Writing can be a lonely business but joining (or setting up!) a writers’ group can be a great way to counteract this. In this post, Rebecca Jade Hammond, Artistic Director of Chippy Lane and founder of their Welsh Female Writers Group (WFW), shares her insights; and writers, Faebian Averies and Sophie Warren, talk about the benefits of being part of the WFW group.
Who run the world….? I think that even Beyoncé would agree that us girls still have a long way to go before we can confidently say that is the truth. Even more specifically in theatre and television. You can probably times that by two again in terms of ‘running things’. So, what do we do?
The many funny, talented, skilled, experienced wonderful female writers who have fled the motherland of sweet, gentle Cymru to the harsher urban lands of Llundain in search for our debut at the Royal Court, or residency at the National or God forbid even Arts Council funding? In some ways there still isn’t much that a writer CAN do as such… apart from write of course.
It’s a very solitary world (even as I write this after eleven hours at my ‘day’ job listening to ‘Bake Off’ echoing through the ether of my kitchen above, I know I must lock my door and throw away the key for fear of distraction from the real world), and one in which you can easily introvert yourself into. Well, especially me. It’s not a sport that requires a full team of players or a training session once a week, so finding the right sort of group that allows this sort of much needed community and discipline and nourishment – for want of a better word, is such an important thing, and even in a big, bustling hub such as London I am yet to find reams and reams of groups that offer the same thing that there is with Chippy Lane.
Chippy Lane Productions was founded in 2016 by Rebecca Jade Hammond with the mission to promote Welsh and Wales-based theatre and talent, to audiences in and beyond Wales. It is a London based Welsh company which was created in response to research showing a lack of Welsh work being produced beyond Wales.
CLP has achieved a tremendous amount in a short space of time and has continuously championed emerging Welsh artists. One area of this unwavering encouragement has come with the formation of The Welsh Female Writers Group (WFW ), in the summer of 2018,. The group is dedicated to supporting female writers, both established and emerging, within the industry. Run by Rebecca, the group meets monthly for four hours of fun, friendly, supportive and informative discussion.
I was welcomed into Welsh Female Writers in November 2018 after getting in touch when I saw a call out online. Headed by the powerhouse that is Rebecca Jade Hammond we read published scripts by female writers, have workshops, give feedback on each other’s work, go on theatre trips and generally just have a big Welsh chat (the word ‘lush’ being bandied around a delightful amount)!
As mentioned above-writing can be a solitary occupation, so to be able to gather with people who understand how it feels to only be able to write at a certain time of day in a specific coffee shop chain on a certain street is overwhelmingly supportive and actually, vital. When I decided to start writing properly two years ago, like many first timers I was really writing blind. The form and structure from the alarming amount of hours I’ve spent in front of the tv, or jazz handing my way to the theatre etched onto my brain, meant I was subconsciously writing to something, but nothing that was really that tangible for me. I just plonked some jokes down on paper and hoped for the best!
This is where WFW has proved invaluable for me and many other members of our group. It has given us the clarity and discipline that’s needed to bring your work up to the next level. The group mantra has become ‘take the what advice you need, but throw away the rest’-it’s about our own personal development, not a rule book on playwriting.
Our styles are all completely different and that uniqueness is celebrated. The sessions usually begin with a group discussion of the chosen text, then advice on playwriting-focusing on a different area each time, and then we have individual slots to discuss our work and get feedback from everyone. All members able to bring intelligent and insightful views on one another’s projects. We’ve had women come with only a seed of an idea and then got the encouragement to go away and start growing it. We have a WhatsApp group where the clapping emoji is used vigorously. We’ve been given, and added to an extensive reading list. Not a week goes by where Bec doesn’t email us with a writing opportunity. And many women have come into the group, got the clarity or push they needed in their writing and have gone away to sell out shows and pitch ideas to big production companies. (More than several clap emojis were used in the announcements of these achievements)
In March of this year several of us were involved in ‘Who Run the World?’, which was an event run by Becca to showcase ten minutes of some the WFW’s work. It included 20 actors performing 12 writer’s pieces. Each performer and writer wore Era 50:50 badges to campaign for equal gender representation within the arts and the event marked the first public showing of the WFW’s work, to coincide with International Women’s Day. Chippy Lane’s scratch nights have been enormously successful, attended by a great turn out of audience members and industry professionals. Writers from the scratch nights have gone on to work with companies such as Dirty Protest, The National Theatre of Wales and the BBC.
On the surface WFW is a group serving us up tea and biscuits alongside lessons in writing. However, underneath it’s a network of people all working together to create and support one another, to ensure we have confidence in the fact we have stories worth telling and to fly the flag for Welsh women coming up in the industry. CLP are wonderful and inclusive, and I feel incredibly lucky to have started my writing career in their very capable hands.
I was excited when having moved from Cardiff to be more of a part of all Chippy Lane has to offer and keep close to a sense of home alongside all of my favourite things; Writing and reading and intelligent discussion and AMAZING WOMEN and Welsh tales and, of course, a paned. Lush. What more could you want?
It feels like one struggle managing to get Welsh work to be produced even in Wales but is a whole other one stepping outside of it and trying to get the work out there further afield. This is where Chippy Lane have stepped in as a sort of non physical Severn Bridge to soften that gap between Welsh and Wales- based artists in and out of London. Coming to this group has brought out a confidence in me that I had dramatically lost since leaving drama school as a writer.
I couldn’t even bring my own work in for the first three sessions nodding happily and offering feedback to others whilst quietly summoning up the courage to bring in my own-which I thankfully did and do now thanks to Becca’s gentle nudge of ‘I DARE YOU’… Whenever I feel myself losing the muster I know it’s time to book on again and be surrounded by open, creative, funny fab Welsh women.
My writing has also improved too with the goals and structure set to force myself in to getting something down which is something that is so so useful for me as something like this was exactly the sort of ‘sports training sessions’ equivalent I was craving as a writer. It’s given me a sense of hiraeth that I struggle to find sometimes in London since leaving Wales.
If you’ve got something to share or even if you haven’t you can just come along and take what you need from it because I think the sheer importance of its existence alone is key to the future of young and undernourished writers struggling to find outlets for their creativity. As Fae said, in terms of the structure of the sessions too it’s perfectly formatted with time to read and discuss a certain play, ask questions rhetorically and to put to the group, discuss specifically and generally writing in this text and of our own. Then the sessions moves along to our own pieces whether they be brand new, still an ember in the back corner of our heads or a full formed draft that we are revisiting in the session too.
It’s been great to watch other people’s ideas form and develop month after month too let alone my own and its proof that by giving yourself the right frame and restrictions to work under you can really take your script or idea up to where it’s workable or even performable.
One thing I learn year after year in this industry is that women really are FOR other women and this is the perfect place to discover that… and occasionally Becca will even bring her dog too so what more could you want from a Sunday?…
Rebecca’s tips for setting up a writers’ group:
- Find a location. Beg, borrow and maybe steal 😉 to find a sensitive central space in London to get your group together.
- Work out how long you want your sessions to be and plan your sessions.
- We always split our session in half to allow us to discuss the key set text and then give over time to the writers to discuss their work.
- We have an extensive reading list that we offer out to all our writers.
- Make the group fun, friendly and informative. Writing can be an isolating task.
- Publish the details of your group through social media.
- Plug, plug, plug to get the word out there.
- Ensure you get your participants to spread the word.
- Have a laugh in the sessions. Enjoy, learn and grow.
Guest post by Written by Rebecca Hammond, Faebian Averies and Sophie Warren.