Happy endings

PUBLISHED: 13:30 14 May 2010 | UPDATED: 11:48 28 February 2013

Eve Wibberley, Eileen Dickson, Julie Roberts, Elaine Douglas and Vera Morris.

Eve Wibberley, Eileen Dickson, Julie Roberts, Elaine Douglas and Vera Morris.

Here's a story about two writers' groups, one in Caversham and the other in Amersham, and how they finally saw their work in print

The route to publishing success has never been easy. For every Robert Harris or Terry Pratchett there are thousands of rejection slips, and now that more people than ever feel they have a book inside them, the competition to make it to the shelves is tougher than ever. With advances in technology, however, its never been easier to see your own work in print as long as you undertake the project yourself. So heres the tale of two very different writing groups and how they finally managed to get their work published.When five friends from a local creative writing class abandoned their husbands for a week to attend Swanwick Writers week-long summer school in the Peak District in 2004, they had little idea of the journey ahead. Retired head teacher Vera Morris admits it could have been a disaster, but in the end they spent the week behaving as though they were students rather than matrons of a certain age.
Vera, former accountant Julie Roberts, ex-ballet dancer and teacher Elaine Douglas, company director Eve Wibberley and witness service manager Eileen Dickson left Swanwick reluctantly. They stopped for one last lunch at a pub, and by coffee time the idea of Jeeve Publishing (the name made up of each members initial) was born.
The mission was simple - to return to Swanwick the following year with a collection of professionally produced stories. Vera says: There wasnt a market for short stories. Our time could be more usefully spent self-publishing, and retaining control over the process.
Five years later, the Berkshire quintet, who live in and around Caversham, have sold more than 2,000 books, and are writing their fourth collection of short stories, illustrated by local artist Sue Tait.Fish Pie and Laughter, their first book and a mixture of real-life anecdotes and fiction, is structured around the months of the year, with each writer contributing one piece to each of the 12 sections. Its initial print run of 500 sold out within four months. It is now into its third reprint.
The Guilty Suitcase, their second work, published in 2007, contains fewer but longer stories, with five sections, and a story from every author in each. These fictional stories focus on the themes of jealousy, guilt, love, joy and fear.
As with the other two books, each writer contributes with a different yet complementary style. The third volume, The Virgin Sardine, launched last year, concentrates on the elements, with sections on the sun, fire, air, earth and water. All are printed by Ridgeway Press, originally based in Pangbourne but now to be found in Bramley.
Unusually for self-publishers, we do all the type-setting and formatting, so our printer just prints, and this keeps costs down, explains Julie.
The group sets itself high standards, and the editing process, which takes place when the group meets in Julies Caversham loft, is rigorous.
Beneath the relaxed and cheery exterior of this group lies a sound business sense and marketing savvy. Books are sold through Jeeves own website and Amazon, as well as at Caversham store WordPlay and at craft fairs. Profits are ploughed back into the next project. However, thanks to sales and proceeds from talks, the group has donated 4,500 to The Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance Trust.
With another book planned for 2012, this team shows no signs of stopping laughing or writing.
Well keep going until we drop, says Vera firmly. You feel sure shes right.
To find out more go to www.jeevestories.co.uk
Stripping off your clothes in the supermarket!
Meanwhile, in Amersham, another writers group is also celebrating the publication of their first anthology of work. The Creative Writing Group of Amersham WEA Branch has just produced Expressions, a diverse collection of fiction, life writing and poetry representing the progress this lively group of students has made in developing their own writing skills. Travel, family relationships, the natural world, and folklore are some of the subjects explored.
The group proof read each others contributions initially, then an editorial team was formed and all the pieces were put into a consistent house style, with their tutor Linda Dawe advising.
In-house graphic designer Barbara Brookes produced a dummy copy which was again proofed by the team. The group then chose Orbit in Chesham to print the book, with the print run paid for up front by the WEA local branch. Most copies were presold, making a profit to provide a bursary for an adult learner on a low income to participate in one of the many WEA courses on offer.
Group members acknowledge it can be daunting joining a writing class where emotional experiences are revealed during the creative process. As Linda says: Theres no denying it, the first time you read your work to the class you have butterflies in your stomach. One student said that its like stripping off your clothes in the supermarket! The members of this group, from a variety of professional and personal backgrounds, have over the years formed a close bond, so that they can critique one anothers work in an atmosphere of good humour, trust and friendship.
For ten years Linda has been teaching in the pavilion of beautiful Hervines Park, in the heart of Amersham. She says: The Creative Writing group thrives in this lovely setting.
In compiling the anthology the group has been fortunate in having a graphic designer amongst them, so they put her skills to excellent use designing the format and cover.
Linda sums up the project: Our book is a celebration of all the fun weve had together!
For details of your local courses see the WEA Southern Region website, www.wea.org.uk
or phone 0800 328 1060.

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