Over the past year, Huntly Writers have contrived to grow without changing our nature. The use of Zoom for meetings has extended the scope of our membership. Meanwhile we continue to focus on individual writers, and to a large extent, on local writing.

We welcomed some new members, mentioned below, thanks to the refurbished web site. Last AGM, Carol suggested we tackle the problems we were having with the earlier version of the site, offering to look after a new site and keep it up to date. She enlisted Mike Watson, who manages her Dances with Dragons, and they developed the site with input from various members. It soon got noticed by far-flung writers who felt the need of a small sympathetic forum. With virtual meetings, we can accommodate them.

A move from Zoom to a hybrid video-conference format has been discussed and we had one trial using the bookshop conference room. This possibility is still being considered. It would have some impact on the timing of meetings and hence on the ability of some members to attend. For most people, the current format is congenial, but the meetings are short and many items of business need to be addressed through email rather than talked over. There is relatively little time for readings and none for the popular pursuit of newsing.

Publishing has been much discussed. We would like to publish more, but the funds are low. We are considering a new poetry anthology, which was initially conceived as a showcase for our work but which may well include poems from young winners of the Brian Nisbet Competition and from Doric writers of all ages. This would make a healthily diverse collection and it could be a basis on which to seek outside funding. Over several meetings, the proposed anthology has acquired a theme, ‘Seasons’, and inspired quite a few poems. Duncan Lockerbie has priced it and agreed to produce it when we find the funds. Among possible ways of raising money, we may have proceeds from art sales: Jenny, a ceramicist, has offered to raffle something during her open studio event in May, while the bookshop holds various paintings by Raoul Middleman that may bring in something. Many other promising schemes have been suggested.

Meanwhile, Ron Brander’s Over the Hills from Huntly has sold well and has been reprinted after a discussion of costs.

National Poetry Day went ahead and with it the Brian Nisbet Competition, which moved its date from the Hairst to early October when NPD occurs. The theme for both was Choice. We had several entries and two winners in the competition (detailed below), and lots of poems on Choice, many of which we wrote out and stuck on suitable surfaces in Huntly Square the night before NPD. There were no public readings as in prior years up to 2019 but, on reflection, the poetry post reaches many people.

Huntly Writers had no stall at the Hairst this year. Some folk however, were involved through the bookshop, which hosted two events for Doric writing. Aaron Gale talked about the making of his children’s book Auld MacDonald Hid a Fairm, with which Linda had helped in the capacity of Doric editor. Kenny Grieve introduced his reprint of poems by a local 19th century poet, Rachel Robertson.

We continue to collaborate occasionally with Deveron Projects, whose resident artist Annie Runkel joined one meeting and explained her project: letter writing as a way to celebrate your town. Several of us wrote letters to our towns and ‘mailed’ them via the bookshop or Square Deal.

No young writers’ workshops have been feasible since 7 March, 2020. We reason that the children have had virtual classes for months, so another virtual offering wouldn’t be attractive. And as restrictions ease, even if it’s permitted, it seems irresponsible to bring pupils from different schools together for a workshop. But luckily the children of Drumblade Primary have taken the initiative by holding a competition for flash fiction, to provide material for their literary magazine the Drumblade Rag. This was open to all in their primary school cluster. We were asked to provide judges (more below).

Individual members have been busy:

Some of us keep on with longer works. Cara has passed the halfway point in Aspen Ridge and the love story gathers momentum. Leon’s new Murdo & Moira book also offers new romances all the time. In contrast, Annie’s crime fantasy Long Bones progresses at a snail’s pace (she admires snails). Emily has begun a thriller, The Player. Kathleen joined us at the last AGM having already written 30 chapters of what may be a historical novel: a story told in prose, poems, illustrations and installation art. This is essentially a Welsh book and she had hoped to find a Welsh publisher for it, but an Edinburgh publisher, 8d Press, expressed an interest; unfortunately, the negotiations have stalled. Kerin saw our web site and joined us in March having accidentally (as she puts it) written a fantasy novel, Daughters of Blood and Shadows. John is writing a Doric verse account of the history of the Deveron, beginning from the point of view of elementary particles, and latterly seen through the eyes of entities that have eyes. Maureen has been working on the story of Tommy and his social worker, in between poems and other diversions. Caroline is hoping to produce a book for children based on a poem of hers. We hope she will.

Most members have produced shorter pieces: poems, short stories, reminiscences and flash fiction. Jenny, who joined us in January, wrote stories throughout lockdown and is thinking of collecting them into a book. Also at that time, Roger brought us short stories, reminiscences and travelogues and he continues to contribute his poems although he has left us for now.

Levi tells stories mostly through film. He too began attending meetings in January after finding our web site during the winter break. He makes short films, usually with actors on the autism spectrum who hadn’t thought they could be actors because they’re ‘different’, but who have the gift of expressing their view of things. The stories they tell are unpredictable and uplifting.

John has brought out a book of poems, Pibroch (Red Squirrel Press). The burning Piper Alpha platform becomes a metaphor for the burning planet we’re living on. John is a piper himself and has long experience in the oil industry.

Caroline, a long-standing member of Buckie Blethers, joined us just before last year’s AGM having amassed a back catalogue of poems in the Doric. She has since been invited to present a monthly hour on Keith Community Radio: The Ramblins o’ a Buckie Quine, ‘a mixture-maxture’ of poetry and music. She was also asked to judge the Doric adult section of the Keith Traditional Music and Song Association’s competition last May. ‘Choices’, her entry in the Brian Nisbet Competition, won the Doric section, and she had a poem ‘In Praise of Booksellers’ (thank you!) published in The Bookseller online.

Emily has found time to pursue writing, although she has more than full-time musical commitments and may often be found in several places at once. Her poem ‘Chess Pieces in Dachau’ won the 2021 Brian Nisbet Competition.

Mary, our treasurer, is fond of Wilde and Dickens and knows a great deal about both of them. This past year she’s had two items in the Dickens Fellowship’s Aberdeen branch bulletin Little Doric. ‘Delving into Dickens’ recounted her delight at re-reading his works during lockdown. ‘In Praise of Monica Dickens’ (the novelist, Charles Dickens’s great-granddaughter) appeared in a later number.

This past year, for her own writing, Carol has mainly worked on her web site Dances with Dragons, concentrating now on her travels in Bhutan where she carried on her quest for the places where earth energy can be felt. She also helped to set up the new Huntly Writers’ web site and continues to administer it. On top of all this, Carol volunteered to help judge the Drumblade Rag flash fiction competition, which attracted 75 entries in four age groups: a demanding task, since most of the stories were very good and arrived all at once on the deadline.

The other judges were Anne, who joined us in September; Leon, and Linda. Linda worked this past year with Sheena Blackhall on Whudderin Heichts, a Doric translation of Brontë. Her story ‘The Last Een’, which won the Toulmin Prize some years back, appears in the Elphinstone Institute’s new book Dinna Mess wi the PoPo, a collection of past winners. She also published her poem ‘Tifty’s Bonnie Annie’ in the latest Causeway.

We hope to see all this activity continue. We may be starting a new chapter with the expansion of our membership. But we haven’t ceased to encourage one another and to listen, whether we’re writing or not, so as to learn how other writers experience the world and to hear what they hear when they set it down. Writers sometimes say that theirs is a solitary occupation. But it’s not, because writers are readers too; the voices of numerous authors are in their heads. For us, these voices are living ones, and many belong to our friends.