History of Association of Christian Writers
(Formerly Fellowship of Christian Writers)
By Rosemary Johnson
It all began at a meeting held at the Evangelical Alliance’s headquarters in South Kensington in January 1971, with twelve to fifteen people present. They called themselves the Fellowship of Christians in the Arts, Media and Entertainment – but would almost immediately change their name to Fellowship of Christian Writers. Andrew Quicke (of CAME, Christians in the Arts, Media and Entertainment) was the first chairman and Olive Ayres the first secretary. Olive Ayres recalls this meeting in an article – we have a copy of the first page. (It is not apparent when the article was written or in which magazine it appeared.) Also available is a photocopy of the Fellowship of Christians in the Arts, Media and Entertainment’s 1971-72 programme. Typed on a typewriter in a courier font, this included a Christian poetry workshop, a film and a ‘Christian Popular Music Session’ and the ‘First Fellowship Weekend’ at Beatrice Webb House near Dorking in Surrey. They certainly had a packed programme, some nine events in that first year. Note that it had to be reorganised due to a postal strike in that year! How 1970s!
In those earliest days, the Fellowship often met in Andrew and Juliet Quicke’s house in Kensington, informal gatherings of just a few members. Later meetings were held in various other London locations, including Margaret Street and Euston Road, and membership rose. Maureen Chapman attended writers’ days at St Peter’s, Vere Street, London and also in the Salvation Army Hall in Oxford Street. She reports that ‘…those early days were exciting, breaking new ground especially learning to work with other groups of Christians, across denomination divides.’
Simon Baynes, a missionary in Japan in the 1970s, was not able to go to meetings, but he enjoyed reading the magazine. There has always been a newsletter, or something for members. The first magazine was called Candle and Keyboard. In Write Well* (our Jubilee compendium) Eleanor Watkins remembers it changing incrementally from a typewritten and stapled newssheet to a ‘proper’ magazine with a more sophisticated layout and a glossy colour cover. Christopher Idle (also in Write Well) tells us that Candle and Keyboard was generally sixteen pages in length, although occasionally longer, initially A5-sized but later moving up to A4. Content included competitions, events, congratulations to successful members, writing hints and a ‘noticeboard’.
The FCW became the Association of Christian Writers in early 1998. The new Association was incorporated as a registered charity on 11 May 1998, with Christine Leonard, Warren Crawford and Juliet Hughes as Directors. Around that time membership grew from about 400 to 1000 with twenty-two area groups. Candle and Keyboard was renamed Christian Writer, its title now. Christine Leonard recalls that James Catford (our patron, in 2022), and also John Truscott, were very helpful in formulating the vision and setting up as a charity.
Christine Leonard was a member of the FCW committee in the 1990s. “I started in 1995 as Established Writers’ Rep then Development Officer on the Executive Committee. Outsiders thought that title had to do with helping writers in developing countries so we changed it to Vice President, as I was ‘presiding’ over the ‘Raising the Profile’ Team as well as being on the Executive… I was involved in two weekend conferences at Hothorpe Hall [Lutterworth]. One (8-10 November 1996) was [for the] Silver Jubilee and I remember Veronica Heley arranging a cake for that.’
Between 1998 and 2003, first Lance Pierson and then Christine Leonard led several ‘Write for God’ courses for experienced writers, in association with LICC (The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity) at St Peter’s, Vere Street. She remembers that ‘They were very hard work but very rewarding and drew lots of people in.’ Rachel Snell recalls attending a ‘Write for God’ course in 1998, with speakers including: Lance Pierson; Rachel Lawrence, who spoke about poetry: Veronica Heley, about writing for children. James Catford gave an insight into publishing and there was also an additional session on writing for magazines. Jennifer Rees-Larcombe talked specifically on ‘Why I want to write for God’. ‘We are God’s Secretaries,’ she said.
Christine also ran a couple of ‘outreach meals’ for other published writers who were Christians and recruited quite a few of them. She writes that she is ‘grateful to ACW for pushing me in at the deep end and especially to the W4G, the running of which really stretched me but pointed forward to what do after leaving the very hard work of being on the committee.’ She still leads writing holidays and workshops in Christian venues.
In the 2000s the ACW was offering residential events aimed at different levels of experience – Beginners, Intermediates and Established Writers – but these were discontinued in favour of one day topic-focussed events (such as, social media, poetry, the web). In these years there were usually two (physical) events taking place annually, one of which would be in London and one elsewhere. In 2015, the number of writers’ days increased to three per year, with greater focus on locations outside London. More recently, since the pandemic, ACW has held several events on Zoom, typically three or four shorter events on successive Saturdays, but the October 2021 AGM took place ‘in person’ at Mary Sumner House in London. In the future, a combination of ‘physical’ and Zoom events will be offered.
Advancing technology, towards the end of the last century and the beginning of this one, has transformed the way we writers write, share, submit and present our writing. Christian Leonard reports that the ACW Committee starting using email, which made communication ‘massively easier’. During these heady years, ACW gained a website (this one, https://christianwriters.co.uk/), a Facebook group and a Facebook page, a Twitter account (@ACW1971), an Instagram account and the blog More Than Writers. Previous webmasters, including my immediate predecessor (Wendy H Jones) and myself (Rosemary Johnson), have worked tirelessly to keep all these going, but in 2021 ACW appointed a dedicated Publicity and Social Media Officer (currently Annmarie Miles) to manage ACW social media.
In September 2011, to celebrate ACW’s fortieth anniversary, Adrian Plass (ACW President) and his wife, Bridget, hosted a weekend for writers in the peaceful and contemplative surroundings of Scargill House in Wharfedale, North Yorkshire. Similar weekends, hosted by Adrian and Bridget, have been held in the June of each year ever since (except for the pandemic years, 2020 and 2021, and in 2022 when it would have clashed with the main fiftieth Jubilee event.) ACW members must bear it in mind that the wonderful event they call ‘Scargill’, which is for many the highlight of their writing year, is actually run by The Scargill Community, not by ACW, and given as a gift by Adrian and Bridget.
Running competitions have always been an integral part of ACW. Inexpensive, or free to members (as they are now), ACW comps have been instrumental in giving a welcome boost to less-confident and less-established members. In the earliest days, winning entries were read out at writers’ days. (Now they appear in Christian Writer.)
ACW has established links with Media Associates International (MAI) which exists to encourage and train writers, editors and fledgling publishers in ‘hard places’ of the world. ACW first became involved in the early years of the twenty-first century through Marion Stroud, a member of the ACW Committee and also a trustee of MAI. Marion Osgood, who took over from her in 2011, changed the name of her committee role from ‘Overseas Development Support Officer’ to simply ‘Overseas Support’, and the name of the ACW’s fund from ‘Equipped for Ministry’ to ‘Overseas Fund’. Marion Osgood recalls travelling to Bulgaria with Marion Stroud for an MAI training trip and leading a session on ‘How to Research Your Book’. Through donations to the ACW Overseas Fund, received at ACW writers’ days and from this website, ACW has supported many delegates, from countries where being a Christian and a writer is difficult, to MAI’s LittWorld Conference.
In 1996 the Fellowship of Christian Writers celebrated its Silver Jubilee. Richard Palmer still has a bookmark to mark the occasion showing a candle and keyboard and a programme. Now we are twenty-five years further on and into our Golden Jubilee. We began to mark our big year at the AGM in October 2021 and we will continue until our WOWIG event at The Hayes, Swanwick, Derbyshire, in June 2022. We say we Christian writers, and we writers who are Christians, are Worth Our Weight in Gold.
There is much more about this Association’s history, personal reminisces, especially about the many ACW groups, in Write Well, a Handbook for Christian Writers, written by our members for our Golden Jubilee. This history of ACW is ongoing, a work-in-progress. Thanks to my various appeals on Facebook, the More Than Writers blog, and personal approaches to individuals, I’m receiving more and more information as time goes on. Many, many thanks to all those who have contributed, with especial thanks to:
Simon Baynes, Jane Brocklehurst, Maureen Chapman, Christine Leonard, Fiona Lloyd, Marion Osgood, Richard Palmer, Rachel Snell, Eleanor Watkins, Merrilyn Williams (pen-name Mel Menzies).
*Write Well, a Handbook for Christian Writers (Instant Apostle, 2019). To order a copy, visit https://christianwriters.co.uk/acw-publications/write-well/
Merrilyn Williams (pen-name Mel Menzies) took over the ACW chair in 2012. We don’t have a complete list of chairpersons… yet.