Monday 30 January 2023

The Village Project: Sue Purkiss

 Some of you may remember that I've talked here before about my very lovely writing class/group, which has been running here in Cheddar for well over ten years now. We meet every week - we even carried on through the pandemic, only on Zoom. The usual pattern is that I set a topic one week, they go away and write about it, and then the following week they read their work and we discuss it. (We also, it has to be admitted, discuss other things: you know - life, the universe, and everything...) If there's time, we do a writing exercise too.

There have been various offshoots. We've produced three anthologies, the first with Lulu and the other two with Amazon. These were intended very much for family and friends; we unfortunately don't have a marketing genius within our ranks, so we haven't troubled the best-seller charts so far with any of these. One member wrote a memoir of her mother's - very difficult - working class life, which I helped her to publish, again on Amazon: that did make a splash locally, as Heather is a well-known character: lots of people bought it, and she was interviewed on BBC Radio Somerset. So that was quite exciting.

Another member wrote a novel called Keeper's, about a contemporary marriage under strain. She was 82 at the time, and decided she didn't want to wait around for publishers, so she published it with Silverwood. She's almost finished the sequel. And another has written a fascinating memoir about his time with VSO in Papua New Guinea: it includes legends told him at the time by the villagers whom he got to know so well. Amazing stuff.

We're currently starting on a new project. I have no idea how it will work out, but we're having fun with it so far.

The idea for it took root last year, when I'd given the group some pictures of different houses and asked them to write a piece about the people who might live in one of them. One of the group suggested that we should do a project about a street, with each of us taking a house. At the time, we didn't go ahead with it, but a few weeks ago, I was thinking about what to do next and the idea resurfaced.

I suggested writing about a village. We decided it should be contemporary; we don't want it to be too 'cosy'. At first, I asked everybody to start working on creating the characters comprising a particular household. The tendency was to get straight into storylines, but I felt we really needed to know the characters inside out - all of them, not just our own, because each chapter/story will include some of the other villagers, not just 'ours'. So we've been working on that. Already, we're seeing ways in which the characters might interact. I've asked them to paint a picture - not literally - of the house in which their characters live; so we needed to think about the kind of village it is, what amenities it has, where it is, and what it's called.

Quite quickly, it became obvious that we would need extra characters, so some people volunteered to work on these as well as their core family.

We're still mulling over how to structure the plot - whether to centre it round one event/issue, or whether to have a series of separate, but linked, stories. The majority favour the first approach. I think this is going to be the most difficult part, but everyone's very keen, and there are lots of ideas floating around. We also have to think about the tone: two people almost always have a murder in their stories, so we'll have to see about that: we don't want to go full-on Midsomer, but I think a sinister element may well find its way in. We'll see.

A couple of members of the group have already sketched out a rough map of the village, and my job this week is to build on this, including all the places we've decided we need. So I'd better crack on - but in the meantime, here is Sally's first attempt.


Susan Price said...


Patricia Atkinson said...

There’s a sinister ‘goings on ‘ in Wells at the moment- some foreign stranger accosting young ladies and girls. Might be a different slant, a direction that could go really bad or be nipped in the bud, but could be interesting. —- just a thought!

Joan Lennon said...

What a long-lived, fabulous writing group you've made!

Andrew Preston said...

Some years ago, I did a few week stint of delivering Yellow Pages phone directories in Cheddar.
In walking up and down the various streets, and roads, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of farms, or at least former farm/house/entrances, mixed in with the closely built housing in what is a relatively small area.