Northumberland Art Lovers: Spirit of the Hills Writers’ Group

“I’m constantly blown away by the sheer number of people in this county involved in writing and publishing. I’m also awed by the amazing projects that have come out of this group.”

Gwynn Scheltema

In this series we feature interviews and discussions with Individual Artists, Leaders of Arts Groups and Organizations, Civic Leaders, and other Arts Lovers in our county.

Northumberland Festival of the Arts will take place across Northumberland County from September 16 – October 2, 2022.

Felicity Sidnell Reid

Chair Felicity Sidnell Reid:

How long have you been involved with and chaired the writers’ group?

Beth Rhind asked me to take over the chair about five years after the group was set up so that was sometime in 2014. We were then holding monthly breakfast meetings at the Grafton Village Inn. We chatted over breakfast, had a round-the-table news exchange and then listened to the speaker I had invited for the month. About 20 members would attend and many projects were discussed and brought to fruition at these meetings.

In 2017 The group took the lead in organizing the first Festival of the Arts and, in 2019 the second, to be run at St Peter’s Anglican Church under the banner of Spirit of the Hills. The festival organizers are now planning a new expanded festival for 2022, including artistic partners from all over Northumberland County, to celebrate the resilience of the community.

As the group has grown, what do you find most remarkable about it?

The group has grown numerically and spiritually stronger over the years. Membership now stands at 49. We have members who write and publish poetry, fiction and non-fiction, some who regularly contribute to journals, magazines and newspapers and many successful bloggers. We have produced 4 anthologies under the general title Hill Spirits. The fifth volume will be released at the festival in September.

The breakfast meetings at the Inn have been mostly replaced with online meetings. What impact has this had?

Whenever possible we have had in-person meetings, in the summer in a park in Cobourg and this past fall at the Castleton Town Hall. The monthly meetings have always been designed to offer support to our members and build a sense of community. We changed the structure of our meetings on Zoom so that people could share their current writing. Meeting online prompted the initiation of several critique groups to discuss fiction, non-fiction and poetry. We also instituted a blog which was the basis for an anthology of writings from the past two years, Our Pandemic Times (Blue Denim Press 2021). And our monthly Newsletter has proved very popular.

Who can join the writers’ group?

Any writer who joins Spirit of the Hills Arts Association can take part.

Anda Cleave-Unruh and John Unruh

New member, John Unruh: 

What do you most value about being a member of the writers’ group?

Put simply, the support. Writing is an isolating task. There’s great comfort in having a group of like-minded and knowledgeable individuals I can reach out to if needed. I’ve only had a chance to attend one monthly meeting so far but I felt very welcomed. I’ve found an opportunity to volunteer some time and expertise. I’ve also joined Shane Joseph’s Spirit of the Hills critiquing group which I’m already finding valuable, not to mention enjoyable.

Has the group influenced how and/or what you write?

Perhaps how more than what. I have a body of work that I’d like to elevate. So far, the group has offered two venues to support this. One is the monthly meeting. Listening to authors read and discuss the stories they’re working on is empowering. It enhances perspective and provides inspiration I wouldn’t get otherwise. I have yet to contribute, but my feeling is this experience will be just as empowering.

 Shane’s critiquing group does the same thing but at a more granular level. My work has already improved through this experience. I’ve also decided to write something new for the upcoming anthology. Having a theme to work with is exciting and has definitely influenced what I’m writing. This new piece is a departure from my typical fare and I’m enjoying the feeling of stretching out in untested directions to create something entirely new.

Gwynn Scheltema

Founder Gwynn Scheltema: 

What led you to start a writers’ group?

Over ten years ago, I was sitting next to Beth Rhind during lunch at an art conference. Beth was a member of Spirit of the Hills, and I was a professional writer living in Northumberland. By the end of lunch, the concept of the writers’ group had taken hold. Beth secured a meeting space in Warkworth, contacted Tai Grove, a local publisher and writer, to chair the meeting, and I sent Beth the names of all the writers I knew of in the area. Over 20 writers attended that first meeting, and we’ve been going ever since.

What was the focus/format of the group when it began?

The focus was always to offer support and networking opportunities to people engaged in all aspects of writing. It is not a critique group, but more a place to learn about the industry and the craft, and socialize with like-minded people. We update each other on the projects we are involved in, invite guest speakers and work together to promote our work.

What’s your reaction to how the group has grown?

I’m constantly blown away by the sheer number of people in this county involved in writing and publishing. I’m also awed by the amazing projects that have come out of this group. This year will see the publication of the fifth in the Hill Spirits Anthology Series. Word on the Hills, (a weekly interview radio program about people involved in the world of words) run by Felicity Sidnell Reid, Chris Cameron and me, just celebrated its eighth anniversary. We have been regular participants in The Waterfront Festival, The Lilac Festival and other fairs and markets where books are sold.

For several years, Susan Statham headed up Word Northumberland, and that morphed into two festivals in 2017 and 2019 held at St Peter’s Church. NFOTA grew out of those festivals and, although NFOTA is now a separate incorporated not-for-profit organization, many of the core organizers are members of SOTH and worked on the two previous festivals.

Northumberland Festival of the Arts is a volunteer-run not-for-profit arts organization.

To volunteer for NFOTA, please contact

To help support our events, please send your donation by Interac to

5 Comments Add yours

  1. ronaldmackay says:

    As a relative newcomer to Spirit of the Hills Writers’ Group, I found this background interesting and informative. I was pleases, too, to hear from an even ‘newer newcomer’ and learn that his appreciation of the group aligns with mine. Thanks to all those, past and present, who make the Spirit of the Hills Writers’ Group the valuable experience that it is, for both aspiring and accomplished writers in the region.

  2. felicity936 says:

    Thanks for this, Cynthia. I am proud to chair such an active and talented group who contribute so much to the cultural life of the county.

  3. Diane Taylor says:

    It’s great to have this historical perspective of our writer’s group that has united and expanded ideas and projects over these many years.

  4. dmwauthor says:

    I am always surprised and delighted to read how long ago the writers’ group of SOH was started and recognizing who was there at the beginning. My experience has been positive and supportive,

  5. Thank you, Cynthia, for these three interviews. They provide insights into the history of a group I’ve only belonged to for a few years and shed light on how such a group influences both our writing and sense of community. Both Felicity and Gwynn deserve our admiration. They sure have mine!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *