Yevgeny Salisbury’s Outgoing President’s Address:
It’s the end of another Writers’ Club year and this is the moment when the outgoing President ordinarily sums up the year with a gentle run through of the year’s events. This I can do. However, this has not been an ordinary year, so I am sure you would not expect me to stick entirely to the usual script.
When I came to the Presidency this time last year, in my very short speech I basically said two things. I said it was my aim to attend events where I could network for the club face to face, and this, I can report, I have done, not just at my usual poetry open mic events, but at the University’s Centre for New Writing, at Embrace Arts, at Writers’ Meet-up events and basically just everywhere, because all year I’ve been quite forward about being President; which isn’t my usual style, but I have noticed that a lot of people who don’t know the club seem to have a false impression of us as being quite snobby and forbidding and set in our ways and I found that presenting myself as the President seemed to do wonders to counter that impression, possibly because people were thinking, ‘If they’ll let this guy be President, they must be more eccentric than we gave them credit for!’ We are not a grassroots organisation – that is not role and there are other clubs to fill that position – but at the same time we do not want to be seen as an ivory tower. So I played to my strengths: I can’t do organised, I certainly can’t do e-mail, but I think I can do approachable, so that’s what I went for.
Then the other part of my micro-speech was a thank you to Nick Leach, who was the outgoing President, and to the outgoing committee for leaving me with several events already lined up. The first was a stall at Lowdham Festival where I had a lovely conversation with a woman from Nottingham Writers’ Club comparing our two clubs. Next, in July, came the workshop with John Siddique, organised by Lindsay, which was a good success. Personally, I didn’t manage to write anything even half decent at it, but most people did a lot better and there was a lot of positive feedback. In October, came the adjudication of the ‘Hook, Line, Winner’ competition, organised by Lara and judged by Sue Moorcroft, and for Everybody’s Reading, Siobhan gave a workshop on behalf of the club on voicing one’s work, which, despite unfortunate billing opposite a similar event, went really well by all accounts, and it was a real joy to hear her pupils reading at the manuscript evening. And then we also had the speaker evening with Georgia Twynham, co-hosted by Writing East Midlands, which was a little pricey, it has to be said, but again very successful in itself. Personally I was proud of it for a reason many of you perhaps did not realise on the night: you may remember Georgia admitting she had never spoken to a group of adults before and that she was used to school talks only; well, beyond that, having taken an extremely independent route into becoming a professional author, it turned out she was actually afraid of other writers, intimidated by the very thought of us, and before she began to talk she was actually extremely nervous, so it does give me pride that we were so friendly and welcoming that we were able to allay her fears to the extent that, not only was she able to give us a lively, entertaining and informative talk, but she went away feeling she had gained confidence from meeting us.
It was a similar case in the end with the Open Competition: expensive, as the competition secretary’s report will set out, but ultimately rewarding in so far as we were able to give confidence and support to some very worthy fellow writers, not least our winner, Alex Fender, who was a lovely person, and I just wish she lived a bit nearer so she could come to club.
It is with the Open Competition, however, that we come to the sad part of the speech, because the competition was very much Nick Leach’s initiative and his baby. He was underwriting it and he had also said he would help out with it, even though he would no longer be on committee. Indeed he had said he would be my wing-man this year, much as Margaret Penfold had helped him during his presidency. So, I’ll admit that when he first stopped coming to club, my initial thoughts were entirely selfish: I was thinking ‘Where’s he skived off to with the Open Competition fast approaching?’ But then, at the Awards Dinner, we found out, of course, that he was seriously ill. And that changed everything.
From a purely organisational perspective it meant that some people had to do a lot more with the Open Competition than they had perhaps originally planned, at which point I must give a big shout out to Liz, Lara, Lindsay, and Mary who were all absolute troopers and really did work above and beyond. I must also thank the benefactors, plural, who chipped in to help us out financially with the competition, it having lost its underwriter.
But much more importantly, we were suddenly losing a friend. I know many of you managed to visit Nick during his final days and had visits of different kinds, depending on whether he was asleep or awake. I was lucky enough to have a lovely visit with him, where we looked through some photos of club members and through one of his own poems and he was keen for me to say hello to everyone at club for him.
And then some of you were able to attend his funeral in May, where his family expressed a wish to publish some of his poems and I’m sure we’d all be very happy to help them with that. It’s the strangest thing, too, but I keep thinking about the vividly drawn characters from Nick’s novels, almost as if they are wandering around somewhere still. Metaphorically, I think writers of fiction can sometimes become in a way custodians of more than one spirit. Which I know can easily be explained in less poetic terms – as some compartmentalisation of the author’s own character traits, or whatever – but experientially, it can feel more profound than that.
But Nick of anyone would not want us to be maudlin, so let’s return to the review of the year.
I briefly mentioned the Awards Dinner and I should certainly thank Lindsay for organising it, now that Kate’s stepped down from that role. What Kate does still organise is the Writers’ Day Out at the Friend’s Meeting House, which was a lovely day again, so thank you to Kate for that and to everyone who ran workshops on that day. I also need to thank everyone who ran workshops at Middle Stanley, which was mainly, though not entirely, Siobhan – she did run quite a few – so thank you for that. And, of course, thank you to Liz and Gwyneth for organising Middle Stanley as a whole. To those of you who have never been I would wholeheartedly recommend it.
Before Middle Stanley, we had the States of Independence small presses conference, where the club had a stall and where Margaret Penfold launched ‘Patsy’. And this was just one of several member successes this year – I won’t try to list them all, but there was one of which was particularly well shared with the members: I’m sure I’m not alone in this room for wishing to thank Rod Duncan for giving me my big screen debut in ’How to Make a Movie for 43 Pounds.’ That was an event that brought us to the Phoenix, little realising we would soon be resident here. Now, frankly, I was in the group of people who actually liked the Adult Education College – I liked the high ceiling and the leaded windows and even the frisson of danger that came from knowing that one of the caretakers was particularly irascible – however I also like the Phoenix and the air of contemporary relevance it seems to bring as part of the package. We had actually been contemplating moving here or somewhere else for some time, as the Adult Ed College became more and more difficult with us, but while the college was still feasible we stuck with them, not least as the Phoenix initially quoted us a rather high price. But then the college decided to oust us in favour of a theatre group, the Phoenix gave us a much better offer than they had previously, so we moved and here we are and after a few teething problems, I think we’re settling in nicely.
Also new this year is the new website, which was born in a fair storm of stress when the planned handover of website management from Terri to Lindsay went a teeny bit awry. And I don’t think I need go into it in more depth than that. Lessons have I hope been learnt and the fact is we now have a new website. If any of you have been worrying about the fate of the archive content of the old website, it is safe, I have it on file myself in fact, and it will find its way onto the new site in due course, when I get a bit of organisation going. So basically: don’t hold your breaths; but it will happen.
So, that concludes my goodbye address. I must thank all my committee members: Lindsay, Liz, Lara, Margaret Cullingford, Judith, Siobhan, who we co-opted, Ian our Treasurer, who is now standing down, but who has introduced the club to internet banking, and Mary who has been both Secretary and Membership Secretary and who I’m very pleased to say is standing again for those roles. And I must thank all of you guys for being splendid as always.
And now I hand over to Lindsay.
Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson’s Incoming President’s Address:
Many thanks to Yevgeny Salisbury for a great presidency and the outgoing committee – Liz Ringrose, Margaret Cullingford, Judith Cooper, Siobhan Logan, Mary Byrne, Ian Allwyn and Lara Higgins who were, without exception, a pleasure to work with. We say farewell to Liz, Ian and Lara – and give special thanks to them for their consistent work.
Thanks to all the new committee members for stepping up – Andrew Bannister, Rob Bray and Margaret Penfold, to the club members who proposed and seconded them, and to the committee members who are staying on – Siobhan Logan, Margaret Cullingford, Mary Byrne and Judith Cooper. And Judith has generously agreed to be our Vice-President this year.
Thanks to you all for electing me as Vice-President last year, even though you knew that in a year’s time I would be the President. I am very honoured. Very. No organisation, or group of people, has helped my writing as much as this club. And I still can’t quite believe that I am now its president.
The club is here to serve its members and all of us on the committee are on there in order to make that happen. I’m keen that between us Leicester Writers’ Club is the club that its members want it to be.
To that end it might be helpful to try to keep in mind a couple of small but essential points:
None of us, as far as I know, are mind readers. I’m certainly not, as my family and friends frequently tell me. But I do own a good pair of ears. So if there is anything that anyone would like to see happen, or not happen, please tell me, or any of us on the committee.
I would like to send you all a short survey (under ten questions I promise – if it’s more than ten, you have to pay for the service, that’s how I can be so sure.) The survey will give you the chance to say what you would like from the club and, equally important, what you aren’t interested in, and it would be a super starting point for us if as many of you as possible could complete it.
In the mean time, it will be business as usual, and I’ll see you the week after next.
Addendum/P.S. – I still owe you that survey 🙂