Ripon Poetry Festival

Ripon Writers’ Group was well represented in this year’s festival, attending many events and having poems included in the 2021 anthology. Unfortunately Peter Page was unavailable over the weekend, but Carol Mayer, Kate Swann, Lindsay Trenholme, Maggie Cobbett and Sheila Whitfield each took a turn at reading their entry from the pulpit of Allhallowgate Methodist Church on Friday evening. Fortunately, no one was afflicted by nerves or vertigo!

Sheila launched her first collection on Sunday afternoon at Thorpe Prebend House and even included audience participation in her session.

Chaired by Carol, our Ripon Writers’ Group event followed. Carol, Kate, Lindsay, Maggie and Sheila read some of their own poems and, not wanting Peter to miss out altogether, two of his were read out by Carol and Sheila.

Our singer-songwriter Christine Summers, accompanied by her husband Dylan, performed two of her own songs.

To end the afternoon with a flourish, Christine and Dylan also collaborated with other local folk singers, Simon Strickland and Dawn Bramley, in ‘Poetry and Music’, focusing mainly on the relationship between the two.

A Blast from the Past 2021

Ros Swaney receives the trophy from Linda Smith.

Maggie invited Linda Smith to present her adjudication of the 2021 Blast from the Past competition for a prose non-fiction piece on an historical subject. Linda began by saying that this was the first time she had been invited to do an adjudication like this. Speaking about her background in archaeology she said that she took part in her first dig in 1977, has a degree in Pre-History Archaeology from Sheffield and six years ago did a Master’s degree in Historical Archaeology at York. She has worked mainly in the north including the North York Moors National Park but has recently retired.

As well as writing as an academic, she uses journaling to help sort out ideas. During her working life, she developed a way of expressing in non-specialist terms what needs to happen and how it should be done so that an archaeological site is well managed both during excavation and afterwards. As an example she said that ecologists, farmers, architects are among those who need to understand the demands and constraints of an archaeological site.

Her criteria when adjudicating were:
• the reader should learn something from the piece
• it should hold a reader’s attention
• there should be evidence of relevant research
• there should be a strong sense of audience (who was it written for?)
• the structure should have a beginning, middle and end.

She went on to say that historical sources should be checked and referenced, that illustrations were helpful, and that personal pieces should bring out why they felt like history to the writer. A note of the word count and pagination were helpful to her as an adjudicator.

Before moving to comments on the individual entries, of which there were eight, Linda praised the very interesting spread of ideas.

Linda then announced the results as follows:
• Highly Commended – ‘From the ‘Lion King to Wimoweh’ and Beyond – The Story of a Song’ by Carol Mayer
• Third – ‘Talking the Blues’ by Sheila Whitfield
• Second – ‘The Railway Comes to Town’ by Peter Page
• First – ‘A Blast from the Past’ by Ros Swaney

Maggie invited Linda to present Ros with the trophy, after which a vote of thanks was proposed by Susan and endorsed by members in the usual way.

Memorial Service for Daphne Peters

It was a great sadness to us all when our good friend and founder member of Ripon Writers’ Group passed away on the 6th April 2020. (Scroll down for details and members’ tributes to Daphne.)

Our grief was added to by losing Daphne shortly after the first lockdown, which prevented all but a handful of mourners attending her funeral.

That being so, Joe Peters has arranged a memorial service for Daphne at one o’clock on the 27th September 2021 at Ripon Cathedral and invites everyone who knew his much beloved wife to attend.

There is ample parking (pay & display) behind Sainsbury’s and a very short walk from there to the Cathedral.

Catering arrangements are still being finalised and it would be very helpful to Joe if anyone planning to attend would let him know, either personally or through this website.


The service was well attended, with past and present members of Ripon Writers’ Group and Harrogate Writers’ Circle among those who came to share their memories of Daphne.

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School 2021

Several RWG members have attended ‘Swanwick’ over the years, some of us on free places won in the various competitions. (Always worth a shot!)

Our former Treasurer, Cathy Grimmer, (in the centre of the photo above) first attended in 2008, joined the Swanwick Committee and continues to serve as Chairman.

After the disappointing cancellation of the 2020 School due to Covid19, Lindsay and Maggie attended this year and their personal accounts are below.

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School 7 – 13 August 2021 Lindsay Trenholme

After 18 months of lockdown and isolation, it was a joy to be at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School amongst real people and the stimulation of an endless variety of writing genres in a packed programme – and all in the peaceful surroundings of the Hayes Conference Centre.

It was hard to choose which of the many workshops to attend, but for my 4-part specialist course I opted for“Eliciting the Past, Present and Future Through Poetry” with former Birmingham Poet Laureate, Roy McFarlane. He explained that his inspiration for the theme had come about through his love of Dr Who! His passion for poetry shone through each workshop and inspired all of us, as did his original approach, his encouragement (“everyone’s a poet”) and infectious sense of fun.

There were also different 2-part courses every day and among these I chose:
“Show Stopping Story Telling” by author Bettina von Cosselwith lots of useful tips about how to bring a story to life through showing characters’ behaviours and emotions (I noticed Maggie was on that course too).
“Poetry, Landscapes and Environment” by published poet and climber, Helen Mort – with some beautiful poems illustrating the theme and a thoughtful discussion about reflecting climate change in poetry.
“Honing Your HistFic” by Jennifer Wilson – another workshop with useful tips about how and where to find and check the facts when writing historical fiction.
and “Life-Changing Memoir – A Guide to Getting Started” by Samantha Houghton whose experience and knowledge of her subject was invaluable for any would-be memoir writer.

I also attended 4 fascinating evening talks by guest speakers. Toby Faber on the publishing company Faber and Faber founded by his grandfather, screenwriter Julian Unthank on his career in the capricious world of television, poet Helen Mort,and prolific crime/supernatural novelist Sarah Ward.

It wasn’t of course all work and no play! During free time we could take advantage of the well-stocked bar and either participate in or watch the many evening entertainments on offer.

Chairman and former RWG member, Cathy Grimmer, deserves a huge pat on the back for organising such a successful week, as does our own Maggie Cobbett for being a dedicated Swanwick mentor, guideand adviser forany delegate old or new who needed it.

Maggie Cobbett

‘Swanwick’ was a little muted this year due to the various restrictions imposed by the virus, but they didn’t spoil my enjoyment. One plus was always being able to find a seat in the bar, which is where many of the most interesting discussions take place. Where else would you find a huddle of respectable ladies discussing foolproof ways of committing murder – on paper, of course – and getting away with it? As an ‘old hand’, having attended regularly since 2006, I once again had the honour of helping new Swanwickers to find their feet. Seeing my wares on display in the Book Room is something to which I also always look forward and I’m pleased to report that sales were brisk.

Each year I try to ring the changes with the courses I choose and this time around I went to ‘The Complete Article Writer’ with Simon Whaley and ‘LGBTQ+ Characters’ with Spencer Meakin. At the Prose Open Mic I was handed the job of sanitising the microphone between readers. The Poetry Open Mic, however, saw me reading out a newly written pantoum (inspired by the one included by Philip Barclay in his tribute to his mother Janet.)

Buskers’ Night is always a joy, although I neither sing nor play. Instead, each year the organiser has me seated close to the front with his camera. (Fortunately other keen photographers are on hand to make up for any shortfall in my shots of the proceedings!)

The fancy dress theme for 2021 was The Roaring Twenties and there was even a free Charleston lesson on offer during the disco held at the end of the evening.

In conclusion, ‘Swanwick’ is a great place to meet up with old friends and make new ones. I can’t recommend it highly enough and am counting down the weeks to 13th August 2022 when, all being well, I shall be there again.

Newsflash. Better late than never!

At our still socially distanced meeting last night, Competitions Secretary Susan was finally able to present Sheila with the trophy she won last autumn for the Article competition. Well done, Sheila!

Back together again at last!


Not everyone was able to make the first face-t0-face (or rather mask-to-mask) meeting at our new venue, but we managed to do a lot of catching up on everyone’s news and to welcome our newest members, Miranda Hargrave and Solvig Choi. It is Solvig, almost in the photo above, that we have to thank for recording this unique moment in RWG’s long history.

Audrey Blackburn was presented by our Chairman, Maggie Cobbett, with her honorary life membership and a similar certificate is on its way to Kathleen Atkinson who will, we hope, be able to join us at a later date.

Members who won trophies during lockdown were finally presented with them. These were:

Lindsay Trenholme for the President’s Cup – presented by Maggie in the absence of Peter Hicks.

Peter Page for the Short Story competition – presented by our Competitions Secretary Susan Perkins.

Solvig Choi for the Artistic Licence competition, the very first she had entered since joining RWG.


In the time left over, a few members read out pieces they’d written recently and Christine treated us to a performance of her latest song.

R.I.P. Janet Barclay

We were very sad to lose Janet, whose generosity of spirit and gentle humour had enhanced many a meeting. Others will wish to add their thoughts, I’m sure, but here in the meantime is a tribute just received from her son Philip, no mean writer himself. It includes one of Janet’s cleverly crafted poems, a pantoum in this case.

Janet Barclay, my mother and an enthusiastic member of the Ripon Writers’ Group, has sadly died. I wanted to thank the Group for the friendship and literary support you offered Janet since she moved to Ripon. She often mentioned how much she had enjoyed writing with you. She became much more focused and prolific when she had the stimulus of a deadline or a competition. She also enjoyed reading works by other members of the Group. It was a pleasure to meet Group members’ at Mum’s funeral and to hear that her comments were well-received and useful.

Even before she became a creative writer, Janet was proud of her beautiful handwriting, her correct grammar and her long elegant sentences, modeled on the 19th century female novelists she so loved: particularly, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot and Jane Austen. I discovered from an early age how much impact good writing can have.  Mum once sent me to school with a letter of mild complaint. I handed it to the Headmaster who read it and said, “Thank you, Barclay, please tell your Mother that was very well put.” Mum was delighted with that praise and forgot all about her complaint.

After retiring from teaching and once her four children had moved out, Mum had the time to really apply herself to her own writing. She was adept at every genre. She produced some fascinating life writing, particularly describing her experiences of basic family summers in Norfolk in the 1940s. She wrote a novel about a woman trying to deal with a controlling husband; she enjoyed pastiches and parodies and loved the challenge of poetry.

One of the most enjoyable phases in my own development as a writer was studying Creative Writing with Janet through the Open University ten years ago. We faced all the same assignments and used to swap our efforts. Mum always scored better than me and ended up with a diploma with distinction. But she was more modest about her work than I was, which meant she gained even more pleasure from good marks and praise from the assessors. She loved working with different poetic forms. This is an example of a Pantoum, which the OU assessors particularly liked:


The vicar came and talked with me
When George, my husband, ran away.
We talked, I cried, we drank some tea,
He helped me through that dreadful day

When George, my husband, ran away.
I did not ask for sympathy;
He helped me through that dreadful day.
My sobs a tuneless litany.

I did not ask for sympathy
But just a friendly smile and touch.
My sobs a tuneless litany,
I wasn’t asking very much

But just a friendly smile and touch.
He held my hand to comfort me –
I wasn’t asking very much –
We sat together, knee to knee.

He held my hand to comfort me;
I stroked his fingers, kissed his ring.
We sat together, knee to knee;
I didn’t ask for anything.

I stroked his fingers, kissed his ring,
His hands caressed my tear-stained face.
I didn’t ask for anything
When, sitting in that holy place

His hands caressed my tear-stained face.
But this we knew could not be right
When sitting in that holy place
As darkness fell. Lead, kindly light!

For this we knew could not be right
Within the church. We knelt to pray
As darkness fell. Lead, kindly light!
We broke apart at break of day.

Within the church we knelt to pray
To lose the memory of our love.
We broke apart at break of day
As guilt poured down from heaven above.

To lose the memory of our love
The vicar left; his wife went too
As guilt poured down from heaven above,
And all the congregation knew.

The vicar left; his wife went too.
The bishop came, and talked with me,
And all the congregation knew.
I do not ask for sympathy.

– Janet Barclay, 2011

Interestingly in her comments on this piece for the assessor, Janet faulted the woman who it voices for “absorption in her own personal misfortune” and a “parade of self-justifying excuses.” Most of us – particularly in the ‘Me-too’ era – would place most of the blame on the vicar! But Mum had no time for self-pity even during her last two years, which were pretty tough for her. Mum’s unwillingness to make a fuss even when she was suffering with grief and poor health makes me – and all of Janet’s family – all the more grateful for the stimulation and friendship the Ripon Writers’ Group offered her. We all wish you the very best with your future writing.

Philip Barclay

I am sure that many of you will be aware that Janet was a folk dancer as well as a writer. She was still an active dancer when she arrived in Ripon, although she admitted to me that by then  age prevented her and her folk dance club colleagues from dancing the more vigorous dances like a Cumberland Square Eight. What you may not have been aware of is that she was also a folk dance caller. It was in that role that she was able to remind me of the correct calls for ‘Red River Valley’ at the time I was writing new words to that tune She also told me that at a ceilidh ‘Newcastle’ (which is one of the more complicated folk dances) would be introduced as ‘Newcastle, for those who know it’ rather than being called in the usual way. These memories and the feeling that she and I were often on much the same wavelength as writers will be my principal memories of Janet.

Peter Page

We were very fortunate to have Janet as a member of Ripon Writers. Whatever form she chose to write in, her work always seemed clear and measured, with undertones of the calm and perceptive way she appeared to view life. I was in touch with Janet by phone during lockdown, and despite her life having become very restricted by that time, she only focused on the positive aspects, which has become my lasting memory of her.

Sheila Whitfield

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Our friendly group meets once a fortnight in St Wilfrid’s Community Centre and is always open to new members from the Ripon area and beyond. Whether your interest is in poetry or prose, novels, short stories, plays, wacky humour, a more analytical style of writing, or just listening for the time being, you're very welcome.

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