It has been six years since I found myself agreeing to take on the position of Secretary to Huntly Writers and I admit that one of my first thoughts on stepping into the shoes of our previous secretary, Phyllis Goodall, was that it would prove a daunting challenge, as her minutes were always impeccably “literary” in style. In fact, while the job did often prove exacting in nature, it also turned out to be a stimulating “journey” in writing terms and one which has seen Huntly Writers grow from the small group I joined, meeting in a rather chilly room in the Brander Library, to the flourishing group of 20 plus that it is today.

Huntly Writers still meets in the cosy confines of James Cullen Court, but last year it was decided to move Huntly Writers’ AGM from a date in January to May, in the hope of milder weather and better travelling conditions; therefore the latest Secretary’s Report covers our activities from January 2013 till May 2014. In that time we have been glad to welcome the following new members: Leon Stelmach, Charles Bond, Kristin Cooper and Tom Cruickshank. Our fortnightly meetings have certainly benefited from the fresh perspectives they have brought to discussions.

2013 events

Huntly Writers has continued to make an impressive impact on the literary world of the North-East and beyond and the particular triumph of 2013 was undoubtedly the production of our second anthology, Weaving Words. The cover was designed with the help of Anne and Alan Rogers and Ruth Bean, proof-read initially by contributors followed by Annie Lamb and Kristin Cooper. It was then edited and published by Duncan Lockerbie, a local publisher. Offering a wide variety of poetry, prose and non-fiction written by our talented members, Weaving Words was launched at a successful event in the Tin Hut on 6 October, which was also part of another thrilling new enterprise, the Huntly Bookfest, of which more later. In November Kristin entered Weaving Words in a competition run by Writers Magazine.

Walks for Life was a project undertaken by artist Anne Murray and local naturalist Jake Williams, which involved following the route of the Deveron from Banff to the Cabrach. She gave a talk to the group and on Wednesday 20 March Huntly Writers was asked to take part in a Folk Club event, reading work related to this fascinating enterprise.

In March we had the opportunity to complete a project dear to Maureen’s heart, when a select group of Huntly Writers, under the guidance of well known local poet Stuart B. Campbell, assembled in the Brander Library and produced an amazing renga in Doric.

At our meeting on Wednesday 29 May we welcomed Celia and Junior from Cuba, who were working with Deveron Arts on a Friendship Project. Members of Huntly Writers were invited to view the results of the project on 15 June. Later in the year, the Huntly Summer School, from 5 to 10 August, included poetry workshops run by convener Maureen Ross and honorary member Brian Nisbet, and ended with a poetry competition won by Huntly Writer Anne Rogers.

On Saturday 6 July Huntly Writers was invited by Daisy Williams to make use of a space in the Pictish Coffee Shop at Rhynie (linked to the archaeological dig at that time), which she had set aside for a writing exercise. This proved a highly fruitful undertaking for the group, all of whom turned out outstanding pieces, inspired by the time spent at Rhynie.

The 2013 theme for National Poetry Day was “Water” and on Wednesday 2 October a number of us produced “raindrop poems” to be scattered in secret around the town. This also kicked off an exhilarating cultural period for Huntly, as on Thursday 3 October the Bookfest began. The brainchild of librarian Sue Mercer – who has always encouraged and supported Huntly Writers’ activities – and Maureen, enterprising convener of Huntly Writers, the Bookfest provided members with another platform for their work and proved a resounding success.

A better pitch and kinder weather ensured that our stall at the Huntly Hairst Farmers’ Market on 7 September was a big hit with customers and we were grateful to Carol, her hard-working committee and all those who helped out on the day.

Another exciting venture for Huntly Writers arose when Annie announced her intention to retire and, horrified at the idea of life without Orb’s bookshop, members agreed to go ahead with the Community Bookshop Project. Maureen devoted a great deal of time and effort to the funding application and when that was successful a sub-committee was formed to draw up a brief for the required feasibility study. The committee has now drafted a constitution and is working towards charitable organisation status.

The last event of 2013 was held in early December at Fourteen, a pop-up cafe in Rhynie, and was again linked to the July Pictish Dig adventure. In a delightfully Christmassy setting we read our Pictish poems and stories, scoffed scrumptious home-bakes and listened to an entertaining talk and discussion on the re-patriation of Rhynie Man!

2014 events

On Wednesday 19 March, under the auspices of the Scottish Book Trust, a large and appreciative audience packed the OAP Hall for a selection of readings by the charismatic Donald S. Murray, a well-known poet and author from Lewis, who writes in both Gaelic and English. Capably organised by Mary Burgerhout, the evening ran smoothly and was an unqualified success.

In April, again with funding from the Scottish Book Trust, we asked distinguished local writer Ian Crockatt to give a talk on his work followed by workshop activities – recently he won the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for Pure Contradiction, his translation of Rilke. A knowledgeable and entertaining speaker, Ian also proved a sympathetic leader during the workshop tasks and all who attended appreciated his helpful and encouraging comments.

Our final event of the 2013–2014 session was on Wednesday 30 April when we welcomed to our meeting a guest speaker, Rebecca Langworthy, who is currently doing a PhD on celebrated Huntly author George MacDonald. We all enjoyed her stimulating talk and the workshop that followed.

Since our last AGM in January 2013, members of Huntly Writers have clearly achieved a great deal: hosting events that encourage others to participate; appearing in performancess throughout the North-East; winning competitions and having work printed in a variety of publications – and it is important to celebrate these achievements.

Last October on National Poetry Day, to our delight, long-standing member and Treasurer of Huntly Writers Margaret Grant was appointed Huntly Makar – a well-deserved accolade for an accomplished writer. Janice, Linda and Haworth had work published in the latest Pushing Out the Boat magazine, while Linda won the Doric Festival Connon Caup with her poem Picts. Anne Rogers not only came first in the Summer School Poetry Competition, but her winning poem has been set to music. Hasely Hinton (Cara Stevens) was the star of the show in From Landscape to Fiction at the Portsoy Salmon Bothy, while Maureen’s poetry was read at the Sound Festival. Poet and musician Haworth Hodgkinson performed in shows at Backhill Bothy with Atlas Moon and at Cellar 35 in Aberdeen. Maureen and Linda were both interviewed on the Literature Show local radio programme, with playwright Anne Forbes scheduled to be heard later in the year. An eagerly anticipated event in 2014 will be Anne Forbes’ play, Who Killed the Cock of the North?, which is to be performed at Huntly Castle in June.

At a July 2013 meeting, we were especially pleased to learn that Maureen Ross, Convener of Huntly Writers for many years and a gifted poet, had been accepted for a Masters in Creative Writing at Aberdeen University. Some of the tasks set by her course leader have also provided interesting experiments for the group!

In conclusion, Huntly Writers has gone from strength to strength in the last few years, growing not only in number, but in the maturity and confidence with which it approaches tasks and challenges. I have no doubt it will continue to do so in the future. It has been a genuine pleasure to work as Secretary to Huntly Writers and to have made a positive contribution to the group that has given me so much support and encouragement over the years. However the time has come for me to retire. I wish the next Secretary all the very best in his or her endeavours and I hope he or she will take as much pleasure in the job as I have done!