An Exquisite Corpse

The Exquisite Corpse is a fun little writing exercise to explore with a bunch of like-minded friends. It’s a bit like Chinese Whispers. The first person in the group writes a short piece—say 200 words. Then passes it on to the next person, who contributes their own bit. Here’s the fun bit—no-one ever sees anything but the piece immediately before theirs. This inevitably means the story takes some wild twists and turns, almost always deviating crazily from the original idea.

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2022 – The Year We Come Back

Slowly, like the bulbs in the lawn, like the buds on the tree, your pals at Reading Writers are poking our noses back out into the world. Maybe this is the year we finally return to some sort of normality—whatever that may mean. As we hit the midpoint of February, we thought it might be nice to provide you with an update on our adventures so far.

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Merrily We Roll Along

Yes, we’re still here. Since our last update, the general consensus has been—the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Like many writing groups across the planet, Zoom has been the lifeline which keeps Reading Writers going. After an abortive attempt at hybrid meets in September with some members in physical attendance at the RISC, we slipped back into virtual gatherings. And plenty of them! Although our AGM and Christmas party wasn’t the usual raucous affair, we still managed to drink and do a quiz and even wear lengths of tinsel as scarves. We know all about glamour!

While the post-Christmas break would normally see us all going our own ways, the inevitable lockdown brought us back together for a couple of smaller ad hoc meet-ups. Chat and writing exercises were a merry distraction from the dark days of mid-winter, and led to some interesting pieces.

We’d like to share one of those with you. A bit of work from our Regency Queen Julie Roberts, based on a series of prompts.

Which were: New Year, cactus, daffodil, hand cream, chocolate, beach

Into The Future 2022

Winter’s season is a kaleidoscope of nature. The robin does not abandon our gardens, the red kites circle over the woods and fields hunting for a meal, the evergreen trees stand laden with leaf in gardens and woods. I have a potted holly tree that I care for, she still has her red berries shining in the sunshine. And my faithful gypsy rose brings tears to my eyes as she defies torrential rain, wind and frost, and this morning’s sunshine gives to me her beautiful display of red roses, not to pick but enjoy as nature defines.

Sheltering under a cardboard box is the cacti. I remove this each morning to let them enjoy the daylight and today the sun’s warmth after last night’s frost. In two days, it will be a new year. The outgoing 2020 will be recorded in history as the year the world was united, not in glory, but disaster. A killer virus more deadly than the Great Plague of 1665. But four centuries later science is our salvation. Vaccines that will, with all our prayers, devotion and determination bring our world into 2022 better, wiser and united into the future.

But on a happy note, I am spending today pampering ME – a leisurely shower, paint my nails and smooth my hands with hand cream that promises to make them look ten years younger. And with the shortest day behind us, I have already seen in the garden the green leaves of the daffodils, encouraging their many shades of yellow trumpet petals for me to enjoy. Later, I shall open a box of chocolates and tap my fingers when I am tempted to start the second layer. And reminisce about the years I have walked along my favourite sandy beach of France’s western Aquitaine shores and cycled along its forest paths in the dappled sunshine.

Thank you, Julie.

What, then, of Reading Writers as we spin into 2021? With a third lockdown in place, we’re sticking to Zoom for the next couple of months, of course. We have a provisional roster of events in place, including a ton of our manuscript nights, two competitions and a couple of guest slots. July and August remain as yet unfilled. We hope that’s the point where we can have our usual summer drinks, meeting up in actual real life, raising a glass to friendship, community and writing.

This week is where it all starts, as we announce the winner of the 2020 Don Louth Award and run a workshop on character. Covid can’t stop us. To quote the old musical number, Merrily We Roll Along.

Zoom in The Room

In a typical Reading Writers move, we organised our first in-the-room meetup since March on the day the government shrunk the numbers of people allowed to gather in one place by a factor of 5. Impeccably done, RW. Yay us.

The meet was a culmination of much gentle negotiation between our usual venue, the RISC, and our esteemed chair, Andy. The RISC wanted people back, of course. Although the bar remains closed until October and will reopen in a very different form (think dry-goods refill store with a little bar to one side) it’s good to have people in the building—and more importantly contributing to the organisation’s survival by paying room hire. All of which we’re happy to do. The RISC has served us very well over the years.

How do we square social distancing guidelines with the needs of the group? There will often be getting on for 20 people at an RW meet, particularly when guests are presenting to us. The solution is to create a hybrid meet—some in the room, some on Zoom.

Zoom has been a lifesaver for the group during the summer months. We’d normally be on break, with a monthly social event in a bar in town. Without that to depend on, we’ve been running virtual events on a regular basis instead, sharing stories and inspiration, keeping each other going during these strange times. We’ve found that Zoom works well for the majority of members. Using emails and our WhatsApp group as backups, the group has been chatting and sharing happily.

Back in the room, there was a certain level of nervousness amongst the RW committee about how well the hybrid approach would work. Andy had wangled a upgrade. We now had access to the Conference hall, which would in ordinary times fit forty people with ease. Under social distancing, we could probably squeeze eight in there. Until the change announced on the morning of the meet, when that number would be cut further.

As it turned out, our fears were baseless. There were four attendees in the big room (Andy, Secretary Meg, Tech Guru Rob and Geek Queen Eloise) with another six joining on Zoom. Rob hooked a laptop and mike to the room’s whiteboard projector, which also usefully had speakers. Everyone could see and hear each other clearly, and the presentation from Social Secretary Gareth on Fantasy went extremely smoothly.

The Room Team even managed to squeeze in a post-session drink at the thankfully re-opened Great Expectations. A pleasingly normal moment to cap off one of our stranger meetings.

And on we go. Our Autumn Competition is now running, we have manuscript nights to organise and guests to invite. It certainly isn’t business as usual, but we’re trying to make it work. We’ll carry on with the hybrid meets for as long as they remain viable, but we believe Zoom is going to be a big part of how we do things from now on.

How we figure out the Christmas party is a whole other question.

2020: We Go Again

The turning of the seasons brings another year of writerly thrills and excitement for the happy campers of Reading Writers. The first meet of the year always has a certain frisson of anticipation, mingled with a hint of poignancy. It is the moment when the winner of the Don Louth Award for the year is announced.

Don was a mainstay of Reading Writers for many years, at one point serving as Chairman, Secretary and general cheerleader for the group. His sad passing in 2010 was marked with one final, typically kind and thoughtful gesture–a bequest that was to be used as a way to celebrate the member who had made the most progress in their writing life in the previous year.

Previous winners of the award include acclaimed authors Claire Dyer and Julie Cohen. As voted for by the members of the group, the Don Louth is a sign of respect from one’s peers that should not be treated lightly. Quite literally–the silver plate with the winner’s name inscribed upon it weighs a ton.

This year, the Don Louth Award was presented to our Communications and Membership Secretary, Rob Wickings, who writes the RW blog and is therefore finding it quite difficult not to make this whole thing seem weird. In response to the announcement Rob said:

‘Winning the Don Louth Award is a tremendous honour, but the real prize is being a part of this amazing and talented community. The silverware is a lovely bonus.’

Pictured below, Rob celebrates with Jackie Louth. The sharp-eyed amongst you may also note the appearance of former Don Louth Award winner Julie Roberts.

Rob’s responsibilities for the coming year include the choice of novel for our annual Summer Book Club night. Keep an eye on the socials for more on that as the year progresses.

Next up, our first Manuscript Night of the year, along with the new regular prompt writing slot and more fun than you can shake a Biro at.

It’s 2020. Here we go.

News For Summer Break

We’re on our summer hols at the moment, but that doesn’t mean it’s all quiet on the RW front. Here are a few bites of news, successes and notifications for you!

Reading Writers at Waingels College, Woodley: Thursday 4 July 2019

by Julie Roberts

Julie Roberts and Jarrad Elson represented Reading Writers at the college’s Student Literary Festival.

The school has a yearly project at which the senior students organise and run a chosen event. 2019’s choice was a Literary Festival. Ten visiting authors were each given 20 minutes presentation time on their chosen genre.
Jarrad spoke on ‘Writing for Children’, with an excellent slide show demonstrating his path to publishing his picture book Cheetah the Cheater.
Julie’s presentation was ‘Writing a Novella’ – the challenge of achieving a tight format, and producing a thrilling, fast moving story for her book Dangerous Masquerade.
In addition to the author talks, the students had organised stalls for games, raffles and authors’ books.
The event was a success. A good team building exercise for the students to take on into their futures. Well done, Waingels College.

The following Wednesday, Jarrad and I met to exchange our books to each other – I love the photo.
And on behalf of myself and members of Reading Writers, I wish Jarrad a thrilling and interesting tour of the UK and Europe before he heads home to Australia.

Two very happy Reading Writers!

A plug from Julie Roberts – DANGEROUS MASQUERADE

Summer is rolling along on perfect sunny days.
With this in mind, my publisher has released my novella, Dangerous Masquerade.
When the time is right, and you are relaxing with a glass of refreshing juice or wine, download the story of Evelyn, and her thrilling escapes and hiding places to flee a demanding and forceful lord. And her hero, Giles, is the only one who can save her. But will he be in time?

Get your Georgian romance fix here:

Hunting Hearts gig at Reading Pride

A plug from Claire Dyer on behalf of her daughter Lucy – who has joined us at meetings as an associate on a number of occasions. The plug is for synthwave warriors Hunting Hearts who have a gig at Reading Pride on 31st August:

Some Summer Spam From Our Inbox

• Wells Festival of Literature – 18 – 26 October 2019. A set of talks and events all focused around books and authors.

• NAWG Festival of Writing – 31st August to 1st September. Booking closes 12th Aug. We are a member of NAWG, and each year they have an event for the members with talks, workshops, competitions (too late for most of the comps), etc. It is at Warwick University this year, but sounds like it’s moving venue for 2020.

• We get emails from TAR (Theatre & Arts Reading) who are an organisation trying to aim at establishing a new theatre and arts venue in Reading. Their current want is to run Reading Gaol as a venue for this. If you’re interested go see their website:

• A potential opportunity for short story fans and writers. A new magazine called Short Fiction Magazine is launching in October. They are potentially looking for stories, articles, flash fiction and poetry for publication. They have also offered a potential 25% subscription discount – more details at:

That’s it for now. Enjoy your summer!

NAWGfest 2018 Review

nawg logo

RW recently rejoined the National Association of Writing Groups (NAWG thence), a country-wide organisation of idiots, dreamers, narcissists and delusioneers writerly types. As part of the annual subscription, we’re allowed to enter NAWG’s many competitions with a chance to attend annual conference, the snappily named NAWGFest. Blow us down with a feather if we didn’t hit the jackpot on our first go!

Reporting not very live from Warwick University, Best Poetry finalist Eloise Curtis represents for Reading Writers…

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Supporting ABC To Read

A little something from our Josh…


Today I visited the lovely people at ABC to Read,, and handed over a cheque from Reading Writers for £100.

As you’d expect for a charity that teaches children to read, they have plenty of books, but they don’t have enough games. Games break the ice between children and volunteers, and if they’ve been well chosen they include letters, numbers and reading. So your words, put together by Miranda and everyone who helped, will buy that, and give the volunteers a chance to get their children playing and learning.

I also took five copies of the anthology and was able to give them as gifts to five of their hard-working volunteers!

What ABC to Read need now are more volunteers to go into local schools across Reading and Berkshire. If you’d like to volunteer, get in touch with them. Or mention it to a friend. Or share it on social media. And help a child to read.



Thanks, Josh! Don’t forget, our anthology Tales From Our Town is still on sale, and profits go towards helping out this brilliant charity.


It feels like no more than fifteen seconds since we opened proceedings on another year at RW. And yet here we are, with our flash fiction throw-down/end of term party looming, and summer holiday adventures to anticipate. It’s been a thrill-packed six months.

So what news?

Our spring competition, judged by journalist Francesca Perryman, showed us at our strongest. RW is a varied bunch, and our responses to the brief ‘An Interview With…’ showed us at our strongest. Takes on horror (including an unexpectedly spooky tale from our secretary Andy), SF, memoir and history, poetry and humour gave a solid picture of a group with many passions but one love–that of writing. Congrats are due to our winners; Claire, Josh and Steve, who took the top spot with his hilarious chat with a gender-reassigned Doris Johnson. Utter genius.

Our winners, with judge Francesca second left.
Our winners! L-R Josh, judge Francesca, Steve, Claire.

Claire is having a great year, as her latest book, The Last Day, has been picked up by a new publisher. Hooray! More on that here –> Claire also wanted to add how much she appreciates the support she gets from RW in all her endeavours. You am very welcome, Claire!

While we’re on the subject of writer’s news, new member Becci has been talking about her busy spring as a working writer over on her blog. Check it out here:

Meanwhile, our Writer’s Day earlier in the month was a raging success. A new venue in Park Street was perfect for our needs, and the day was filled with fun activities, quizzes and of course a hefty dose of writing. Many thanks to Hannah and Josh who worked incredibly hard to make the day a triumph of epic proportions.

Next week sees our final meet before September, but that doesn’t mean the fun stops. We have two social gatherments and a book night hosted by this year’s Don Louth Award winner, Julie Roberts. She’s asked us to look at Eagle In The Sky by Wilbur Smith, a tale of adventure and derring-do in the finest traditions of the veteran writer.

There’s also prep to do for our Autumn Competition, and for a few brave souls, work for the first event of the Autumn term, our Not The Booker Prize Night. Five of us extol the merits of our favourite book of the last 12 months. The winner is of course, the best book of the year, no questions or arguments permitted, thank you kindly.

Let’s end with a bit of writing, shall we? This is from our Juliet, who has been featured regularly on Limping Chicken, the UK’s most popular disability website. This, an interview with poet Susan Utting on deafness and poetry, is a good one. Enjoy, and have a great summer!

Writing by Reading Writers: My Special Relationship With America

It’s been an interesting start to the New Year for us, and we promise a full update on our shenanigans soon. But for now, allow us to present some writing from one of our own–last year’s Don Louth Award winner Steve Partridge. Part memoir, part pop-culture run-down, all very rocking.

Please to enjoy.



I am stereotypically English and idiosyncratically proud of being a Basingstoke Boy who has lived in his home town nearly all of his life. I am also a contradiction, because since the age of about three and a half I have lived a secret sub life in a virtual paradise a zillion imaginary miles away from my physical and spiritual home. My paradise is called Americana. My Americana, my personalised, piece-meal, custom built Americana has multiple cultural threads which over the years have woven themselves into the counterpane of my traditional British layer of cultural tissue and morphed it into a duo-cultural comfort blanket which lies over the temporal and frontal lobes of my brain, ready to be engaged at the flick of a brain cell. Let me tell you about my special relationship with America.

It started on the Christmas before my fourth birthday. My Canadian aunt Alice in Calgary sent me a small boy’s cowboy outfit comprising of a leather waistcoat with a sheriff’s star and matching leather chaps, which did up with two sets of straps on each leg. They were secured by stainless steel buckles to the back of a pair of blue jeans. To go with the cowboy outfit I was given, by my parents, a matching pair of golden toy cap pistols with a gun belt and two holsters and endless reels of paper-caps which could be fitted into the pistols and fired repeatedly (the acrid smell of salt-peter still comes back to me when I think about it). I must have shot and killed at least 10,000 imaginary Red Indians and black hatted bad-men in our small garden and maybe some white hatted good-men as well. There was no escape for them, whatever they tried to get away from the quick-draw of the South Ham Kid was never good enough; they were gunned down while hiding in bushes, shinning up trees, climbing fences or cowering behind the garden shed. I was, without any doubt whatsoever, the fastest gun on the South Ham estate. Well maybe not the whole estate, but certainly St Andrew’s Road.


Today this preconditioning of young boys’ minds through simulated imaginary war games, encouraging them to re-enact the near total genocide of a poorly armed indigenous stone-age race of native North Americans is unacceptable. The native North Americans who were previously content to engage themselves in their own inter-tribal wars found themselves having to form cross tribal alliances to fight heavily armed European invaders who arrived from across a vast lake in huge wind powered canoes. The invaders, driven by their insatiable desire to ‘Go West Young Man’ and make their fortunes, traded with them, killed them, infected them with incurable diseases, shot their bison, stole their lands, minerals, precious metals, furs and raped their women. To assuage their guilt, they attempted to convert the indigenous survivors to Christianity with the prize of eternal life, in exchange for relinquishing their nomadic life style, most of their land and an agreement to live in open prisons, called reservations.


That behaviour is of course now quite rightly judged by liberal, postmodern, post-truth, North Americans to be morally wrong. However, today the tables have been turned and it’s North America and the west who face attacks from tribally based political groups from the middle-east who have railed against an Anglo-American alliance who intervened in their internal political affairs. And Ironically, President Donald Trump has described these terrorist groups as behaving like stone-age men when engaging in war with the west.


My father would encourage my developing cultural Americana counterpane by entering a room and saying, in a very poor imitation voice of the miniature American cowboy actor Alan Ladd, ‘Hey bud go for your guns.’ He would pretend to draw his imaginary six guns by slapping his hips with the palms of his hands while transforming them into the shape of a gun with his thumbs imitating the firing hammers. Next he would either make a gun firing noise in the back of his throat, or simply say, ‘Bang-bang you’re dead’ and leave the room. I never ever won one of these surprise ambush shoot outs, however, my resurrection was always instantaneous, and, as far as I know, achieved without divine intervention. This process continued until I was nearly seven years old, when in a moment of frustrated inspiration I pointed out to my father he was always the loser because he never actually had any guns and I did, even if they were only toys.


Regularly on Sunday evenings our family of three would jump on the bus to visit the Plaza cinema at the top of Sarum Hill. This was the golden age of the Western and my father was keen to see the afore mentioned Alan Ladd, (it was rumoured film directors made him stand on a box in a shallow trench to make him look taller), John Wayne, James Stewart and Roy Rogers beat the bad guys into submission in such notable epics as ‘Hondo’, ‘The Searchers’, ‘The Far Country’, ‘The Man From Laramie’, ‘Shane’, and ‘Winchester 73’ (The subliminal message being, superior weaponry will always win a war, a strategy which hasn’t always worked in real life). When Roy Rogers’ records were played on the Light Programme, particularly his hit record ‘A Four Legged Friend’ my father would lead the community singing. Later on in the 1960’s his favourite TV programme was ‘Rawhide’ whereas my mother opted for the comedy romance show ‘I Love Lucy’. She would also ‘nip off’ to the cinema with my aunty Kit to see ‘Singing in The Rain’, ‘The Seven Year Itch’, ‘Roman Holiday’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s. When she came back she would tell me about them in great detail and how she and my aunty Kit had cried at the end of the film.


She would say:
‘It’s a waste of time going to the cinema with your father. He’s only interested in Westerns and John Wayne’.

My father would say:
‘It’s a waste of time going to the cinema with your mother. She’s only interested in silly romances’.


So the bricks were laid on the foundations for my continued indoctrination into Americana. My next progressive step was a Saturday morning radio show on the Light Programme called, not surprisingly, ‘Saturday Club’. Introduced by Brian Matthew (who has just retired, under protest, from broadcasting on Radio 2 on Saturday mornings) Saturday Club introduced me to a genre of music called ‘Skiffle’ and, a singer from London called Lonnie Donegan, who had a Scottish father and sang like a deceased black American called Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly). My father proclaimed ‘Lonnie Donegan sings through his nose’. As far as I could see when he was top of the bill on ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’ he sang through his mouth; but I didn’t argue. It would have been pointless. He would have cocked his thumbs and shot me.

With the influence of Lonnie Donegan I moved from the slushy, smaltzy, Hollywood, white hatted, good guy, cowboy music of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry to the down trodden roots music of poor blacks and whites like John Estes, Bessie Smith, Hank Snow, Don Gibson, and of course the king himself Elvis Presley. My hormones and social conscience had kicked in simultaneously, so my hair was slicked back in a pseudo ‘Tony Curtis’ style and I wore imported Levi jeans and black shirts. And, I tried to look tough. Difficult when you’re skinny and wear spectacles.

When the mid-sixties and, later the seventies arrived Americana took me over like an urban, urbane, uber tsunami. It wasn’t just the music. It was the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, Hippies, Yippies, long hair, beards, peace, love, cult films, cannabis, cold beer, poets, and free love. It swamped me with; Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollack, The Velvet Underground, Nico, Joanie Mitchell, Ronnie Prophet, Tom Paxton, John Steinbeck, Easy Rider, Lou Reed, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Highway 61 Revisited, Haight Astbury, Buffalo Springfield, Grace Slick, Lyndon Johnson, The 500 yard stare, Grandma Moses, Phil Ochs, Muhammad Ali, Doris Day, The Byrd’s, Norman Mailer, Muddy Waters, Arthur Miller, Ann Bancroft, Campbell’s soup tins, Easy Rider, The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, Roy Liechtenstein, B B King, Faye Dunaway, Faye Dunaway, Faye Dunaway and… Cool Hand Luke.

‘All I am saying is give… Americana a chance.’ And I did.

And so the list could go on until the present day. But that was when it all began. The point when the South Ham estate, Sandys Road and St Andrew’s Road, morphed into Greenwich Village, Laurel Canyon, Route 66, Music City Row, Broadway, Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard, Alabama, the Mississippi Delta and the campus of the University of Southern California.

Some time in my late forties I told a friend of mine I had recently stood at the crossroads of St Paul’s Road, Bolton Crescent and Sandys Road where I’d seen a skinny black man called Robert Johnson in a blue suit and a trilby hat playing a bottleneck guitar. The notes from his guitar were distorting and shimmering, attaching themselves to the breeze and drifting down the road. Following the music were, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper on Harleys and Roy Rogers on Trigger, Alan Ginsberg was walking behind them reciting ‘Howl’.

Martin Luther King was shouting, ‘Free at Last. Free at Last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last.’

Pete Seeger was singing ‘We Shall Overcome’, while Willie Loman was delivering the closing speech from Death of Salesman. And as I looked on Edward Hopper started painting a life size picture of an all-night diner in real time on the gable end of a housing association block of flats. When the painting was finished a taxi pulled up and outstepped Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller, John F Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn. They alighted from the taxi and walked into the diner. The juke box in the diner was playing Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land is your Land’. The taxi driver turned in his seat and looked into the back of the taxi at a man dressed in a white suit and wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat.

He said, ‘Mr Williams, we’ve arrived.’

But Hank Williams, his head bowed down, never replied. For him, it was the day the music died.

My friend said, ‘Jesus what were you smoking?’

I said, ’Nothing. I just engaged the brain cell which controls my duo-cultural comfort blanket.’

He said, ‘What?’

I never bothered to explain.