences’ are important for your calendar. Social events are always a boon. Writing is a solitary calling, so this is a chance for writers to meet and share ideas. (And to drink themselves senseless). If any of that appeals, the Biannual Writer’s Industries Conference takes place in Loughborough. Lyric Lounge is a poetry and performance event, The Literary Leicester fest is brought to you by the folks at Leicester Uni, St Georges Day will bring some liteary events to the Cultural Quarter this year. If you are an SF nerd like yours truly, there is also Fantasycon (Nottingham) and Alt.Fiction (Derby) to consider.

The jungle is a noisy place. Full of screeching, howling, muttering and declaiming. If you fancy making some noise to go with your syllables there are various spoken word nights dedicated to poetry and prose. Word is the most venerable of these. Leicester Poetry Society caters for the rhymers and shakers. For prose it is Shortfuse , staged in the wonderful Y Theatre.

Ian McEwan, headliner at a Shortfuse event.

As with every other sphere of life, government impinges on our selvatic paradise. Running logging concessions for Leicester and the East Midlands region is Writing East Midlands. They provide a number of useful services for aspiring writers including manuscript readings (and critiques), mentoring programmes and funding for events and conferences. A very helpful bunch all in all. There are other bodies that deal with creative writing too. The Literature Network is a fine example of a locally based one. They act as an information hub and provide lots of other kinds of help.

All that keeps you afloat in this game is your fellow writers.

Finally a word about the dangers. In any jungle there are predators. In this case most will be after your money. They range from vanity publishing outfits to ‘editorial services’ which charge you a fee to bring your work to a publishable standard. Inform yourself about such scams and avoid them at all costs. Similarly I would warn all writers to beware of Creative Writing Degrees/MAs/Diplomas offered by universities desperate to cash in on your dream of a writing career. Forget them. What they can teach you you can learn from the WSL at a fraction of the cost. You can save the money for a rainy day. That day is drawing ever closer as my beloved jungle is facing huge challenges as arts budgets are squeezed and opportunities diminish. How many elements of the ecosystem will survive this crisis?

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About floppybootstomp

Lecturer, teacher, writer and traveller all perfectly good nouns aren't they? Do they have anything to do with me? Ask the taxman.

Posted on March 5, 2010, in Writing Stuff and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’d agree that’s an accurate description of the jungle called Leicester.

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