There’s no disputing January is a challenge.

It’s grey, cold and, without the brightly-coloured Christmas lights, can be quite cheerless. When the sun is low and the air bitter, it feels as if the only solution is to hibernate until spring. Alas, humans have not yet evolved that way, despite some of us giving it our best shot.

But help was at hand. On one such cheerless January day, I discovered that my local branch of Waterstones was inviting readers to join a crime fiction reading group. Callooh Callay, I thought. Just the ticket.

And so, I trotted along the following Tuesday afternoon to the first meeting.

Now, here’s a tip: when going to a book group, read the book beforehand. In my defence I only found out about the group three days before it was due to meet. I then emailed the organiser to ask if it would be all right to attend without having read the book and she kindly said “of course”.

Next tip: when arriving bookless at a book group, sit at the back – as far away from the invited author as possible! That way, you may just avoid everyone noticing the absence of a book.

Clearly my participation at this first meeting was limited but I was not deterred. I duly purchased the following month’s book, read it and attended the group, flaunting my well-thumbed copy proudly. And it was the most enormous fun.

Two years on, I remain an avid member of a group that has grown both in popularity and in the sense of community it fosters. Most months, the author attends, occasionally with a publisher in tow. The discussion initially is between the organiser and the author before it is thrown open to members for our questions and comments. Waterstones are generous, too, offering members 10% off the cost of the book, as well as free tea/coffee and — Tunnocks Caramel Wafers! Need I say more?

On a more serious note, for a writer, this is gold dust. I have read books I wouldn’t have chosen and, from each, I have learned something about plot, pacing and characterisation. Even those I didn’t enjoy had something to teach me. The authors, without exception, are supportive of those of us trying to break into the industry and they gladly share tips and experience. The world of writing and writers is so friendly and inclusive. I can only wonder it took me so long to become a part of it.

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