photo by DTL
by Sarah Guppy
In December 2011, Andy Nairn – a fine sci-fi writer who is interested in astronomy and espionage – founded the Co-operative of Writers in Edinburgh. We meet every other Tuesday at Spoon Café, in Nicholson Street, where we read, hear and discuss each other’s work. In between meet-ups, we also constructively critique our writing on our online forum.
The Co-operative exists to help writers develop their work; Andy saw a need and a niche for a friendly, supportive writers’ group who were nevertheless serious about producing books. We had been meeting prior to December 2011, to hear and read work, but I think we all shared a common ambition to see work in print. During our meetings we try to suggest improvements for our writing, whilst finding the merits and special qualities of each writer. We also do the good old-fashioned business of proof-reading, which should never be under estimated in this fast and furious paced world. If members cannot make the alternate meetings, they can still look at the forum and receive valuable feedback, which inundated agents simply haven’t got the time to provide.
Co-operative members write in very different styles and genres: jazz fan Janette Crawford writes subtle and elegant short stories about love and relationships, old and new – she often sets them in the past or abroad and then begins to weave a unique spell on the reader. By contrast, Sandy Bennett – an adventurous Australian writer – writes lyrically about the character of seas and beaches and about her travels around the world. And Barry Bensdorp keeps readers guessing with dark spooky tales about Edinburgh.
Our first book of poems and short stories, Edinburgh Shorts, is currently on sale via Kindle and on the Holyrood Books website – the publishing and shop ‘arm’ of the Co-operative of Writers. The book has romance, ghost stories, a bus driver poking fun at the festivals, a tourist searching out an ancestor, and a look at the murky world of corporate banking – with a foreword by Joyce Holms, best-selling crime writer here in Scotland. Andy Nairn is the overall organiser but there is some flexibility in our Co-operative ‘roles’, with joint decisions made after discussion.
The book was launched and published in July 2012. It was the shared product of many meet-ups – a book with an Edinburgh theme, by Edinburgh writers, which could appeal to tourists and residents alike. We collectively edited and commented on everyone’s work on the virtual forum. We didn’t need “funding” as such as Andy had wisely done all the costing before – surprisingly, self published books don’t cost that much to print. We decided that it would be good to offer readers an actual physical book as well as an e-book, and we duly handed out business cards during the Edinburgh festival to promote the collection. To date, we’ve sold over a hundred actual books and over forty e-books, and we have copies in the Scottish National Poetry Library and in the National Library of Scotland’s bookshops.
Personally, I have gained immensely from being in the Co-operative. Our members and their critiques (whether online or in person) are friendly, fair, funny and insightful. We support each other too – over good coffee and fine food – by sharing our real life tales of writers’ block, submission struggles and the search for inspiration. I see the Co-operative of Writers as a creative tank or pool in which to do bold new things with literature – aiming to be innovate and inclusive. As we move in to 2013, we will produce our second book, on the theme of ‘Journeys’ – geographical, psychological and spiritual. For our second book we will have a smaller dedicated editorial team as we hope to become more efficient at co-producing books. If you would like to join the Co-operative of Writers, free of charge, do get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover image of Edinburgh Shorts © Gerry Gapinski 2012