Saturday 17 December 2011

Countdown to Christmas: SCBWI Oxford Critique Group

The Oxford Critique Group formed about a year ago, and it’s been a rollercoaster of a year. Along the way we gained a few agents, acquired a few publishing deals (totalling 14 books!) and scored an Undiscovered Voices win. We graced several cafes, pubs and restaurants in our search for the perfect submission. We never found it. We did find members, though, and lost others; we misplaced characters and created voices. We swapped genres and switched age-ranges, ate way too much cake and had a fantastic time. Big Slushpile welcome to Teri Terry (who lives here), Nick Cross (he's back again), Paula Harrison, Tina Lemon, Nicky Thornton, Penny Schenk, Amy Butler-Greenfield and Jo Wyton. Oh wait. That's me.

Jo: Right, I’m the boss for the day.

Tina: (giggling) Yeah, right.

Jo: Oi. Less of the attitude Lemon. Ok, so why does everyone like this critique group? (If you don't like it, just don't say anything, ok? It'd only embarrass us.)

: Of course we do – we love it! This group is very kind, but also amazingly perceptive. You lift my spirits and my writing. I wouldn’t brave the M40 and the Oxford one-way system for anything less!

Teri: ...and I wouldn't brave Paula's driving for anything less! But being serious for a moment, one thing I find very useful is listening to varied opinions on both my own work and that of others. Often something bugs me without much definition, but by the time I hear a few of the others, I see why. It’s helped me hone my critical skills in my own editing.

Jo: I think it's helped me like that too Teri - it seems so much easier to break your own writing down when you've heard so much great discussion about a wide variety of styles. It's made me think harder about what I write in the first place too. Plus, we're based in Oxford. Too many great children's writers have lived here for there not to be something in the water!

Nick: To be honest, when Amy and I decided to kick some life into Oxford SCBWI, I envisaged we might start a friendly critique group with three or four people giving each other mutual support and writing about magical pixies. What I actually got was eight people and a phenomenal brains-trust of writers on the cusp of success. I’ve had some of the most perceptive critique I’ve ever received from the Oxford group, as well as the friendly mutual support I craved. But no magical pixies. Yet.

Paula: I might be able to help you out there, Nick! Trust me – I’m not kidding!

Nick: I was hoping my comment might tease out some magical pixie enthusiasts!

Paula: Watch it Nick! The pixies are rarely forgiving!

Teri: Really like these little pix of us by the way, Jo. Pix are like Pixies, right?

Jo: Ah, sure Teri. Of course they are. Ahem... So 2012 is the year of the pixie by the looks of things! (Mental note to self: don't mention pixies in 2012.) So why do you all think the Oxford group has worked so well?

Penny: I’m a newbie, but everyone was so welcoming! I get such thoughtful and creative feedback whenever I submit. It’s a real pleasure to read such wonderful works-in-progress and watch them develop over time. And we usually manage to have a laugh or two!

Tina: There’s no doubt that this group has made me a better writer. Critique groups are great – you just need to choose wisely! Not all critique groups are the same – luckily I found one which is perfect for me! I’m so lucky to be in one where everyone is so supportive.

Nicky: Everyone spends a lot of time and creative energy in improving other people’s work, while also miraculously finding time for their own brilliant stories!

Amy: Why do I love this critique group? Because all of us are stubborn, but no one is dogmatic. Because we drown our sorrows in hot chocolate, lattes and beer. Because we’re generous with criticism – and with praise. Because we’re honest about the ups and downs of this writing life. Because even when I come in all worn out, I always end up laughing.

Teri: I agree! As important as critiquing each others’ work is, it’s also important to have regular meetings with a group of writers who you trust for support, celebrations and commiserations. We are our own private cheer section! Besides: I have to come along to stop Paula from driving in bus lanes.

Jo: (Mental note the second: Never offer Teri a free ride anywhere. She will only complain when you unexpectedly swerve up onto the pavement.) Well I’ll just wrap up by saying thanks to Nick and Amy for starting the group that has helped us all so much and been so much fun, and thanks to everyone else for being brilliant. I can always rely on you all for being as brutal as you need to be, and always picking me up and dusting me off afterwards. And for cake. There’s always lots of cake.
So here’s to critique groups the world over, because your families and friends might have given up trying to work out what you’re talking about, but your crit group buddies will always understand completely!
Merry Christmas and Happy Great-Critique-Group-Finding New Year from the Oxford SCBWI Critique Group.


  1. You lucky bunch!
    I'm a sucker for critique groups.
    Wish I lived near Oxford or had a Tardis or a matter transporter or a something.

  2. Hurray for critique groups! It's about trust, learning about yourself, learning about the craft (which never ends) and most of all living the life of the writer.

  3. ...and eating cake. Don't forget the cake!

  4. Sounds like you have a fabulous crit group! I think they are so important for all the reasons you mention, plus the cake. And wine - and prosecco. Plus the odd bubbly when you have something to celebrate. It's not just the critting, it's also about the tremendous support you get from people who know what you're going through. I'm really lucky to be in two great groups, YA Critique and my Friday lunchtime group (that the prosecco one, still looking for a name for it, prosecco prose maybe . . . ?)

  5. Yay, crit groups! Thanks for a great post, Jo! I have a marvellous crit group in Lincoln in whom I trust. Also, one of them dressed up as Santa this year, what greater love does that show?

  6. I loved listening in to this! Though have to say, not one of you offered me a cup of tea ;o)x

  7. I love my SCBWI crit groups too.
    We have two great groups in the NE - York and Middlesbrough, everyone welcome!

  8. Yay for fabulous crit groups everywhere! I'm pouring Kathryn that cup of tea... and if you come to Oxford in person, we'll throw in some cake for free!

  9. Thanks guys. I'm a huge fan of critique groups, too. We had an amazing meeting yesterday up in Birmingham. If anyone's looking for one in the BIRMINGHAM area, there's a new SBCWI one setting up after January -I THINK it's mainly going to be YA so if that's something that sounds right for you, let me know and I'll pass your details on. And remember that online ones can be fantastic, too. I'm in one of each and feel extremely well supported and know my writing's better for being in them.

  10. Who needs photographers for author photos, when there's such a talented portrait artist amongst us!

  11. Sally - i would LOVE it if this is what our critique looked like! If I tried doing that, I'd hit everyone in the face and knock a couple of waiters over. It wouldn't be pretty!

  12. The graphic is excellent - it captures how close association can make people look alike. Who do we have to thank for the terrific pic by the way?

  13. @Candy - powerpoint! Really must invest in some image software sometime soon...


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