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Local writing group celebrates 30 years with novella

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Writers’ BLOC is a local group of writers spanning from The Bruce Peninsula to Kincardine. The group has seen more than 60 writers in the past 30 years, each with their own unique background in writing and their own creative writing styles.

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The group began in 1991 with two Port Elgin women – Diana Armstrong and the late Isabel Sturgeon. Numerous public readings in the 1990s put their works before audiences in venues including the Bruce County Museum & Archives, St. Joseph’s Church Hall, the Port Elgin Public Library, and MacGregor Point Provincial Park. Writers’ BLOC has also sponsored literacy awards in the past.

Writers’ BLOC meet once a month to share their writing and exchange feedback. Prior to Covid meetings took place at the Kingsway Arms Elgin Lodge in Port Elgin, where one of the original founding members, Diane Armstrong, lives. More recently, due to the Pandemic, the group has been sharing their work online. They finally met in person once again in August of this year and then again in November, both at the Treasure Chest in Paisley.

“You’re always faced with the challenge of technology when doing online meetings,” commented Kim Dixon, one of the authors. “Also some of us were not as experienced with Google Meets so there was a learning curve there. But we helped each other adapt. That’s what I like about this group. They’re always very supportive and come up with creative solutions.”

To celebrate their 30 th anniversary, the current group of seven writers decided to publish a novella, entitled N. C. R.

“When we were meeting in person, someone brought an old binder to store the chapters, intended to be passed to the next writer at each meeting,” explained Dixon. “Stamped on the binder was ‘NCR’ (the logo of  National Cash Register) . We used this as our working title.”

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The entire group penned the novella, with each member taking one chapter at a time. Also included in the novella are poems and prose from past BLOC writers.

The fictional novel takes place in Bruce and Grey Counties. It took two years to write and edit, and was completed this past fall.

Teaser on the back cover of the book:  

When is a whirligig more than a whirligig?

‘Jenny Hampstead is the only person who knows the ghastly truths…and secrets…about the Campbell farm, leaving everyone questioning…is she missing or dead? And is Jenny truly responsible for her actions? N.C.R. will take you on an unforgettable ride with more twists and turns than a dog’s hind leg, and six different ways to end the story. Which will be your favourite?’

The authors, and members of BLOC, include: Marylee Cross, Kim Dixon (Kincardine), Rachel Hepburn, Anne Judd, Jean Lagace (Tiverton), Alan MacLeod and Suzanne Selby. An artist as well as writer, Legace created the cover illustration for the book.

Stuck on a conclusion, the group came up with a uniquely creative solution – for each contributing writer to write their own ending and include them all.

“The endings are so uniquely different that it would be hard to summarize them,” said Dixon. “Let’s just say that this collaborative account invites readers to pick their favourite ending. We followed an outline and a character map, but with N.C.R. you never really knew how it was going to end.”

“A long-time member of the group spoke about a group writing project in which she’d been involved,” explained Dixon. “Four writers had conspired to create a piece of fiction from a planned outline of a novel. They leaned on one another’s strengths, and when a scene was out of their depth, deferred to another writer to pull it through.”

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“So we asked ourselves,  Why can’t the BLOC writers do that,” she continued.  “ We started it as a writing experiment. Everyone took turns contributing a chapter each month. One chapter would follow from what the previous author had written. The only rule: writers were not allowed to kill off someone else’s character.”

A few other important points discussed between the group included that it be set locally, in current times, and ‘meaty’ enough to ensure any number of trajectories. “As the character list grew, each creator developed short biographies of their characters,” said Dixon, of the process. “Early on, it cannot be said that everyone knew what the expectation was of them when writing the next chapter. As the story unfolded each month, we became more enthused and began to just have fun with the creative process. It was a writing experiment after all. Who knew where this would take us?”

“When it became evident that we were creating something fun, the spirit and enthusiasm for the piece grew,” she said. “It was suggested by one of the writers, Lagace, that we publish N.C.R. I sort of became the project manager to ensure we ‘kept it between the cedars’. The entire writing team was extremely supportive and fun to work with.”

“I think the different writing styles presented us with our biggest challenge,” said Dixon. “Everyone has their own unique voice when they write. It certainly helped that we had a character map and tried to adapt our styles to fit the story line. We held online meetings to review each chapter and then we also had to review the book as a whole. We also engaged three outside reviewers. But I also think that the different writing styles help make the story more interesting.”

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The group donated copies of the novella to libraries in Port Elgin, Southampton, Kincardine, Tiverton and Wiarton. Copies are also available for purchase ($10) from Writers’ BLOC at writersbloc1991@gmail.com or by contacting Dixon at 519-574-1033.   

Anyone is welcome to join Writers’ BLOC. It’s an informal group that for now meets via email on the last Tuesday of each month. Our meetings are open to all writers no matter what their skill level or genre. Currently we share and provide feedback to a monthly topic challenge through email. You can contact Writers’ BLOC at the same email listed above.

Local authors biographies:

Kim Dixon, Kincardine

Kim Dixon is the new kid on Writers’ BLOC joining in 2020. Writing is her first love. Kim started her career as a reporter for a small Manitoba town newspaper. She’s been a communicator ever since for non-profit and corporate businesses, and has received several national business writing awards. Now she is learning to write for herself in Kincardine, Ontario.

Jean Lagace, Tiverton

  1. Jean Lagace is an artist. Her paintings of multimedia, photos and jewellery design as well as other works of arts, hang in her gallery. She enjoys photographing nature and the countryside. Jean attended the Writers’ BLOC group as a guest with Isabel Sturgeon and later joined the group in 2009. She has been inspired since.
Writers’ BLOC met at The Treasue Chest in Paisley on Monday, November 15, where they got their first glance at the hard-copies of their group novella. L-R: Rachel Hepburn, Anne Judd, Suzanne Selby, Jean Lagace, Marylee Cross and Kim Dixon, absent Alan MacLeod. Hannah MacLeod/Kincardine News
Writers’ BLOC met at The Treasue Chest in Paisley on Monday, November 15, where they got their first glance at the hard-copies of their group novella. L-R: Rachel Hepburn, Anne Judd, Suzanne Selby, Jean Lagace, Marylee Cross and Kim Dixon, absent Alan MacLeod. Hannah MacLeod/Kincardine News

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