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Frome publisher wanted to change name of Harry Potter

The Frome Writers Collective launch.

The Frome Writers Collective launch.

The publisher responsible for giving the then unknown author, JK Rowling, her first break with a book about schoolboy, Harry Potter, engaged an audience at Frome library with his tales of the book – including how he wanted to change the title. 

Barry Cunningham, publisher and managing director of Frome-based Chicken House publishing, was appearing at the launch of Frome Writers Collective (FWC). He spoke about signing the aspiring writer and her book ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ when he was at Bloomsbury Press.

Amongst his anecdotes from his impressive career, Barry spoke about initial problems he had with Harry Potter including that he not only wanted to change the title, but also remove the game of Quidditch from the book as he didn’t – and still doesn’t – understand the rules.

Barry’s appearance was part of an event that was hailed an overwhelming success by organisers.

Cllr Peter Macfadyen, Mayor of Frome, opened the event and spoke about his own experience as a published author and how the initiative was good for the town. The Independent for Frome councillor is the author of ‘Flatpack Democracy’, a DIY guide to create independent politics, published this year.

The capacity crowd, the majority from the thriving creative writing community the FWC has been set up to support, then heard from a quartet of guest speakers. Each speaker gave a personal view on publishing in this century, one which has seen the traditional publishing industry shaken to its core by new technology.

A call to arms was issued by Jill Harris, author of self-published book, ‘The Wolf in Your Bed’, who urged writers to emulate the punk musicians of the late seventies, who took on the music industry and revolutionised it by doing it themselves.

Joffre White emphasised the importance of getting children involved in reading and his own euphoria at receiving the first printed copy of his book ‘Frog’ – which he then presented to his son, Chris, who had been the inspiration behind it.

Also echoing punk’s DIY ethos was David Lassman, who used it as a foundation for promoting writers’ books and raising their profiles; citing examples from his own experiences with his co-authored novel ‘The Regency Detective’.

David is also one of 10 people who joined together to create the not-for-profit organisation, which aims to share information and resources for writers in the local and surrounding areas. He finished his talk by telling the assembled audience, “There has never been a better time to be a writer in Frome or the surrounding area.”

The four speakers then formed a panel to answer questions from the audience, mediated by event host Tim O’Connor, resident MC of the Submarine Comedy Club and a co-founder of the FWC.

The event was recorded in its entirety by FromeFM and the radio station will be uploading highlights on its website soon. The launch was also filmed by Frome Film & Video Makers.

People attending the event also learned about the Frome Writers Collective itself, which has a help yourself and a help each other ethos, and during the afternoon the FWC recruited almost 20 new members.

Membership costs £12 a year, but all members are expected to contribute their time or expertise to grow the collective for their own and each other’s benefit.

To make the most of the opportunities, Frome Writers Collective has created a website with advice and information for any writer to access; while membership of the group will give reduced prices for workshops, talks and social events.

One of the services members offer each other is The Writing Sack. This allows writers to upload a short piece for comment and constructive criticism by other members, supporting their belief that only by continually improving and reshaping their work can they expect to be published.

The FWC also intends to run community-based projects that give local people, with limited access to the arts, the ability to develop their creative ideas.

Barry Cunningham has become a patron of the FWC whose membership is now almost at 50 people.

For more information on the FWC see www.fromewriterscollective.co.uk.