Writing from the heart
Some people walk to raise money for cancer research, others run. But when the opportunity arose for the Northern Beaches Writers’ Group (N BWG) to use their creative talents to raise funds for The Kids’ Cancer Project, its members knew they had found their fundraising niche.
Fourteen writers from the group competed in the ’Write-a-book-in-a-day' contest in 2013 and 2014, winning the National Best Book Award both times.
The group launched their award-winning books Scribbles in the Dark and A Dolphin for Naia at Dymocks, Warringah Mall in late November last year, with the help of author Susanne Gervay, internationally-known for her l Am Jack series. Sales of both books go towards The Kids’ Cancer Project, leading research into childhood cancer. At the time of writing, they had already raised $4,000.
Being able to use their passion for a good cause has been an immensely rewarding experience for the members, says NBWG founder Zena Shapter.
"Winning both years was amazing, and to know that you’re doing so much good with your writing is very satisfyin," she tells Peninsula Living.
The contest encourages groups to write, edit illustrate and bind a children's book in 12 hours. On the day that the group chooses to do the contest, they are sent an email at 7.30am stating the two human characters, the non-human character, the setting, the issue and the five random words that must be used in the book.
Ms Shapter says on the day of the contest, the writers brainstormed for about an hour and a half. Once they started to see a story developing, they broke it down into chapters to analyse all of its elements. After that, they divided the chapters up among them.
She says each writer has a different interest - for example, some prefer to write the opening chapters, while others prefer endings. Some like writing dialogue and others prefer action.
At the end of the day, it's Ms Shapter's job to edit the book and fine-tune the writers' various styles into one cohesive voice.
The book launch has been a collective effort, with members drawing on their strengths - be that marketing, administration, or simply baking treats for the event - to make it a success.
"It’s been wonderful to see everyone working together and pulling their weight to make this happen," Ms Shapter says.
Following the success of Scribbles in the Dark and A Dolphin for Naia, the group has set about writing a new children's fantasy novel set in a future Australia.
The NBWG was established in 2009 by Ms Shapter.
"I don’t drive, so getting to the NSW Writers' Group in Rozelle was a bit of a challenge, and I found the other local groups to be more like cheering squads than serious critiques," she explains.
The group caters to committed writers with publication or republication as their goal.
According to the NBWG, "You must have a clear vision of where you foresee your work being published, and be able to express this to the group so they can focus their critiques accordingly. You must also be prepared to help other writers by critiquing their work - irrespective of genre. This means you’ll have to read manuscripts you might not ordinarily read. But the diverse nature of our group is what makes our critiques valuable."
The feedback from these sessions is invaluable to writers, Ms Shapter says.
“Before I started the group my writing was getting commendations. That’s now changed to winning competitions.
The learning curve has been irreplaceable," she explains.
The Ditmar Award-winning author has won first place in eight national Australian writing competitions - 10 if you count her co-authored work.
Ms Shapter adds that not only does it help to receive positive criticism, but the NBWG sessions also help "get people out of their writing caves".
"There is an art to evaluating other's work. It’s important to start off complimentary and then rip it to pieces," she jokes.
"It's nerve racking to put your work out there for other people to critique. But it's up to me to make sure people leave the sessions feeling happy. And people get so much from these sessions.”
NBWG holds regular critique meetings for its 40-plus members on a monthly basis. To learn more about the NBWG, visit zenashapter.com. To purchase Scribbles in the Dark or A Dolphin for Naia, visit Dymocks Warringah Mall, Berkelouw Mona Vale, Berkelouw Dee Why, or The Children's Bookshop Beecroft.