By Angela L. Garratt
I suppose the best place to start this story is at the very beginning. You’ll see why.
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. It all started with writing non-fiction, I did, and I still do, have a massive interest in the natural world. For many years I wrote and studied zoology; it was my passion and, to a certain extent, it still is. I wanted to write fiction, but for the life of me, I just could not get my imagination working. I was convinced that it was my busy lifestyle that was suppressing it, one way, or the other I just could not write a fictitious story.
Then, on the 1st December 2009, my dad called me and told me that he had cancer, lung cancer. I didn’t think about it; I handed my notice into my gaffer at work to look after my dad. I didn’t know how much time he had left, and I had no idea about carers allowance or income support, but I was willing to give up my flat and move in with my dad, thanks to the DWP, I didn’t need to do that.
On the 23rd December 2009, I went to the hospital with him to find that his cancer had moved to his liver. I was distraught, my dad was terminal, and there was nothing they could do to save him, and after a few hard and very emotional weeks, my dad passed away on the 11th February 2010.
My dad’s flat was under Walsall Council, and they only gave us three weeks to clear out his belongings and return the keys. At the time, I could not think of anything other than how cold the council was: they hardly even gave us time to grieve before we were bagging up his clothes to give to the charity shop. His furniture was shared among the family as none of us could bear to see all of his belongings go to the local tip.
On the day the council inspector came out to ensure we were leaving his flat in a reasonable condition, I sat on the counter in the kitchen, and as I stared at the kitchen floor where his dining table used to be, or the marks where the fridge-freezer, washing machine and cooker used to be, I thought, ‘Is this it? Is this all that’s left of our lives when we’re gone, a few marks on the kitchen floor that will be taken up in a matter of days?’ I knew then that I had to leave a little bit of myself behind; I could not allow my life to be worth nothing more than a few temporary marks on a kitchen floor. That thought scared me more than anything did, even more than death itself. So, I got to work on my imagination, and the first words to Innocent Spirits (my novel) were born.
As I started writing, the story just came through my fingers as I wrote. I didn’t plot. I had an idea, a few character names, and I wrote. I told my family that I was writing a book, and they laughed. They thought that it was just another phase, which to be honest with you; I was a bit disappointed in their attitude. I don’t very often do phases, if I say I am going to do something, generally, I do it.
No matter where I looked, I could not find the support I needed. I was trying to class myself as a writer as I had been writing for many years, it was just at this point, I had not yet been published, and I did know how to go about being published. I just wanted to write, and I needed support, but there was none. Not for me anyway.
Eighteen months after writing the first words of my novel, I signed a publishing deal, not a great one as it was published in America by Xlibris, they are not a publisher I would recommend to anyone by the way. A few weeks after that, I received the first copies of my book, and I was in awe to see it in print. I gave a copy to my mom and my sister, both were pleasantly surprised, and they ate their original words which gave me immense satisfaction, but I was still not getting the support I needed as a writer, I didn’t know any other writers.
So, one day, I walked into Wednesbury library and asked if there were any writing groups about. The lady at the counter said no, but she gave me the name and phone number of a fella that was the leader of Poetry Wednesbury (I am not going to share his name because he may not like being in my story). Well, I called him, and it turned out that he did not have a venue for Poetry Wednesbury. So, the whole idea of it was on hold, but he did invite me to a local pub where a poetry and music event was taking place. I went, and I met a whole bunch of writers, some published and some not. From then, Poetry Wednesbury started taking place at Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery. Every month, I went there (and met my fiancé, Niven). After that, poetry and music events were taking place at Wednesbury library, and by now people were getting to know me, my book Innocent Spirits was selling well, and I got to know all the staff at my local libraries. So, I asked Samantha Goode (the then area manager of Wednesbury, Oldbury and West Bromwich libraries) if she wanted a writing group at Oldbury Library. She said yes, and after a month of advertising, the OWG was born on the 22nd August 2014.
Starting the OWG was one of the best things I have ever done. Not only have I met an array of wonderful, talented, and interesting people, but also I have made some very special friends. The support I needed at the beginning of my writing experience I have had, tenfold, and in turn, I have supported other writers. We go on trips together as a group to find new skills, inspiration and have new experiences. These trips have included the VE Day Celebrations at Cannock Chase Museum, Haden Hill House, Birmingham library for the Shakespeare exhibition, The PowWow Festival of Writing for the last three years, the very first Wolverhampton Literature Festival. We have visited graveyards, parks, pubs, churches and that is to name but a few. We have put together charity events and raised over £500 for the British Red Cross and HSI (Humane Society International). And we have published a book together, an anthology of poems and short stories based on different aspects of WW2 called From Sunrise to Sunset. We plan to publish another book next year of poems and short stories based on the different writing assignments I give each week. These assignments are nothing more than imagination prompts. We have been on the radio, and in newspapers.
I have never known a writing group as supportive as ours. I am not only proud of our achievements and believe me; there have been many, from an increase in confidence and self-esteem to publishing via magazines and different anthologies worldwide. I cannot put into one article all of the amazing achievements the writers in this group have made, and I cannot put into words how proud I am of each writer.
Since I started the OWG, one thing I have discovered is that all our members, myself included, has not only developed our writing skills, but we have also developed our confidence in our writing skills. From the very beginning, in 2014 we have members who were afraid to talk and/or read out their own work, now those members are not only reading out their own work to the group, but they are reading it at different events, some have even been on the radio. I have seen first-hand how a good supportive writing group like ours can help writers, and not only with their writing skills but also with their confidence and self-esteem. This is not to mention the people who write for therapy, we have had and still do have members that write for therapy, and it is amazing to see how much they love the stories they write from the assignments I set each week.
There is one member in particular that goes above and beyond her call of duty, Nicole J. Simms. Not only is she a very talented writer, but she is our second in command. She is in charge of our online presence, and if it was not for her, I dare say the OWG would be what it is today, so a very special thank you goes out to Nicole.
Although I may be the leader and the founder of the OWG, it is every member that makes it the special place that it is. It is a place where our imaginations are endless, a place where the real magic truly happens, and I am proud and privileged to be the founder and leader of such a wonderful group of very talented people.
I look back to before my dad died, and I know that his death caused me to take a different track in life, but I know he is with me. My novel, Innocent Spirits, is dedicated to him, and as I said in his dedication, he is and always will be my muse.
This month as a part of the three-year celebrations of the OWG, we will be going to visit the Tolkien’s Trail on Saturday 26th August 2017. We will be taking many photos, and we will share them with you online.
For more information about us and what we do and why we do it, then please keep in touch via our Facebook page, Twitter or this website. But don’t forget, you’re more than welcome to come along to the group meetings and see for yourself, but remember, Rome was not built in a day, so, if you like what you see, keep coming and you will not be disappointed.
Universal Happy Birthday by Rusu Mihai