On Sunday I headed off to spend the day with some people I’ve met ‘in the computer’. We know each other quite well, but before Sunday we’d never met face to face. We’re a group of six originally from the Facebook group for the Open University’s ‘Start Writing Fiction’ short course in 2011. We then set up our own online forum to exchange writing ideas and critique each other’s work during A215, the OU’s next Creative Writing course. We’ve supported each other through short fiction, poetry and life writing, each beginning to find her own direction. We’ve had humour and pathos, family stories, historical fiction, travel writing, free verse, sonnets and much more. And we’ve enjoyed it so much that we’ve all signed up for A363, Advanced Creative Writing, which kicks off this week.

I think it was Ruby from Wiltshire who first suggested a ‘real’ meeting. Our locations range from Essex to Cumbria, so all roads led to Birmingham, where Giselle kindly offered us hospitality. We had plans to workshop some new writing, perhaps read a short play or produce an unconventional poem. Then gradually, insidiously, the menu planning took over….

I quote from our literary forum:

‘Should it be coffee and walnut cupcakes, lemon or almond sponge, or a chocolate cake? I may go the chocolate route, although it seems less creative in baking terms.’

‘Perhaps you could bring some bread. Is there a nice artisan baker near you?’

‘Brie and Camembert would be fine, and maybe a Cheddar or Double Gloucester to go with Lauren’s green tomato chutney.’

‘I am doing a sour cream and chocolate cake and am still um-ing and ah-ing about converting it into cupcakes.’

‘Dessert is extremely important to me and I am inclined to plan it over a week in advance.’

‘You have a Tassimo machine? Oh wow!’

‘Caffeine has a long history of helping the development of creative writing.’

‘We made a fab Tiramisu last night with some unexpected twists.’

‘Caffeine and sugar tend to give one a boost for writing.’

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So what was it like, meeting for real? I’d say that meeting and sharing our work online meant that we really did know each other quite well. The surprises came in things like accent, the timbre of the voice, or our heights. Some of us were so much smaller than we expected. In fact, we didn’t pick out Viola for ages on the station platform, because we expected her to be very tall. It’s a bit like imagining a character in a book and then finding they look different in the film version.

Oh, and after the unexpected bonus of a long, al fresco lunch on a warm October day, we did settle down to some writing chat and air our ideas about writing the first assignment, due on October 31st.

I wonder who’s going to write about food.

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