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Suffolk Writers Group started by Ipswich writer links more than 1,000 people in an online community

When members of a writing group got together last month to celebrate the launch of a new poetry book it was the first time most of them had seen their work in print.

All 40-plus contributors whose poems appear in A Tapestry of Poetry are part of an online community of more than 1,000 people linked by one thing – a love of writing.

Suffolk Writers Group is a mix of people from all over the county and beyond who range from professional writers to those just starting out. Some join later in life having written nothing since their schooldays.

Members of Suffolk Writers Group at the launch of A Tapestry of Poetry at Langhams Wine Bar in Stowmarket
Members of Suffolk Writers Group at the launch of A Tapestry of Poetry at Langhams Wine Bar in Stowmarket

The book contains more than 100 poems and was the brainchild of Gary Milsom, who compiled and published it after inviting fellow group members to submit their work.

From earning a living, to a way of helping to process life’s ups and downs – and everything in between – everyone has their own reason for wanting to write.

All are welcome to join the group, which is run on Facebook by Mai Black, a creative writing teacher passionate about the value of connecting with other writers.

Mai Black, founder of the Suffolk Writers Group
Mai Black, founder of the Suffolk Writers Group

“I moved from Norwich 12 years ago and had been to a regular group there,” she said. “I couldn’t find anything similar in Suffolk. I found it difficult to connect with other writers and creative people.

“I felt quite lost for about half a year but then found the confidence to set up a community writing group at my local library in Ipswich.” It thrived and a second group soon followed.

Mai started Suffolk Writers Group in around 2016. It grew steadily to around 400 members, but became a real focus when Covid lockdowns stopped people meeting in person.

Suffolk Writers Group member Sylvia Warry from Thurston
Suffolk Writers Group member Sylvia Warry from Thurston

“It really took off because we were doing daily challenges – there are now 1,400 members. Over lockdown there was a sudden interest, particularly in poetry. A lot of people in the group had never written a poem before, which is why the poetry anthology is lovely.”

Writing has always been important to Mai. “I had always loved writing stories. For me it’s almost like having a second life, a dream life. I’ve always found great comfort in the creative community and I love that I’ve now become an active part in it.

“I taught in primary schools for 10 years then went over to teaching creative writing to adults. Sometimes I work for the Inside Out Community, which is a creative community in Ipswich.”

Suffolk Writers Group member Muriel Driver from Stoke by Clare with her first novel
Suffolk Writers Group member Muriel Driver from Stoke by Clare with her first novel

A popular feature of the writers’ group are the daily challenges – set either by Mai or other members – but there is no pressure to take part and many simply enjoy seeing how others have responded.

“Our group is such a nice community,” she says. There is a lot of friendship and creative stimulus. If people do get things published we celebrate each other’s successes.

“I’d recommend that everyone who is creatively minded joins a writing group. I think it’s the most fun you can have with a group of people – writing together, discussing ideas and sharing work in a fun, supportive environment.

The cover of A Tapestry of Poetry
The cover of A Tapestry of Poetry

“I’d like to help build an even stronger writing community in Suffolk. I think there’s so much talent and enthusiasm for writing in Suffolk, so I’d love to see that grow in terms of more writing groups, activities in schools and community settings as well as an increasing variety of local get togethers.”

Mai has written a book called Thirty Angry Ghosts, which combines her love of writing with her fascination for historical figures.

“It is poetry written in the voices of famous characters from history. I have a team of actors and we go out and do readings.

“It really tries to get under the skin of people from history and see the world from their point of view,” she said.

The book features such varied figures as Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln and the 14th century Mali emperor Mansa Musa, reputed to have been the wealthiest person in history.

SMai has also produced two children’s novels and is now writing her first aimed at adults, set in 18th century London.

Gary Milsom, who financed and published the poetry book, lives in Sudbury and has been a member of Suffolk Writers Group for about two-and-a-half years.

“I was just looking through online and thought this looks interesting and joined,” said the businessman, who has a publishing company called Little Bear Publications and also runs a specialist foodstuffs shipping firm.

“I’ve always written,” says Gary, who has produced two novels – The Butterfly and the Bear and Vanessa – and set up his company to publish his own work and sidestep the often tricky task of finding publishers.

“The group is somewhere to connect with like-minded people and it’s nice to share the joy of writing,” said Gary.

He set no rules for contributions to the poetry book and they came in all shapes and sizes, covering a vast range of subjects and emotions … evocations of joy, loss, hope and humour fill the pages.

“I talked to Mai and asked people to send me a poem. There are 40 poets in there and around 35 had never had anything published before,” he said.

“Most of the poets are from Suffolk, there’s one from Essex and one from New Caledonia, an island off the coast of Australia, who used to live in Suffolk.

Sylvia Warry, of Thurston, who writes under the pseudonym of Sylvie Songbird, has four poems in the book, including Growing Home about escaping a controlling relationship.

“It’s probably my favourite ever poem – a victory in self-preservation,” she said.

“When I write poems they often turn into songs,” said Sylvia, a support worker for young people who have been in care.

“I would love to spend lots of time writing poetry. I have always been inclined to write. Writing has always been my strength and my expression.”

She began writing poetry in her teens when she was struggling to find her way in the world.

“I was quite an introvert as a teenager and wrote my first poem aged 16 or 17. It was a reflection on how I felt at the time,” she said.

“I was a little bit lost and uncomfortable in the world. A way of relieving my loneliness and feeling of being disconnected.

“I moved with my mother to France, which was partly why I felt awkward. I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. It made me feel more isolated and out of touch.

“Then I got married and had kids and was really busy with family life. When I broke up with my husband, the creative flow started again. I set myself free and was able to rebuild my identity.”

She now regularly posts her poems on her Sylviesongbird Facebook page.

“What drew me to the writers group were the little challenges. I thought this is great.

I didn’t really consider myself a writer, just someone who likes writing.

“I’m quite dyslexic – I have always found reading a challenge – so I didn’t feel on the same level as the other people. But they made me feel so welcome. I have always felt at home in that group,” she said.

Muriel Driver, from Stoke by Clare, joined the group around 18 months ago. She recently published her first novel, Zondor the Magnificent, a children’s fantasy about a boy and a dog who are transported to a magical land.

“I had the book published with a great deal of encouragement from Suffolk Writers Group,” said Muriel. “It will be the first in a series.

“If I hadn’t been a member of the group it probably wouldn’t have happened yet. It gave me the confidence I needed.”

Muriel’s life used to revolve around a different sort of books – working in accounts.

“Just before Covid struck I was made redundant but later that year I was due to retire anyway,” she said.

“I have been writing stories for evermore. When I was growing up on a farm in north Norfolk in the middle of nowhere my friends were the cats and dogs on the farm and I used to make up stories for them. Once I started school I was hooked.

“So I thought, I will do that. I used to belong to a writers’ group in Clare which folded a while ago. I stumbled across Suffolk Writers Group online and thought ‘that will do nicely’.

She and another member David Howden, an author from Haverhill, now also co-host offshoot group Haven Literary Club, which meets at the Haven Café, in Haverhill, once a month.

Muriel, whose poem Journey of a River is included in the anthology, has been invited to join Year 7 pupils at Stour Valley School in Clare for international book day in Marc – reading from her book, setting writing challenges and holding a question and answer session.

Robert Lenney, of Ipswich, said: “I always wanted to be a writer. I had a very influential teacher at school who was enthusiastic about the war poets and encouraged me to read.

“I’m dyslexic which wasn’t diagnosed until 2004. It was a relief to me to know. I felt school was a bit of a struggle for me.

“With me the dyslexia more affects my organisational skills and understanding instructions. I always read as a child and escaped into books and music.

“I’ve been a member of the group for about three years. It’s a lovely little group and very good with its daily challenges. Mai is very organised. It’s a really well run group and well balanced.

“Everyone is very supportive and friendly and Gary is a godsend as well,” said Robert, who works in care with people with learning problems and the elderly, while also training to teach English as a foreign language.

He cared for his mother through dementia until her death last year.

“Writing was a comfort through difficult periods and I would maybe put my feelings into a poem,” he said.

He has published a poetry book, Heretic, and is also a performance poet.

A Tapestry of Poetry is available online from littlebearpublications.co.uk. It is also stocked in some independent bookshops including Byron and the Bard in Lavenham, Halesworth Bookshop, Dial Lane Books in Ipswich and Woodbridge Books.

To join the writers’ group, search Facebook for Suffolk Writers Group