Almost Lost

A notice placed in a Ballymahon shop window back in 1998 invited people along to the first ever meeting of the local writers’ group. The tag line invited ‘anyone who thought that they had a book in them to come along to a meeting’ in the Dean Egan Library. An impressive total of 17 turned up for the first meeting, but by the next week it was just four.

From the humble beginnings, the group has grown in strength and numbers, and have just released their first collection of work, entitled ‘Almost Lost’. Former member Christina O’Connor initiated the group. “Christina was a writer and she wanted to write and she just didn’t have an outlet,” explained Valerie. Meetings moved from the local library to a snug in the local pub and now take place in the newly refurbished library, where paintings of local literary greats Oliver Goldsmith and Leo Casey hang.

Group member Valerie Masters said the group meet every three weeks. “There’s no format. People will turn up with their work and we will either have a chat about general things or take turns reading out something, then analysing it. It’s very honest and can be sometimes painful,” she added.The members come from all types of backgrounds – teacher, psychiatric nurse, writer, solicitor and homemaker – but they all share a common love of writing. “For the most part, it makes us write, if we have a deadline coming,” says Valerie. “I would write every day but I wouldn’t put anything concrete together until I know there’s a meeting coming up. You’re conscious of that and you know you want to bring something (to the meeting).

The group’s most recent member, Laurence Cloake, agrees. “I’ve only recently joined the group, so the whole thing is a new experience to me. I was writing on my own, but being part of the group and meeting every three weeks, you have to turn up with something.” Anne Skelly, who wrote her own novel while a member of the group, said the feedback is invaluable. “When you are working on your own at home, it’s very hard to know whether your work has the quality that you might think it had when you first put it down on paper. “It’s fantastic to get a critique from your peers and to get very helpful feedback and very often suggestions for developing something further.” Mary Forbes adds, “You could come with something one day that you mightn’t think a lot of, but somebody else could see something in it and might say, ‘well actually I think you might have something there’, which could set you thinking in a different direction.”

After much consternation, they finally got around to publishing their work, with Lorne Patterson very much the driving force behinds its completion. The name of the book – ‘Almost Lost’ – also gave the group extra impetus. “I think it (name) totally crystallised the book because it drew everything together,” Mairin Strange explained. “Everybody knew then what they were aiming for; they knew the kind of work they were going to put in to it. It narrowed it down.” Lorne added, “We did a writing exercise on those words for five minutes. It resounded with everyone; everyone had a response to what it meant.”

The book contains a mixture of new and old work and took about a year to complete. “By the time everyone had contributed, because a lot of the pieces were new, it was probably a year in gestation. I kind of had an overview but we brought it together to each meeting and looked what was coming, where it could be tightened up, in terms of language and those kinds of things. Although it came through me, it was really a collective effort.”

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