Saturday 1 April 2023


Today, My Best Beloveds, (she quoted), I will tell you the story of How The Scattered Authors Society Came to Be. Please, grab a tea or coffee and settle yourself down for a long, restful moment.

Three weeks ago, among some old papers, I found a set of newsletters. These real, printed sheets were once folded by a real person, slid into real envelopes, dropped into a real-life, bright-red post-box, collected in a sack- and a day or two later delivered to my house by a real-life postman.

The first letter has the same date as today - April the First, and which is why I'm publishing this post today - but the year, way back when, was 1998. 

This All Fool’s Day letter is almost the start of what is now known as the Scattered Authors Society. Where did these Newsletters come from, and why? What’s the story behind what’s jokingly known as the “Other” SAS?

Back in 1998, three rather solitary Scholastic authors: Peter Beere, Anne Cassidy and Malcolm Rose, were put in touch with each other by a friendly editor, Anne Finnis. They met up at the Ibis hotel in Birmingham, eager to chat about their writing lives.  joys and woes, even during the Chinese meal that followed.

They were, I’ve been told, “together in the bar and couldn't stop talking. So much in common, so much to share about writing, publishing, the whole thing, and they could talk endlessly without anyone keeling over with boredom, as can happen with friends and family. They spoke about how rare it was for authors to meet like this because we are all 'Scattered'.

Peter recently stressed that Anne and Malcolm were “largely responsible for the success of the early years. Anne, of course, being a teacher, was used to organising things. My approach was more slapdash. I just hoped that people would turn up and we’d find something to talk about! (Which we always did.)’  

Taking that ‘scattered’ idea, Peter ran with it. He sent a letter to The Author ( The Society of Authors’ quarterly journal) inviting anyone interested in meeting up informally for friendship and the sharing of information, to get in touch. ‘I saw the letter . . . and it was like a life line,’ Celia Rees says. ‘Suddenly, I was not alone. I wrote back to Peter straight away.’ 

When the replies arrived, they were all from writers for children and teenagers, shaping the future membership of the group. Back then was well before the current academic ‘writing for children” courses, the reach of SCBWI UK, or other familiar networks. These writers definitely felt a need to get together

So what came after the letter in ‘The Author’? And how did the newsletter shape the SAS? And its aometimes awkward mood, perhaps?

Now, Peter Beere was an original thinker with a rather battered energy and a dark but hopeful sense of humour. After writing several books for teenagers, he felt messed about by cuts and changes in the publishing world and wanted to hear how other writers faced hard moments of the mostly solitary writing life.

When Peter’s first letter arrived through the letter-box, his distinctive tongue-in-the-cheek style immediately gave the group an interesting, informal and self-reliant tone. The SAS felt like a group of people you both wanted and needed to get to know, a group that knew writing was not all sunlight and joy.

In that April the First Letter, Peter wrote:

I’m sure you’ll be delighted to hear that membership of the SAS grows apace and has now risen to the dizzy heights of “a few”. The principal aim is ‘to provide a network of friendship, support and professional “gossip”.’ After spreading the word about various job-changes within publishing companies, Peter then goes into a riff about sitting around “wondering why I never became an architect. Actually I know the answer. Because it is boring. At least as a writer you get bored on your own.’ So true.

Soon afterwards, on 25th April 1998, Peter sent out his second letter, saying:

Right, this is it – the news that you have all been waiting for. I shall try to break it gently so that those of you of a nervous disposition won’t suffer palpitations, hot flushes or whatever. The SAS lunch has been arranged.’ The date would be Saturday 6th June at The Waterside Cafe at the Barbican Arts Centre in London. Celia Rees, and no doubt some others, remember ‘being gutted because I couldn't go to the Barbican lunch.’

Peter explains ‘It is my desire to keep the SAS very informal so there is no set agenda for the get-together. It’s an opportunity to meet and relax in the company of friends and discuss all those things it’s so hard to talk about with non-authors.’ He attached a list of 21 names as well so that people could contact others in their own area: I hesitate to call us members – I’m not sure what we are.’

An aside: the newsletters bear a simple N-S-E-W compass design, representing the scattered-ness of the authors. Peter recently said, knowing that the badge of the real SAS was a winged dagger and the words ‘Who Dares Wins’, he had imagined the ‘Other SAS’ logo as a winged pen and the words ‘Who Writes Wins.

In July 1998, Peter sends out a third letter, typed in a very, very tiny font. He has moved from Liverpool to Devon and reports ownership of a new computer. He remembers that, at that inaugural Barbican meeting, “it was generally agreed we should continue as we began, i.e. stumbling along in a genial fashion” and that “the plan was probably to meet twice a year at hopefully interesting venues.”

And from then on Peter’s letters become true newsletters, although in his slightly anarchic style, he gives each edition a totally different title, as you’ll see below:

Beginning with “BLUNT DAGGER” (August 1998)

Peter has set this out in a newsletter column format: “Isn’t this amazing? Pictures and everything?” He adds, referring to a complaint, “the last one was at least cheap – it fitted on one page. What’s a little eye strain compared with hard cash?” and points out that “the only requirements for membership are that you are to some degree professional and have a particular interest in teenage fiction.” This was soon expanded to include anyone who had written traditionally published children’s fiction.

There will be no yearly fees or ID cards but “a few envelopes and stamps would not go amiss.’ He gives out information about a proposed Stratford-on-Avon lunch on 10th October ‘98, more news of editorial job changes followed by a long ‘whinge’ about the severe cutting in back-list titles by certain publishers. ‘Styles and tastes can’t change that fast can they?’

Another writer offers to give advice about school visits, and the date of the first SAS weekend get-together in Milton Keynes is announced. I noticed this was planned for the 1999 Valentine’s Day weekend.

And on to: “PAPER HAMSTER” (November 1998)

Peter’s big announcement, in this on-paper letter, is that he has – wow! - an email address now, adding ‘but don’t be surprised if nothing happens. I can also send faxes – but only in the middle of the night. (Would such new technologies catch on? Or really make a difference to writer’s lives? Or the then-new Other SAS?)

The Stratford on Avon lunch had been a success. Ten people attended ‘and a good time was had by all. Admittedly things did get a little out of hand, particularly during the fan dancing, but that’s always likely to happen when there aren’t enough fans to go round and some people who shall be nameless, refuse to share theirs.’ The event was, Celia Rees later said, ‘like meeting an oasis of people in a desert of editors, agents and publicity girls’.

Peter reports that some people thought that SAS discussions needed to be more organised at future meetings, especially as attendance was growing. Also, that Milton Keynes weekend will now take place the weekend after Valentines Day.

David Belbin “has kindly offered to give us a run-down on E-mail, the Internet and related matters.” Even though writers were using word-processors, the online world was a barely known thing.

The newsletters remind me how people rushed to have a chance to talk about their personal and shared experiences, away from the ears of agents and publishers or from general writing groups where children’s writing was usually thought a lesser form of authorship. Worth noticing was the fact that anything said within the meetings was - and still is - bound by confidentiality, giving the members an unusual sense of freedom, ownership and group power.

In Peter’s ‘Hamster’ newsletter, he reports that people are suddenly talking about variations in fees for author visits to schools and libraries and comparing practices. There had also been a long and very warm discussion about the practices of various publishers, leading to the general agreement that Publisher Z was wonderful and Publisher Y was dire.

Celia recalled someone at Milton Keynes explaining ‘there was a new website, called AMAZON’ but the general view was that it wouldn’t last. Hmm.

In what Peter has now named The Whinge Column, someone wonders why authors are the last ones to receive any money from a book. He suggests that a fairer system would be for authors themselves to be paid the entire sum of money first, with the agents invoicing the writer for their commission afterwards.“We shouldn’t have to wait any length of time for our money. It’s atrocious and wouldn’t happen in any other business We’re such vulnerable people aren’t we? Frightened to offend anyone – anxious to please. We’re the good guys and we get taken advantage of.”

Malcolm Rose, who lives nearby, has agreed to run the Milton Keynes weekend again. Meanwhile, in December, Peter is moving house again.

Trotting on to: “WALTZING DONKEYS” (June 1999)

Peter’s next newsletter is a short one, mostly with news of a proposed Nottingham lunch on Saturday 10th July and a reminder that ‘they are pretty informal affairs . . . with the emphasis on the social side of things rather than hard-bitten. We usually finish by setting fire to an effigy of a commissioning editor.’ Moods may not have softened. Autumn will bring a second lunch in Sevenoaks; a Regional Directory has been compiled and sent out, and people who have taken on onerous SAS duties might be given titles.

Peter also includes an account of Linda Newbery’s book-launch in a Plymouth bookshop that morphs into a fantasy description of him attending, wrapped in a hooded cloak and supposedly incognito, muttering dark omens against gifted and successful authors. (Peter recently recalled drinks in a pub afterwards with Linda, where she sat serenely while a bottle fight broke out around her among a few louder locals. Peter himself felt less calm.) The newsletter ends rather abruptly, thanking all those who had sent in their £10.00 subs.

On to: “OVALTINE MONTHLY” (August 1999)

Yeah, summer hey? Bit up and down. Bit like my writing career.’ Peter writes. There’s news of a very successful lunch in Nottingham, another mention of October’s forthcoming lunch in Sevenoaks, and a reminded about confirming attendance etc. ‘As ever, a certain responsibility and measure of worry falls on the shoulders of those responsible for the organisation. It’s therefore essential that we help them as much as possible.’ Activities within the Other SAS have always been based on the initiative of individual members or small groups of friends.

Meanwhile, over this summer,”The Prisoner of Azkaban” was published, bringing press articles about long queues outside bookshops on the eve of publication. Peter, along with quite a few others, are unimpressed by the huge promotion of this one series and the apparent neglect of every other other book or author. Surely such extreme publicity practices will fade away in the future? Surely no other authors will become celebrities? Or even celebrities become . . .?

Jokingly, in 1999, Peter suggests that ‘Harry Potter is storing up a great deal of vitriol. I was slightly concerned that some of you may have been tempted to display a little “generosity of spirit” . . .We can’t afford to show mercy. There will be an enormous backlash against him, mark my words. And when there is, we’ll step in and fill the void. Assuming we haven’t all starved to death first.’

The newsletter ends with an author offering to give interested people the name of a man who has just designed a website page for him. Why, as a writer, would you ever want or need one of those things? All that extra bother . . .

On we go to: BURPING BABIES (October 1999)

So, how are you all keeping? Did we have a good summer?’ Peter asks, replying ‘Of course not, we’re authors, we don’t have time to be happy. If we were happy, we’d be shop assistants.’

This edition has the details of an SAS lunch, organised for Saturday 30th October at Cafe Uno in Sevenoaks, Kent. The Member Advice section has a still recognisable question for members about pre-Powerpoint school visits: What’s the best way to show things like notebooks, proofs, manuscripts to a class of 30+? “ along with the pained and pointed observation “that everyone gets so much more out of the visit when the teacher and at least some of the children have read the book you’re talking about.” An old issue that certainly causes no problems at all now, I’m sure?

Anne Cassidy says that, with a new novel coming out, she started “making A5 flyers herself and the publisher’s publicity people being so impressed they asked if they could have samples to copy and hand out. This kind of thing feels like it’s the wrong way round.” A great suggestion and a rather wise thought.

And finally, here comes Peter’s last newsletter:

UP YOUR JUMPER (November 1999)

Well, blimey, doesn’t the year go fast? Seems like only yesterday I was prancing around welcoming in the spring with one of my original and grotesque ritual dances, And now I’m all wrapped up against the weather . . . and I’ve just had a cold . . . Enough of that. What can we talk about this time?” Peter gives a brief write-up of the Sevenoaks lunch. “Anyway, it was as friendly as ever, but did I detect an underlying glumness or confusion? Does anyone know what’s going on in the world of children’s publishing at the moment?” And by way of reply, he encourages everyone to come to the next SAS event which will be the weekend conference at Milton Keynes.

This will take place the following year, in February 2000 and the new Millennium. Peter says that the conference is being organised by Anne Cassidy and Malcolm Rose and reminds everyone to come as it will be useful and that ‘It is also a “treat”, a rare thing in the world of writing. And I promise you, you will enjoy it.’

He ends his last letter to the SAS: ‘As ever - write hard and have fun – and keep in touch. See you whenever and best wishes.’ After struggling along, trying to make a living, Peter fades away. He, writing and publishing have had enough of each other for quite a while.

Last among the papers are two final documents: the first is a letter from Malcolm Rose, giving details of the Millennium Conference.I didn’t realise that the town of concrete cows was such a magnet” he adds. It was a very good and well attended weekend,

The second document mixes two technologies: it is a printed paper copy of an email sent out by author Adele Geras. She has booked the Golden Rice restaurant in Manchester for a lunch in June. 

Yes, the SAS has reached “the North” at last!  

The year was 2000 and the Scattered Authors Society had definitely Become

 And now I can put the papers back in their box.



Oh yes, this was a long time ago. Some ‘SAS’ members would not have been in primary school for these dates. Some might not even be “here”. 

Nevertheless, as I read through these newsletters, it seemed to me that the SAS came about because no established UK organisations seemed to care about ordinary children’s writers. They cared about books and literature and libraries and so on but they did not care so much about all the writers who did the work. But the writers could care about each other.

Since those years, the SAS has grown as a group. Currently around four hundred published writers are signed up as members. Over the years, many volunteers have run more SAS weekend conferences, set up summer and winter writer’s retreats, created other blogs (inspired by this original one: ‘ABBA’) along with things like SAS zoom meetings, a Facebook page and the SAS website. Seems that website idea was useful after all . . .

However - and often frustratingly now - the early SAS had no wish for a formalised structure, hierarchy of officers, fixed committee meetings and so on. I suspect this was because many of these writers still had to fight for their own writing time and space among other commitments. They knew from work and from other organisations about the time lost to endless meetings. They were unwilling to lose theirs – and If the SAS could work without such structures, why not go for it? 

So, even now, the SAS remains a group of individuals acting as a useful network, organising ways of sharing knowledge, friendship and support, both locally, regionally or more widely, and somehow surviving, despite grumbles and because of people's generosity.

Even today, the 1st of April 2023 - another All Fools Day - I note that the worries in these old newsletters still exist in one form or another, still cause heartache. Writing can be a lonely task if you have no tribe to talk to, especially away from the buzz of literary cities. Not everyone can afford publishers workshops, masterclasses or the networks within longer courses - nor the travel involved. Probably, The Scattered Author’s Society, for all its informality, is still a needed thing.

Celia Rees recently summed it up for me: ‘Don't think any of us thought it would last this long but there was such a common and deeply felt need that I knew it wouldn't just fizzle out. I'm so grateful to Peter, especially for that original letter in 'The Author' and his Newsletters and to Malcolm & Anne for organising the Milton Keynes weekends where, I think, the SAS really gelled. Friends I made then are friends now. In fact, all my best friends in writing I made through the SAS and they are some of the best friends I have.’

If you are still here, thank you for reading through today’s post - and now, I’ll close as Peter Beere did in those old SAS newsletters: ‘Write hard, have fun, and keep in touch.’

Wishing you all, foolish or wise or often between, a most happy April!

Penny Dolan


PETER BEERE’SDARKLAND’, his third adult dystopian thriller, takes Beekay Howard and his crew of misfits voyaging to a place where everything might go right – or go wrong.
ANNE CASSIDY’S contemporary novels - ‘NO VIRGIN’ and ‘NO SHAME’ - deals with prejudice and strong social issues.

MALCOLM ROSE’s latest book is ‘CHASING THE RAPTURE’, a YA thriller about about a future Olympian runner who secretly does a lot mare tan running,

CELIA REES has writtenMISS GRAHAM’S COLD WAR COOKBOOK’, a historical spy novel about an Englishwoman assisting German resettlement after WW2.

LINDA NEWBERY’s newest book is ‘THIS BOOK IS CRUELTY FREE; Animals and Us,’ a non-fiction title about animal welfare.

ADELE GERAS latest 18Cl novel, writing as HOPE ADAMS, is DANGEROUS WOMEN, involves murder among women prisoners transported to Tasmania.

Thanks to all who helped sort out details for this post, and thanks to everyone involved in setting up the SAS way back then and to all those busy looking after the ‘Other SAS’ right now.


Anne Cassidy said...

Happy memories. Thanks to Penny for putting it all together.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post :) I have been grateful to the SAS for the companionship and supportive environment for a long time and value it immensely :)

Sue Purkiss said...

So interesting - thank you, Penny.

Lynne Benton said...

Great post, Penny! So interesting to see how it all began - and how valuable it still is!

Penny Dolan said...

Putting this post together, I realised SAS lunches were once Quite the Thing. Would people still come to lunches now, I wonder?

Janet Foxley said...

Fascinating insight for a relatively new member.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Janet. Hope it helps to make sense of some of the oddities!

Susan Price said...

Great post, Penny. I'm another who has great love for the 'other SAS.' I was late to it, not really joining in until Charney began -- and Charney was a full expression of the friendship and generosity of the SAS.

Celia Rees said...

Hi Penny, late to the comments but echo every one of them! Great post and wonderful trip down memory lane. Who would have thought that the SAS would till be going strong after all this time? Would be great to bring back the local lunches, especially since Charney is no more. So important to meet in person - maybe. a post on Balaclava could revive that tradition?

Paul May said...

Thanks, Penny. I'm late as well, but it's great to know a little more about the history of the group.

Katherine Roberts said...

Lovely write-up... I joined quite early on, before the publication of Song Quest (1999)? The details are a bit hazy now, but I think I saw a little advert in a science fiction magazine I subscribed to at the time, and contacted Peter because I'd just had a rejection from the editors saying my work "reads as if aimed at a teenage market". I definitely remember meeting at Milton Keynes!