Most writers, I realised the other day, hang out with writing groups. Or at least other writers.
J R R Tolkien, for instance, was part of a group called the ‘Inklings’, who met in a local Oxford pub – the Eagle and Child, known locally as the ‘Bird and Baby’. Every Tuesday from 1939 until 1962 they’d go there to drink beer, swap stories – and read their tales to each other.
Imagine that – C. S. Lewis, Roger Lancelyn Green, Owen Barfield or maybe Lord David Cecil were the very first people in the world to experience The Lord of the Rings – and they heard much of it in Tolkien’s own voice, as he sat there reading them the manuscript.
Tolkien himself was one of the first to hear passages from Lewis’s Narnia series. How awesome is that? Two of the greatest fantasy writers in the twentieth century, hanging out in the same pub and reading each other’s stories.
During the early twentieth century other writers congregated in Raffles hotel, Singapore, to the point where there’s a Writers Bar, which (in its original location in the lobby) was frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and W. Somerset Maugham. Its denizens were usually well lubricated with gin, tonic and Singapore Sling, invented around 1910 by Ngiam Tong Boom in the Long Bar on the opposite corner of the building. Alas, this literary enclave came to a sharp end with the Second World War. But the spirit lingers. Did I say ‘spirit’? I did, didn’t I.
I made the pilgrimage to the Writers Bar in 2001, sans the cocktail.
Established writers usually veer into shop talk – the scale of the latest advances or gossip about editorial changes at Publisher X. I know that’s how my chats with other writers go, when I catch up with them. Which, unfortunately, isn’t often. I know plenty of writers and publishers, and it’s always good to have a yarn. But it’s hard to find time to get together.
Besides which, a lot of what I write is history – which, here in New Zealand, is owned by viciously hostile in-crowds. Someone once described the behaviours of the military history crowd, particularly, as akin to circling piranhas.
Instead I hang out mostly with mathematicians and science types. And talk about my original interest, which isn’t history… it’s physics.
Do you have a writing group? How often do you meet?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014
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