Writers’ walk around Winchester

Posted by Madelaine Smith, 6th August 2011

The third Thursday of every month sees the meeting of a very odd mix of people in the cellar of my local pub. The group meets to read to each other.


It isn’t a reading group and it isn’t a writing group, but rather something of a hybrid. We call it a Bring Your own Literature night (or ‘BYO night’ for short). A theme is set and participants are able to read something they have written themselves, a piece by someone else that fits the theme, or they can simply come along to listen and enjoy. The themes, which range from topics such as ‘Nuns & Monks’ to a science fiction night, to ‘Dream On’, to ‘Foot in Mouth’, to ‘Sleeping & Shopping’, can be approached in any way the reader likes, and believe me some of the connections have been tenuous.


Those of the group who do present their own work include several published novelists and poets, as well as the Hampshire Poet of the Year. There are also several unpublished writers among the group.


This summer we decided to get out of the cellar and have had several outdoor events. The first, an evening of prose, took place in the last intact chamber in the ruins of Hyde Abbey. The second, an evening of poetry, was in one of the ‘chapels’ of Hyde Abbey Garden (a garden recreating the shape of the long disappeared Hyde Abbey). The third took place this week and was a Winchester Writers’ Walk.


We met in the pub, the bar rather than the cellar for a change, and planned our route. Everyone had to say where they wanted to read, though did not reveal what they would be reading. The idea was that everything read would be particularly relevant to the place in which we stopped to listen. Once the reading locations were known we set off.


I remember many years ago hearing a piece of advice saying that if you wanted a railway carriage to yourself you should settle in, take out a book of poetry and start reading – ALOUD. I haven’t tried it, but judging by some of the looks we received that evening I can quite imagine it working.


Our route took us along residential streets, through the park, up to the remains of Hyde Abbey, past a derelict industrial laundry, to Sainsburys, to the house where Jane Austen died, past Winchester Cathedral, and to our final destination, a town centre pub. As with the BYO nights there was a mix of original work as well as writing by poets previously resident in Winchester including Matthew Francis, Jeremy Hooker and Wendy Cope; and as always some people just came to listen. None of us attempted Keats' Ode to Autumn. Maybe when the season is right...


It was nearly dark by the time we finished and the final pieces had to be read under streetlights.


The route is one I walk quite often, but I don’t think I will ever see it in the same way again. All of the readers highlighted tiny things that they had noticed in a particular spot – the sort of thing you walk past a hundred times and never see until someone else points it out to you.


I know that writers are quite often asked the question ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ It is obvious to me that ideas are all around us, all of the time… it just takes a writer to bring them to our attention.

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