Interview with author and poet Rose Frankcombe. A sample of Rose's writing can be seen here and a poem in Stylus magazine.
What writing group/s do you belong to?
The Society of Women Writers, Tasmania
What is the structure of this writing group?
As this group reaches out to all areas of Tasmania, and has at present, a mainland member-connection, as it also has had from time to time in the past, the structure is based in one aspect on correspondence, whereby members are kept informed by a regular, bi-monthly newsletter, and in another aspect for those within reasonable postal distance for a quick turnaround, there is a postal magazine service for members to share and critique each other's writing. Also, in the main cities of Launceston and Hobart, members can meet up at a monthly workshop, although the Hobart workshop is a looser arrangement than the more structured situation in Launceston.
Is this writing group associated with a state or national organisation?
Up until 2000, the Tasmanian Society of Women Writers, was a branch-only of the Society of Women Writers, Australia, a group formed way back in around 1929, in Sydney (although SWWA reached Tasmania much, much later, in the 60s sometime initially, then later it took off to a greater degree in the 80s). Come 2000, the old arrangements were disbanded and each participating state - ie Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland, SA and WA, became independent incorporated entities in their own right. NSW had long since struck out on its own.
Does this group have affiliations with peak writing associated bodies?
Not in the true sense, no.
How many members does this writing group have?
The Society of Women Writers, Tasmania, has a steady and healthy membership, which continues to grow, much to the delight of our treasurer, as a healthy membership means we can continue to keep our costs low, yet still 'do' things - like run a writing competition, or create an anthology of members' work, or invite guest speakers to attend and present workshops.
Does the writing group have a clearly defined goal in writing?
I wouldn't say there is necessarily a clearly defined writing goal, except for an aim to raise the standard of work our members produce, by critique of either works in progress, or completed short works - remembering always, though, that any critique has to be 'constructive' and not 'destructive'. There's a certain power one has in one's hand when it comes to writing a critique for another, and there are sensibilities to consider, and a respect for the work that has been presented and shared. Sometimes the sharing, especially for new members, can be a very daunting prospect.
Are there any critiquing guidelines to follow?
Mostly the critiquing is done via our postal magazines, to which each has an editor appointed to write the editorials and set the ball rolling each round which, ideally should take about six weeks to complete. Members are expected to read all works, and then write a brief or a long crit. based on what they see in the work through their independent eyes. Some people choose to write a sentence or a paragraph, while others can go into quite some detail, in an effort to assist an enthusiastic writer who needs some channelling in the right direction with punctuation, grammar - or even formatting. Everything counts.
Are there any guidelines for people whose work is being critiqued to follow?
Well, one hopes the person whose work has been critiqued is open to consider the suggestions that have been presented. Although that's not always the case, and some big clangers have gone in to print, moreso in the case of self-publishing... It's a question of understanding the words used. What is the difference between gambolling, and gambling, for example? Picture either of these words in the wrong context and see what you think.
Does the group have set guidelines for behaviour, and a process to remove members who are disruptive to the smooth running of the group?
Fortunately we are a lovely group of people and have never had to resort to a 'bouncer' to eject any disruptive member, I'm happy to say. People are of all different personality types, and it's a question of adapting to those various personalities. Some are loud and gregarious, and bring a light-heartedness to the occasion, while others are subdued, and even shy, so a workshop on performance poetry, is a great way to help bring the quieter ones out of their cocoon. One pet grievance I have, however, is the mobile phone ringing during the course of a workshop. These devices appear to now dominate peoples' lives - and every ring is a 'must answer', which I find quite disruptive, especially if there is a guest present.
Does everybody contribute to each meeting, or do you only hear from the same few people?
I can only speak for the meetings held in Launceston. Here, we have set homework from month to month, and as we have a goodly number of people sitting around the table, the greater percentage of them will have brought homework in to read aloud. So, no, we don't hear from the same few people, everyone it appears wants to participate. And there's some marvellous work presented too, all on the one topic but such varied slants come in on it. We're always amazed at the variety of presentations.
How long have you been a member of this writing group?
Hmmm. Now let me see. I first heard of SWWT via Adult Eduction, during a writing course tutored by Barbara Rose, who just happened to be the president of the Society at the time. And it was Tasmania's turn to host the National Conference of SWWA - way back in 1996. Although invited, I didn't attend the conference. I was raw and new and shy and couldn't possibly, but I did continue with the Adult Ed. course, which just happened to have been run by correspondence, as Barbara lived at St Helens at the time. Barbara brought up the idea of SWW during the course of the correspondence classes, and as a result, I joined towards the end of the year, and had my name listed in Overflow, one of the postal magazines that is still in existence today. I remember how much I used to look forward to the magazine coming to my letterbox - and how scared I was at the thought of having to critique someone else's work, dreading the thought that I might have to be the first one to do so when the magazine arrived. It is always easier if someone else has gone ahead of you and made their notes, so you could get an idea of how they had read a piece. It was a tentative pen to paper initially. Now I'm quite blasé about it, tackling a critique with quite some gusto. Not phased at all at the idea anymore.
What is your role within this group?
Over the years I have had varying roles, from secretary, treasurer - and mostly at the same time, newsletter editor, apart from some brief stints when others took the newsletter on. However, over time, one has to take stock and consider the self, and so I had to be resolute when I resigned from many positions and the work was then distributed among more people. Nowadays I'm happy to coast along as editor of our poetry magazine, Chrysalis, editor of the newsletter, Stylus, and the web-page manager.
What are the benefits to you from attending a writing group?
Well, firstly, it's social. A gathering of familiar faces, and a sprinkling of new ones every so often. Then it's the challenge of sharing - firstly what one has been doing over the previous month, and then the homework reading. Often we have writing exercises, or writing discussions, and sometimes guest speakers to take our interest, so it's a very active group who meet on those Monday mornings. And of course afterwards, we like to keep up the social discourse, by opting to eat at a different venue each time.
Why be in a writing group?
Generally speaking, writers are an isolated lot. You can sit at home typing for as long as you like, and pat yourself on the back for a fine job, but the truth is, until fresh eyes hear or see your work, you could well be living in a fool's paradise. There could be obvious mistakes that you can no longer see, as you've come in far too close to your work and your own eyes can tease you into thinking there's something written on a line, when in fact it's not. Simple, silly little things that you can no longer see. Other people help you to see again. And of course, it's always an advantage to hear of others' achievements, or for you to envy and in turn aspire to lift your own work up to their standard. Oh, yes, it's very beneficial being in a writing group. It's a common interest, you see. Like-minded people gathering to talk... We're not high-brow, we're just ordinary people who enjoy what we do, and it's like all things that are familiar to you, you become comfortable and confident in the company.
What do you look for in a writing group?
Much of the above. I like the idea of the metaphorical embrace. Being embraced as a writer by other writers (without petitioning for it, I must add). That would be a criterion I would look for in a writers' (writing) group. Also, if there's pettiness, nit-picking - or dare I say it, elitism, then that'd not be for me. A writer's journey needs to be a positive progression, not something that is distracted by flailing egos.
Does your writing group give peer critique or general comment?
Good question. I think in the context of workshops, I, for one, don't like to give offhand, verbal critiques. I like to sight the words on a page, and take time to consider. I'm not good at quick, verbal responses in that sense. So I guess the answer is that it is more a general comment rather than a full critique given by peers around the table at that time. Specific, considered comments of course come via the postal magazines. Then all participants have the time and luxury of a quiet corner to consider what they're going to say about a work, which is valuable for a writer who may be struggling with some aspect of work.
What is the focus of your writing group – writing or poetry?
Well, it's all genres really, from prose to poetry. We have some interested in script writing, while I write both poetry and history articles, and short stories from time to time etc. Often in the interest of having some homework to share, I might jot down a poem on the very morning I'm going to the workshop. I've been known to write something at 8.30, get ready, and arrive for a meeting at 10.00 a.m. You can write about absolutely anything in a poem, so the topic is no problem. Others I know get on with their homework well before the next meeting, agonising over their prose for days. But when it comes down to it, whatever is shared is enjoyed, and that is what I like about that aspect of homework. If I don't have to give a considered critique, then all I have to do is close my eyes and listen, and appreciate the reading for what it is - the pleasure of hearing someone who has gone to the trouble of preparing and sharing. For that, they must be applauded.
Can the two be successfully combined in terms of critiquing?
Some people would say no, that poetry and prose are too diverse to contemplate together. But I disagree. It can be done. And sometimes it's good to take people out of their comfort zones, and encourage them to look more closely at poetry, a genre that has some people making signs of the cross with their fingers against the very thought of it. Once they realise that poetry takes umpteen forms, and they can express themselves easily and freely, in almost any way they like, poetically, then at those times I have to say, I've seen converts take a pilgrimage to the altar of poetry. Again I come back to the postal magazines. We have one solely dedicated to poetry, but the others are mixed genre, so the participants are forced to comment on both prose and poetry, which is 'character building', don't you think...
Is there anything you would like from your writing group that is missing at the moment?
I'm glad I have time to sit here and consider my answers to these questions. They're quite challenging, in the sense I've not thought about these kinds of questions before. Is there anything missing? For me, having participated for so very long, I can't really think of anything to suggest is 'missing'. Fortunately, there are a number of lively, active people who come along and bring different challenges for the members to indulge. And as the group only meets personally once a month, the weeks between simply fly, and then when the day of the workshop comes around, we're no sooner in the door, than it feels like it's over in an instant, even though we stay on for three hours and then we're out the door again looking for a lunch venue - and they've been interesting affairs in themselves - from Japanese to Italian to antiques... Yes, and I mean antiques, in the café. It's always a good day.
Have you belonged to any other writing groups?
My first foray into a writing group as such, was via the Adult Education course I mentioned earlier. There we met up for the first session, then during the following weeks we worked in isolation, sending our work off as postal correspondence, and then we met for the final session. Other than that, no. But of course when I joined SWWA, as it was then, the Tasmanian group used to meet in private homes, every six weeks. It was a different set-up in those days. Today we've a more formalised arrangement whereby we used to meet in the Launceston library, then we moved over to the current venue, across the street, and have been there for about six years or so.
Have you had a negative experience in a writing group?
It's possibly not fair of me to answer that one. I think everyone has negative experiences in groups at different times. We grow from the experience. We need to understand it, and watch for the signs of what we've experienced before and what we're prepared to accept or reject from it.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking of joining a writing group?
Go for it...
Is there anything you would like to add?
Well, I could add why I sought out a writing group initially, way back in the 90s... Would you believe it was because of the telephone! In those days, making interstate calls was known at STD's, Subscriber Trunk Dialling, and it cost the earth to phone loved ones for an extended chat - so I began writing very long letters, making them conversational and chatty and hopefully, interesting. I'd also spend time drafting poems - and from there I found my way to the above-mentioned places - and the rest they say... Is history (literally!)
Thank you, Rose