A Brief History of Bridgend Writers' Circle
This history of Bridgend Writers' Circle has been compiled by Bob Counsel in consultation with George Perry.
Both are founder members of the existing Writers' Circle.
George was also a member of both of the predecessor groups.
It was 7pm on the fourth Friday of October 1975. A dozen budding writers assembled in the committee room of Bridgend Leisure Centre. They were there to consider setting up a Bridgend Writers' Circle. There had been two writers' circles formed in the 1960s. Both had collapsed through lack of support. The assembled writers decided to try again. Perhaps the third attempt would be lucky. It certainly was. That Circle is still in existence almost 29 years later.
We must not dismiss the efforts of those members of the first two Writers' Circles in Bridgend. A leading member was the Rev. William Evans, who as Wil Ifan was the Archdruid of the National Eisteddfod - a bronze bust of him is in the reference library in Coed Parc today. Meetings were held in his church, the English Congregational. Some of the members joined the Writers' Circle, but most were outsiders. Other prominent members who joined the new circle were Benson Roberts and George Perry. George became the first chair of the new Circle.
The new Circle struggled. Membership declined to as little as five. But those five battled on and it soon began to grow. The Circle now numbers (at the time of writing) more than 40 members, with average attendances in the region of 30. (Note: In 2014 membership has fallen again to around 12)
The objective of the Circle was to encourage members to write and get published. Keith Coles, an expert craftsman in wood, made two shields. The Railton Shield , named after an early, very successful member, Frank Railton, was awarded annually to the member achieving most published work. The Endeavour Shield was also awarded annually to the member with most items submitted for publication, but not accepted, during the year. There followed the Saviker Shield, in memory of Romayne Saviker, a young member who died of cancer. It is awarded annually to the best all-round member submitting three different types of work in a competition. The Keith Coles Poetry Shield and the Vic Rees Monologue Shield have been introduced in recent years in memory of deceased members.
The Circle met in the Bridgend Recreation Centre at first, but it became very noisy there and the room in which we met was often changed at the last moment. We then moved to the South Wales Police Club. It was very comfortable, but became very noisy on a Friday night, especially during the winter months. Then we found the Reference and Information Service of Bridgend Library in Park Street, Bridgend. The price is right, it is convenient and above all it is quiet. We now meet on every second Friday of the month at 7.15pm.
The circle has followed a policy of publishing anthologies of members' works. So far eight have been published , of which seven have been complete sell-outs. The successful works were Stepping Stones, It Was a Market Town, Ogwrama, From the Bridge, Bridgend Revisited, Bridgend Remembered and All Clear. Every publication was financed from the funds of the Circle, with the exception of Ogwrama. That was launched by the Mayor of Ogwr who generously made a donation of £50 towards the cost of publication. Each publication was completely sold out before the next one was launched. Each of the first seven publications had a local theme. All members' work was strictly edited before acceptance by the publication committee. Selling was very largely done through commercial outlets. The first anthologies were printed and assembled using members' help. With the later publications the layout, printing and assembly was placed in the hands of professional publishers. The success of the first seven anthologies came from the strong local theme of the books, which really appealed to people living in the locality. There were 2,100 copies of All Clear printed and all were sold, the vast majority through commercial outlets. The book has been used in local primary schools which were studying the history of the locality during the Second World War.
The eighth publication,Voices from Wales was published to mark the visit of the National Eisteddfod to Bridgend. It was, from its appearance, our best publication but it was a complete flop. It departed from the local theme that underlay the previous publications. Despite the fact that the book was awarded second place in the Writers' News Anthology Competition, sales did not materialise for that year and the unsold copies were given away.
SEMINARS, LECTURES and WORKSHOPS
From its early years Bridgend Writers' Circle has been a registered charity with the objective of fostering the art of writing in the Bridgend area. This it has been able to achieve by arranging a variety of attractions. Prominent writers, such as Dannie Abse, Iris Gower and Herbert Williams have been invited to talk to the members on their favourite aspects of writing. Workshops have been held, using the experience of professional writers and the experience of the older and more experienced members of the Circle. Competitions are frequently set and are often marked by the more experienced members. For well in excess of a decade a whole day annual writing seminar has been held. People prominent in the field of writing are invited to talk at these seminars, and attendance is open to anyone, regardless of membership of the Circle.
There have been four presidents of the Circle - Ron Watkins, Hilary M. Thomas, Phil Carradice and John Woods. The other officers, who provide the driving force behind the Circle, change more frequently. The success of the Circle over the years has been significant. It has always aimed to spread the art of writing in the locality and there is a worthy number of members of the Circle who are accomplished poets, short story and article writers, and authors of factual books and novelists. The first thirty years have been rewarding. We trust that the next thirty years will be even more successful.