The Neo Writers – Your Friendly Neighbourhood Fanworks Group
by Bex Sentance
Fanworks is a phenomenon that has been attracting a lot more mainstream attention over the past few years, with the publication of several well-received novels which started out their lives as fanfiction, and Amazon opening its doors to stories from selected franchises with the creation of Kindle Worlds. When I say “fanworks”, I’m referring to any kind of artistic work from writing to painting to sculpture to music which is based on a work or series of works (books, comics, TV shows, films and so on) not owned by its creator, which the creator is a “fan” of. Hence, fanworks. In spite of the increased recognition, though, fanworks still has something of a bad reputation even amongst geek communities. It conjures up an image of badly-written purple prose furtively published by a teen girl who fantasises about getting it on with one of the characters, or maybe a YouTube video consisting of clips artfully arranged to look like two of the cast are romantically involved, with a cheesy love song playing in the background. While some might admit that there are good fanworks out there, they’re seen as rare jewels buried in miles and miles of hideous junk that should never have been thought of, much less actually created.
With that kind of precedent, it’s not surprising that fanworks creators don’t really identify themselves offline, and have a hard time finding kindred spirits to meet up with and share their love of all things fannish. Thankfully for fanworks lovers living in and around London, there’s a group out there which is dedicated to just that, and it’s called The Neo Writers.
The Neo Writers was started on a fanworks-centric bulletin board called FanBBS. The board is long since inactive now, but in 2009 when it began it was a hive of fannish activity, with discussion threads on everything from beta readers to “What makes a good heroine?” to original characters in fanworks. There was also a thriving Offline Meetings board centred around helping fanworks lovers in a particular region to find each other and meet up. Even though the creator of the board was from the States, to begin with most of the Offline Meetings threads were based around different areas of the UK. Then came a slew of threads from other European countries, and finally, much further down the line, threads by users based in the United States and Canada. By that time most of the Europe threads and their fledgling groups had died off, and the American meets had limited success, but of the dozens of prospective meet-ups across the world, two groups managed to get off the ground and are still going to this day: The Neo Writers, and a group of six Dutch fanworks creators known as Team Retard. The idea of a “crossover meet” between the two has been bandied about for ages, but finding the time and the funds to pull it off is proving difficult.
In its early days, The Neo Writers met in a Caffè Nero on Goodge Street, before migrating to a Starbucks on Tottenham Court Road which had more room and longer opening hours. Tottenham Court Road has remained the group’s “base” for almost four years since, but The Neo Writers has also roamed far and wide across London in that time, hanging out in Turkish cafés and tearooms, picnicking in Hyde Park, gaming in Trocadero, playing Sopio in Piccadilly Circus, cosplaying at MCM Expo, and a lot more besides.
So where does fanworks come into all of this? Most people who hear the name ‘The Neo Writers’ think that meetings must revolve around writing together, when in fact the group is geared more towards socialising. Though that’s not to say that members aren’t free to create together or to share their works at meetings. One of the earliest meetings saw the creation of a Harry Potter parody fanfic called, if I remember correctly, ‘The House of Oxfam’, which mixed together characters from the book series with super-powered Neo Writers living at Hogwarts. Even though I think that fanworks as an art form deserves to be taken more seriously, there’s something to be said for being able to poke fun at yourself and at your favourite franchises, and it’s one of the best qualities to be found amongst fans and fanworks creators in particular.
Much more important than the actual creation of fanworks, though, is the opportunity to meet up and spend time together with other like-minded people, who understand the culture around fandom and can take part in conversations about kink memes and AUs (Alternate Universes) and favourite slash pairings without batting an eyelid. It bypasses that awkward period when meeting a fellow geek where you try to work out how heavily involved in fandom they are, and whether they’re likely to sneer or cheer at the idea of writing fanfiction and reading fancomics. Fanworks lovers also tend to move in similar circles around the Internet and geekdom in general, so chances are that if you have fandom in common, you’ll also find a great deal of other common interests and hobbies. Perhaps even better than sharing your love of a thing with someone who’s already a fan is the chance to recommend something amazing to someone who’s never experienced it before – and then geeking out with them afterwards. So the emphasis is more on the community and the mentality than on theactual works created. There’s no need to have a proven track record of writing fanfic or drawing fanart before becoming a member of the group. All that matters is being open-minded, friendly and accepting. As the Cheshire Cat said in Alice in Wonderland, “We’re all mad here.”