WILL THE circle be unbroken? Well, sad to say: No.

With immaculate comic timing Airedale Writers’ Circle dowsed the lights and closed the door for the last time at the March meeting — about three days before coronavirus would have saved us the bother.

AWC first met in February 1995, founded by Lesley Horton, Maureen O’Hara and Anne Browne, who wanted a local group after attending a writers’ conference. Lesley went on to publish excellent crime novels based in Bradford, among the first in the Northern Noir genre.

The Writers’ Circle aimed to encourage writing and writers: poetry, fiction or non-fiction, drama and even the occasional song. At its peak, during the first ten years of this century, it tried in several ways:

Regular meetings on a Tuesday each month at Sight Airedale, often with a visiting speaker to discuss some aspect of the craft and business of writing, sometimes in workshops designed to develop and sharpen members’ skills. For the circle’s 10th anniversary there was a Gala evening featuring best-selling Yorkshire author Joanne (Chocolat) Harris at the Picture House.

Monthly manuscript nights, chaired by Lesley, where those with an adequate supply of bravery could share work-in-progress and have their stumbling attempts lovingly torn to pieces in a setting that was friendly and supportive. Which didn’t make the first few times any less nerve-wracking.

An annual competition, open to anyone, with modest awards for best poem, short story and non-fiction article — cheques and cups handed out at the Christmas party.

An annual children’s competition, drawing entries from many schools in the region (such a great idea that Radio 2 nicked it). Some years — especially when the weather was bad — there would be several hundred entries for the judges to slog through.

Two things made it worthwhile, though: the excitement of finding the rare gem of a poem or story crackling with life and originality; and the joyous Awards evening at East Riddlesden Hall each May.

Over the years, two non-members were especially good friends to AWC: Malcolm Hoddy, long-time editor of Keighley News; and Gerald Brooksbank, proprietor of the much-missed Reid’s bookshop.

AWC co-convenor Neil Wilson is moving away from the area — or hopes to, when he’s allowed out again — which feels like the end of a natural lifespan for the group. Our membership and ambitions (and bank balance) have dwindled lately, so the Circle is now broken. But we’re proud to have made it all the way to our silver jubilee.

I’m left with friendships, memories of many happy evenings — and a few that were challenging. And a heap of notebooks full of rough ideas, deleted drafts, and some work that’s better than I could have managed without help and support.