I remember the night I first joined Watford Writers – it was a bitter Monday evening in January 2011 and I was hurrying through a pitch-black and stormy Cassiobury Park toward the welcoming lights of the Cha Cha Cha Café that were drawing me, like a beacon, through the clawing branches of the skeletal trees that surrounded me. (My creative writing skills haven’t improved much since then, I’m sorry to say.)

I was recently returned to the UK from several years in the Middle East and was struggling to make it as a freelance journalist and, on a whim, had that day Googled writers’ groups in Hertfordshire in a bid to connect with other ‘writery’ people in the area. And that’s exactly what I found when I stepped inside.

Watford Writers was started ten years ago, in February 2005, by seven friends who met on a creative writing course at West Herts College to keep their own writing momentum going and also to offer other local would-be writers the opportunity to read their manuscripts to a group of peers, attend workshops with professional writers and speakers, enter competitions, and receive tips on things like how to get started in creative writing and how to get published.

In the year I went to Watford Writers, I got to know several of the lovely members, heard them read out their short stories, poems and novel extracts, and had them critique my own stories – I can honestly say standing up and reading out my own fiction for the first time was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve ever had but, thankfully, they were very gentle with me.

I entered and voted in the regular competitions, I even won one of the flash fiction competitions and was awarded a book token – still the high point of my literary career. And I learnt a lot of tips and techniques from the numerous workshops, and even ran a couple of my own on writing articles for magazines. It was exactly what I had been looking for.

And it seems that everyone who attends the group gets just what they need from it as well.

John Ward joined the group in 2005, six months after it started, having recently retired.

“I walked into one of the weekly meetings not knowing what I would find,“ he remembers, “and what I found was a vibrant, intelligent, enthusiastic bunch of people who welcomed every new prospective writer, whatever their capabilities.

“I had never written stories before,“ he continues, “now I have a portfolio of more than 100 short stories, 30-odd poems and a recently completed first novel, which is now being edited. Without the help and encouragement of the other Watford Writers, this could not have been achieved.“

Brian Bold is another Watford resident who has found the group’s support invaluable over the seven years he’s been a member.

“It’s always a source of motivation and constructive criticism that inspires my writing,“ he says. “Since joining, I have published two anthologies, written a novel with another member and made many friends.“

Helen Nicell, who is joint organiser of the group and also a writer for the Watford Area Arts Forum magazine, remembers: “I saw an article about Watford Writers in the Watford Observer ten years ago and I joined when the group had been going about six months, having recently been widowed. Writing was an escape from my grief. In those ten years, I have not only improved my writing but I have made many new friends and met some amazing people. I’m now looking forward to the next ten years of Watford Writers!“

“We love to give opportunities to anybody who wants to have a go at writing, regardless of ability,“ says Rob Summers, one of the founder members of the group. “I would encourage anyone who wants to join us to come along on a Monday evening, where they would be most welcome.“

I can certainly vouch for that – pack your pen and pad, head through the park to the Cha Café (as it’s now known) and find out for yourself.

  • Watford Writers meet at the Cha Café, Cassiobury Park, Watford on Monday evenings at 7.30pm. Details: watfordwriters.co.uk