I’ve always been in two minds about writers’ groups. On the one hand, a writer should surely always welcome constructive criticism? On the other hand, writing a novel is not a team effort. Isn’t there a risk that novelists, if they hear too many opinions on their works-in-progress, will either lose sight of their own opinions about what they are writing, or else give up, because, in the light of other peoples’ chatter, their novel seems such a mess?
Before I went along, I was particularly worried about the Singapore Writers’ Group. I imagined, in advance, that it would be a bunch of my own kind: Expat Lady Novelists With Their Notebooks. As it turned out, the only Expat Lady Novelist With Her Notebook in attendance was me. To my considerable surprise, the group was split roughly 50:50 between men and women, and though the organizer, Alice Clark-Platts, is English, and there were several other western faces round the circle, most of the group seemed to be local, or else to be non-western expats now drawn to Singapore from their home countries all over Asia.
The range of writing, too, went way beyond the expat dramas and sagas I was expecting. Alice Clark-Platts is a human rights lawyer, and she has just completed a political thriller set in the future; it explores the long-term legacy of the war on terror. She did not read the night I polled up, but three people were brave enough to do so. One put us through the wringer with a harrowing short story about a lost child. Another read the first chapter of a genre-bending fantasy-romance about a teenaged girl seemingly possessed by an ancient Egyptian Queen, and destined to join a sisterhood dedicated to protecting modern Egypt’s female politicians. The final offering was from an Indian writer, who is working on a highly fictionalized, wildly exuberant memoir of his teenage years. The chapter he read was called That crazy, shit-assed chapter to all the lovely people in the parallel universe- yes, whatever has been reported here happened in the parallel universe. To the extent I understood it, this seemed to me in equal measure barking mad, genius, tasteless, and funny.
Next time I go, I won’t take any preconceptions, and nor will I take my notebook. If you do happen to be living in Singapore, and you want to set up shop as a writer, I recommend you give this group a try.
If you’ve ever been a member of a writers’ group, and you have thoughts on their helpfulness, or otherwise, then do please post to share them.