WRITING can be a solitary occupation. It’s driven a lot of our greatest authors to seek solace in the bottom of a bottle and others to become shy and reclusive.

But in Darlington, it’s a sociable affair, as writers of all ages, keen to read out their work and receive criticism, come together each month behind the closed doors of the town’s Voodoo Café.

Between a dozen and two dozen wordsmiths attend the Open Mic Nights for Authors, run by Darlington for Culture, and they come from a whole range of writing backgrounds.

The youngest attendee was 13; others are well past retirement age. Most come from writers’ groups, although some brave individuals attend the two-and-a-half hour session alone because they simply enjoy the liberating experience of sharing their work.

Regulars say it takes guts to get up and read your own work, but budding writers can gain so much from it.

Author Tracey Iceton is based in Teesside and interested in writing prose. She recently made the shortlist for the Yeovil Short Story Prize, has won or been shortlisted for various short story competitions and has two published novels under her belt. “I would recommend it to anyone to have a go,” she says. “I think, as a writer, you’re always looking for chances to get your work out there and get some feedback, so this is a good chance to do that.

“You will hear some fantastic work here and the audience is very supportive and encouraging. I haven’t heard anything here that I’ve thought was bad. I’ve never been to an open mic yet where people have booed or thrown rotten fruit.’’ The 36-year-old says hearing different ideas is inspiring. “One of the pieces I wrote was inspired by a poem that was read out a few weeks ago,” Iceton says. “I took the idea from it and turned it into a short story. It’s a quick and easy way to get exposed to a variety of different types of writing, so I would really recommend it.’’ Keen writer Peter King, the 44- year-old headteacher at Corporation Road Primary School, Darlington, finds the whole experience thrilling.

“I had just finished doing an MA in creative wWriting and one or two friends told me that this was happening in Darlington. I thought it would be a great way to continue writing for a purpose and meeting other writers,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed doing the reading out part, and I get a small thrill our of reading what I have been working on recently.

“It’s not a huge audience here and we are an unpretentious and encouraging lot. It’s a short slot so no one needs to feel intimidated.’’ Valerie Warner, a volunteer for Darlington for Culture, says the open mic nights have helped her gain confidence. “The experience is nerve-wracking for me, but the Open Mic is all about gaining the confidence to stand up in front of people.”

Even in an era of video and film on iPads and the latest flat-screen TVs, the writers think the traditional written form is far from outdated.

“Like being able to count on your fingers, reading and writing is needed,”

says Warner. “I like the romanticised idea of writing and typing, slogging away at a typewriter one key at a time. Even though you can watch things on TV or go on YouTube, a live experience can be far more gratifying,” she adds.

The open mic night for writers is one of many events on the arts scene in Darlington. Since the closure of Darlington Arts Centre, in July 2012, groups and clubs ranging from salsa dancing to comedy nights are now distributed across venues in the town. John Dean, who campaigned against the Arts Centre closure, and is chairman of Darlington for Culture, believes the arts in Darlington are as strong as ever.

“We’ll never believe that closing the Arts Centre was the right thing,”

he says. “What has happened is that the arts community has been fragmented, and events like the Writers’ Open Mic Night are a way of pulling people together.

“I’ve always thought that if you write something, it needs an audience.

I love the fact that writers come here and read their work. It’s always been said that Darlington is a hub for writers; it’s been called a writer’s town. There are a number of writing groups, classes and we have a whole succession of writers who have come out of Darlington and gone on to enjoy fame and fortune.

“It takes a lot of courage to stand up in front of an audience because writing is very personal, so I’m full of admiration. We’ve had some cracking acts the past few years, and we’ll continue to do so. It’s another example of the amazing opportunities for involvement in the arts that are going on in this town.’’

  • The Writers’ Open Mic Night is held on the last Thursday of each month at the Voodoo Café, 84 Skinnergate. For more information visit darlingtonforculture.org