It's Thursday morning at Hakeke St Library and Community Centre. Raewyn Laird is there: she is the facilitator / co-ordinator for the creative writers known as Fresh Voices Writing Group. The group runs from 10am till 11.30.
Margaret Stratford is there too, early.
Fresh Voices began as a creative writing course with a tutor, but the tutor got a job and had to leave. "So one of the group members, Annette Green, took over," says Raewyn. "And she ran it for a year, and she got a job. So I took over. I was part of the original group, and, at the same time, I was doing a BA in Creative Writing." Raewyn has completed her BA.
Fresh Voices has a floating membership of 12, but there are four core members: Raewyn, Margaret, Sue Seconi and Cynthia Couper.
"We have two members who moved to Australia, and once they've settled in they will join us by Zoom, and we have one who moved home to Korea. When she has finished her English exam, she will join us by Zoom."
Not all members are working on particular projects.
"Our group is really just exploring how to use words. We have a weekly homework task, which can be written as a story or a poem ... and we share those at the start of each meeting. It's not a set programme, it's whatever comes up with people's writing and they want to explore more. We do a 10 minute writing prompt or a word game.
"Everybody writes differently, and we don't want people to write the same. We want them to write what they're comfortable writing in a style they're comfortable with, which makes sharing stories interesting. From a one-word prompt you can get quite a variety of results. If you are not able to get your homework done because you've been busy with other stuff — you will not get detention!"
Raewyn says everyone in the group has felt the need to write since they were young but life got in the way.
"At the moment we're doing poetry. A couple of weeks ago we did odes." She talks about Horatian and Pindaric odes, elegies and limericks.
"Some of our writers have written for themselves for quite a while: others have not explored that side of their personality, so it's all new, and they're learning ways to write new words, new ways of putting words together — it's a growth experience.
"There are many writing groups in Whanganui: we're a very creative society. Some of them focus on bigger works they're aiming to publish, we're more of the exploring how words work and just the joy of words on paper. When we critique a piece of writing we're critiquing the writing, not the writer."
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Margaret has attended writers' workshops over the years and finds herself surrounded by words in her volunteer job in the library. Fresh Voices is fun for her.
Sue Seconi is part of Fresh Voices. Her husband was Volunteer Whanganui's most recent volunteer of the month. Sue says she only attends the creative writing group for the coffee. She has been part of the group for about a year.
"There's a wonderful freedom here," she says. "What you can do, you do; what you can't you're not going to be sent to the naughty room. My writing has improved a lot here."
Cynthia Couper is the fourth member, and she is working on a piece of creative non-fiction, inspired by a writing prompt.
"It's a novella. I've never done one before," she says. "It's around the war in Ukraine, so I have to do a lot of research.
"I've always wanted to write, but I never had the opportunity." Cynthia attended workshops at Gonville Library with Laraine Sole. "She brought me out of my shell. She broke through some self-imposed barriers I had and she put together a little portfolio of our stories and gave it to us at the end."
Fresh Voices is about writing, but it's also about friendships forged in words. Thursday morning at Hakeke St Library and Community Centre, if you're interested.