By Kerrie McKinnel, Events Manager
This year, Lockerbie Writers is going through something of a shift of membership. As I prepare to take my own step back, it seems like the perfect opportunity to reflect on my time with the group.
First, let me ask you a question. Have you ever said these words?
“I’ve always wanted to write, but I’m not any good at it.”
I hear it all the time. Outside of Lockerbie Writers, I’m a self-employed writer – I run writing workshops for all ages and abilities, but my particular love is working with nervous beginners. I have lost count of the number of people who’ve told me how much they would love to write a story, or a poem, or the true-life story which has been bobbing around between generations of their family for years … but they don’t start, because they are afraid to fail.
Seven years ago, that was me. I’d recently become a mum, and despite the fact that I LOVED writing – and despite the fact that I’d been accepted onto the University of Glasgow’s prestigious MLitt Creative Writing degree – I had zero confidence in myself or my writing abilities. I was a wannabe. I had ideas, but I struggled to get them down onto paper.
In May 2015, I was one year into my degree – enjoying it, but still unsure whether I was ever going to be able to succeed at writing. In a bid to find suitable ways to fill my time and continue to advance my skills over the summer break, I attended a workshop at Lockerbie Library which fed into that year’s Scottish Book Trust writing competition. At that workshop, I met members of Lockerbie Writers who pointed me in the direction of their fortnightly meetings.
As I imagine there will be some fellow writers reading this, I feel like I should steer clear of the cliché (“And the rest is history!”), but it really does feel like that. When I joined, the group were enthusiastic and there was clear skill, but I could tell straight away that there was potential and hunger for more. Driven by a university deadline, and hugely helped by my tutors and by several Lockerbie Writers’ members who had industry experience, I went on to collate, co-edit and publish the group’s first-ever collection of writing, Lockerbie Writers’ Anthology.
The publication, along with well-attended book launches and local press coverage, helped to inspire and encourage group members – myself included. We were published writers! Our names were in print! With the support and encouragement of the group, I went on to run my first writing workshop for members of the public, and completed my postgraduate degree. I set up my own writing website and social media. I finally had the courage to call myself a writer.
In 2017 myself and other group members worked closely with Darren at Castle Loch Community Trust to establish an annual children’s writing competition, which has since attracted hundreds of entries and given out numerous prizes including the Lockerbie Writers’ trophy for the group’s favourite overall story. I was also lucky enough to be invited by Darren to run workshops there – my first experience of tutoring in the great outdoors!
In 2018, Lockerbie Writers invited me to take on the role of Events’ Manager; I was already doing the job anyway, but this new title felt like recognition of the work which I was now putting in. By this point myself and the group’s chairperson, Steph Newham, had established a second writing group in Lockerbie (A Novel Approach), and I was preparing to set myself up as a self-employed writer. In my new role for Lockerbie Writers, I began to run regular writing workshops, spoken word nights, and organised annual celebrations to coincide with National Writing Day in June each year: Sara Maitland author talk (2018); Mindful Writing Day (2019); New Writing Week on the blog (2020); and a Reconnection Writing Workshop (2021).
One of my proudest achievements has been to obtain funding for the group, to help with events and publications. In 2019, in addition to DG Unlimited/D&G Council funding for our Mindful Writing Day, I was grateful to receive funding from the Scottish Book Trust to self-publish and launch Lockerbie Writers’ second collection of new writing, Behind Closed Doors. This was a mammoth effort as I took on the majority of the collation, editing and formatting for the book, but we were rewarded with impressive attendance at our launches during Book Week Scotland 2019.
At the beginning of last year’s lockdown, I felt lost: what does an events’ manager do during a pandemic?! However, like many others across the world, I found that my creativity was pushed and challenged. Here’s another well-worn phrase for you: when life gives you lemons …! I successfully applied for Book Week Scotland 2021 funding, and with the help of several local creatives and of course the rest of the Lockerbie Writers, I put on the group’s first-ever poetry safari, and even printed a companion book which was gifted to those who attended the walk in November 2021. What a fantastic moment at the end of a difficult year – to be able to bring new writing and joyful words to the local community in a safe and uplifting way.
The decision to leave Lockerbie Writers has been a difficult one, especially on the back of all of these wonderful memories, but I am proud to say that I am going out on a high. One of my final tasks as Lockerbie Writers’ Events Manager will be to organise and help to gift trophies to a local school, in an attempt to encourage creative writing amongst the pupils there for many years to come.
I leave behind a group of fantastic friends and skilled, hard-working creatives, and I am forever grateful for the support and encouragement which they’ve given me over the last six years – and especially their patience with my long and numerous emails at times! Since 2016, I have gone from a nervous student to a confident writer, and I think Lockerbie Writers group has grown alongside me.
And yes, I am brave enough to admit it:
“I’ve always wanted to write, and now I do, because I am good at it.”
I wish the ongoing members of Lockerbie Writers good luck as they go forwards into a creative future.