Writing, grammar and language are all quite important aspects in day-to-day life. As you encounter your school years you are guaranteed to study to likes of English Language and Literature. You dip into the world of poetry, plays, fiction and non-fiction. A world that tingles at the taste bud, sending imaginative imagery through your head as the wonderful names, places and stories are extracted and learnt. As the years creep by and the final school bell rings you are released into a world where English is no longer taught, only unless you choose to carry forth the learning of this subject within college or university of course.

At Soapbox Press we realise that writing is, for the majority of the time, a talent that is embedded into a person and one that just needs a slight tweak to release. We, the students, are not the only one who encourage people to write, showing their written skill among others. In Winchester alone you are guaranteed to find groups and individuals round every corner and page you turn that have the same process and thoughts in mind. I am sure this is the same as to any place you go. One of these groups is a lovely set of ladies who call themselves ‘Pencils and What-Not’, a group who dedicate their time to make writing an important factor in their social life. With set agendas agreed, they write to their hearts content to then meet and feedback their own writing and others within the group.

As Soapbox Press we are keen on the written aspect, and so finding Pencils and What-Not I thought it was time to see how other groups go about their written skills, thought processes and motivation. With a successful publication ‘Writing and What-Not: A Miscellany’, a collaboration of written articles and voices their book celebrates their passion for writing. Here I speak to Gill Johnson who is the Chair at Pencils and What-Not.


Pencils and What-Not 


Nicola Manuel: To those who may not have heard of you, please explain the main intention behind the group and how it came about.

GJ:  Writing was an art form to which I aspired.  I knew I loved words, but could I really write? This led me to signing up to an adult education class on Creative Writing. The sessions were a heavy mix of word intoxication and love of using a pen.  It wasn’t long before I was being taught / reminded about the craft; punctuation, characters, plots, genre, themes, short stories, flash fiction, poems, haikus, villanelles, sonnets and lots more besides.  As the summer passed and melted into autumn, new people joined the class who were clever and intelligent and wrote in exciting and different ways.  We all shared great joy in the lessons that as the winter went by the warmth of our endeavours drove away thoughts of winter chill.  We laughed, we cried, we sympathised.  Words took us into fantastical realms, back into the mysteries of time and forwards through the future. We gained access to the minds of people, followed the good and the bad and became gods defining fate.  Whether prose or poem our imaginations were stretched and the world became different through the pens of our classmates.  It was a delight to be part of this happy, talented bunch and knowing that we wanted to write more we formed the writing group which we named ‘Pencils and What-not’ from the Winnie the Pooh quotation.

We feel our group is invaluable because of the support and friendship we give to each other.  We have built good relationships which foster writing and a climate of trust, where we give honest constructive criticism, praise and encouragement.

Through our writing we found skills we didn’t know we had, editing, critiquing, organising, publishing, marketing and selling.  We have a website; we are on Twitter, e-skills that have been learnt through our shared love of writing.


NM: What are your main inspirations for you, that really drives your writing?

GJ:  I can only speak for myself here and I am sure if you asked our group you would get 15 different answers.  If I could bottle where my inspiration comes from I would be rich!

Inspiration is a like a delicate bubble, catch it and you are in awe of how it is made up, the changing shape , the colours, the fragility but it can burst and fade to nothing in an instance.  A writer needs to catch those thoughts, moments – the bubbles of inspiration and then they can write.  I always have a notebook to hand to write down those ‘bubble’ moments – a gesture, as facial expression, a sentence, a sunset.  What next will give me inspiration?  I just need to catch that bubble!


NM: Has writing always been a passion of yours or is it only within the group that it has developed?

GJ:  Writing has always been a passion, but quite often, work, family and life can take over your time and our passions are submerged.  Our group fosters that passion and drives us to write more.  As well as the team, we are all in small buddy groups which change quarterly.  These groups, meet regularly and support, critique, cajole and praise.  In such an atmosphere you can’t help but want to put pen or pencil to paper.


Writing and What- not; A Miscellany


NM: Who is your favourite author and why?

GJ:  I love reading and enjoy many types of writing and authors. Pencils and What-not have a reading group too.  However F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote ‘The Great Gatsby’ is my most favourite book of all time.


NM: For your own personal taste what makes a good piece of writing?

GJ: A powerful plot, believable characterisation, good description and a pinch of magic!


NM: How do you respond to criticism within your own writing?

GJ: I think everyone is precious about their writing, especially if they have re-read, corrected and edited it, so if someone makes a suggestion I may bristle and get defensive.  Nine times out of ten, if I take that critique away with me, think about it for a while I can generally see the other person’s point of view and review my work.  There are times when I do see the point straight away and have laughed over errors or mis-spellings.  The trust we have in the group makes all this easy and knowing fellow members are there to help is a great support.


NM: To those who intend on writing in the future and are not sure what to write about what are your best words of advice for them?

GJ:  Just write!  Sometimes it will be bad, sometimes good and sometimes you will surprise yourself!


Time for some quick round questions to finish off…

Fiction or non- fiction? Fiction

Pen or pencil? Pencil

Most successful author in your eyes? Dickens

Favourite season? Spring

Book you are currently reading?  Julian Barnes ‘The Sense of an Ending’

From this interview I hope it’s awoken a passion for writing within you. Get cracking! Write about anything and everything. The first thought that springs to mind? Write about it.

Take a great inspiration from these ladies at Pencils and What-Not. They’ve proven that writing takes a great skill to do but once you get going it can really be formed into something sociable and exciting. Have a look at their website for a little more about the group based in Winchester here. Also have a cheeky look at their book that has not been long published, it’s a brilliant summer read.


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