Fifty years, and still going strong; a celebration – 14 October 2020

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December” – J. M. Barrie

I was aware of a buzz of ‘boxed’ excitement when I popped up in the virtual gathering of Ayr Writers’ Club members on Wednesday night.

As the club continues meeting, through this extraordinary 50th year, this was to be a special one, a nostalgic one, a celebratory one, listening to the words and wisdom of our two honorary members, Ann Burnett and Sheila Grant, as they shared their memories and experiences of attending the club for almost forty of those years.

The presence of Ann Burnett, who moved to Haddington about three years ago, was a real treat for those of us who’d known Ann, our yellow squares flashing on and off, in a merry dance, as we nattered.

On the stroke of 7.30pm, Jeanette called the rabble to attention, outlining housekeeping points before handing over to Nigel for the formal introduction of our guest speakers. He nailed the key qualities of these influential members, highlighting the significance of their impact on the success of the club, and the lasting impression they made on him, on the day of his joining.

Then, it was over to our co-presenters, a slick double-act based on years of friendship, and stints as individual and joint presidents. Using material gathered for the 40th anniversary of the club, Ann began by providing names and details of how it all began. Next, each in turn, explained how they stumbled upon – or were persuaded to join – the club, providing a vivid impression of the style of the club in the early days, and their initial trepidation at finding themselves amongst writing experts. Both expressed how hugely indebted they feel for the advice, encouragement and friendship found at AYR WRITERS’ CLUB, which – not to put too fine a point on it – changed the course of both their lives.

They read engaging examples of their work, provided an insight into markets available for publication in the past (sadly, greatly diminished today), and reminisced about memorable speakers, as well as memorable members.  With the moderator allowing the audience to be unmuted if they wished, this gave everyone free reign to chip in with comments and questions, in an informal, relaxed atmosphere.

From time to time, Ann’s head would vanish before she reappeared with an armful of colourful publications for which she wrote, then Sheila, spinning in her chair, like the Captain aboard the bridge of the Enterprise, would go for a good rummage, returning with more examples of decades of printed articles. Time flew, and following a short, chat-filled break, the format continued until it was Q & A time.

What a joy-filled, hilarious – and thought-provoking – evening it was. Nigel brought it to a close with a reiteration of the importance of club members – like Ann and Sheila – in the continued existence and success of AYR WRITERS’ CLUB, as they join, taking tentative, rooky steps before absorbing accumulated wisdom which is, in turn, passed on to the next intake of enthusiastic novices.

Long may this cycle continue.

Carolyn O’Hara

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