This isn't what I was going to blog about ...

But since Titania asked, I'll answer. Do I recommend Zoetrope Virtual Studios as an online workshop for writers?

Yes I do. With reservations.

I came to Zoe in 2003, as a result of placing second in a contest. I contacted the winner to congratulate her and she said she'd workshopped her story on Zoet and offered to show me around. Without her, I might never have got through my first week.

Zoetrope is big and scary at first

But, once settled in, I found that is the ideal workshop for those who wish to be published. If you're a writer who doesn't aim to get work into print (and why should you, plenty of people write for pleasure) then Zoetrope can be harsh. Most reviewers are thinking about a career or at least a reputation from their writing and so aren't afraid to pull punches. Critiques can be harsh, and a writer has to cope with that.

Zoetrope is full of professional writers

When I began to write, I didn't know a single writer. Now I can email at least twenty published novelists and over a hundred well-established short story writers on first name terms. With several, like Jim Tomlinson and Ellen Meister, Laila Lailami and Bunny Goodjohn, I've been able to watch, in real time, as they find agents and publishers, get their books through the editing process and onto the shelves. It's been an amazing education and just about every novelist I know from Zoe is generous with their time and knowledge - perhaps because they came to the workshop like the rest of us, hoping for the big break, and so they share with those who are following them.

Zoetrope is full of genres and offices

Not just fiction genres. We have poets and screenwriters, comic book writers, lyricists, photographers, editors, publishers, artists and illustrators - and there's something to be learned from each of them. Fantastic partnerships and synergies build up and there's as much pleasure to be had from meeting those others as working on your own material.

Zoetrope takes some getting used to

It can take weeks to find your way around, months to feel you're part of the place, and that's why 'virtual studio' is such a good name for it. Imagine you're in Hollywood, wandering around the acres of film lot; cowboy set next to ancient Rome, Great War trenches alongside alien invasion site: that's what it's like at Zoe - the thing is not to stress it, to watch, listen and learn and give yourself time to settle in.

I wouldn't be without my Zoetrope membership for anything - I love the place and lots of the people, I can cope with the occasional appalling review from a newbie or shafting from a resident troll and, most of all, my writing improves every time I visit the studio.

What more could you ask?

Oh, one thing. Francis Ford Coppola provides the space, and the writers provide the time, energy, enthusiasm and experise ABSOLUTELY FREE.