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Clout and Collaboration: Why I Joined A Writers’ Organisation by Dianne Ascroft

Article by Dianne Ascroft ©.
Posted in Resources ().

I often refer to the Fermanagh Authors’ Association as a writers’ group but that really isn’t accurate: it is a writers’ organisation. Is that just a grand name for the same thing? Not really. So, what’s the difference? And what do I get out of belonging to it?

The Business Dictionary (www.businessdictionary.com) defines an organisation as: “A social unit of people that is structured and managed to meet a need or to pursue collective goals.”

The primary aim of most writers’ groups is to give individual members the tools and the support they need to improve their writing. Activities such as running writing technique workshops and critiquing each others work are at the core of their endeavours. Writing organisations work to promote, support and advocate their members’ common interests. These activities may take many forms. The aims of both are complementary so I don’t need to choose one over the other; I benefit from belonging to both.

Dianne Ascroft

Dianne Ascroft

The Society of Authors, the Crime Writers Association, the Romance Writers of America, the Historical Writers’ Association and the Alliance of Independent Authors are all examples of organisations which serve writers on a national or international level. Other alliances have a narrower focus. The Fermanagh Authors’ Association is a regional association, championing writers in one county on this island.  Our mission is to promote Fermanagh writers and their work as well as past and present writings about Fermanagh. Since the association’s mission fosters the interests of all local writers our membership includes both non-fiction and fiction writers.

Is there a need for such local organisations? In County Fermanagh there was. Before the FAA was founded in 2005, writers in the county continually reinvented the wheel as they individually hunted for research material on similar topics and charged the ramparts of retail outlets and other organisations trying to get their attention, unaware of what their fellow writers were doing in the next townland or village.

So what exactly does our organisation do for its members? Its two most important functions are to provide clout and to facilitate collaboration. One of the main reasons the FAA was founded was to help local writers promote and sell their work. Many of our members write about local history and, since the market for regional history books is primarily local, they self-publish their work and sell it directly in the area. Any writer who has gone the indie route to print knows that it is often difficult to get such books stocked in shops. So that’s where the clout comes in. We approached Eason & Son and other retailers on behalf of our members to request that they stock our work. As a result our annual publication, Fermanagh Miscellany, as well as members’ individual works are on sale in shops throughout the county.

Clout also takes the form of ‘putting in a good word’ for Fermanagh writers. For example, we are liaising with the District Council and the regional tourism board to find ways that Fermanagh writers and their work can be highlighted to the media and visitors to the county during the G8 meetings which will be held in Enniskillen in June. We also liaise with organisations such as Enniskillen Castle Museum, the District Council and festival organisers for the Happy Days Beckett Festival and Fermanagh Live Festival to look for opportunities for our members to be included in events which they stage.

The organisation also has financial clout. It can act as a vehicle to access Arts Council and District Council grant funds from schemes which are not available to individual artists to enable our members to work on common projects.

Showcasing our members’ writing is also part of the organisation’s clout. Our yearly anthology, Fermanagh Miscellany, is an eclectic mix of short stories, reminiscences, historical articles and poems reflecting the range of work that our members produce. The book is mainly sold locally but we advertise it in nationwide publications and orders are received from across Ireland and further afield. In 2011 we released print and ebook versions of the anthology for the first time. This development widens our reach throughout the world.

I also see providing an online presence as clout. Our website (www.fermanaghauthors.wordpress.com) features news updates about the group and individual members as well as listing our publications, individual and collective. We also collaborate with a regional leisure industry organisation and have set up a bookshop page on their website to sell our work (http://www.erneheritagetours.com/bookshop.html).

Collaboration is our other primary function. Sharing knowledge among our members is an important aspect of our organisation’s role. We share useful contacts and research sources with each other. We keep members up to date about local and national events that provide opportunities for writers, provide information about services available to writers who self-publish and grants that are available to individuals. Whether a writer is looking for information or someone is looking for a writer to tackle a project for him, our members have the local knowledge necessary to bring them together. We also have a good relationship with the librarians at the local library and we provide a link through which they can pass on any information that they think will be relevant to local writers.

As a small, regional organisation the FAA does not have the same sphere of influence as a larger, national or international one but it has an important role to play in the niche it serves. I think that there is definitely a place for associations that serve writers in a town or region. If you live in an area that has such an organisation, why not join it? Or, if one does not already exist, consider whether you should start one.

Writing.ie have recently dedicated one of their guest blogs to hooking writers up with writers groups and vice versa, if you are an author looking to form an association, why not leave your details there?

Fermanagh Miscellany 2012 is the sixth volume in the annual Fermanagh Miscellany series which showcases new writing by members of the Fermanagh Authors’ Association. This year’s volume is dedicated to retired Bishop of Derry and Fermanagh native, Dr Edward Daly.

Fermanagh Miscellany 2012 contains an insightful interview with Bishop Daly and reminiscences by him about childhood in the county, as well as local history, short stories, poetry and humorous bits and pieces.

There are stories of Fermanagh a century ago, sky dancing hen harriers, the last public execution in Britain, Bishop Daly’s Belleek childhood, busy Brookeborough, the heyday of the donkey derby, Fermanagh’s Olympic medallists and building an iron road to the seaside. 

Dianne Ascroft is Fermanagh Authors’ Association’s secretary. She is an urban Canadian who has settled in rural Northern Ireland. Her articles and stories have been printed in Irish and Canadian magazines and newspapers; she has released a novel, Hitler and Mars Bars and a short story collection, Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves. Online she lurks at www.dianneascroft.wordpress.com.