The other week, I treated myself to something I’ve been drooling over for some years – an inspirational week away at the Swanwick Writers’ School. I’ve read about it many times in Writing Magazine, and the more I’ve heard, the more I’ve wanted to attend. Money was what held me back.
But then I read that you could just go for a day, and I thought, ‘well, I’m sure I could afford that.’ So I went to the website (at last!), and when I saw the cost of attending for the whole week, I was surprised at how affordable it was. So I signed up, paying in instalments, so I could secure my place straight away.
I’m pleased to report that it was worth every single penny! The week begins with a welcome session, and orientation for the newbies (who wear white badges to show they haven’t attended before). Then come five days crammed with classes, good food and socialising with the friendliest, warmest, most welcoming bunch of writers you could ever hope to assemble. On the final day, over 50 of us crowded into the comfortable coach laid on by the School to take us back to Derby train station on the first leg of our journey home.
If I could have gone for only one day, it would have been the Monday. That was when Elizabeth Hopkinson‘s 2-session course on Fairy Tale, Myth and Legend was scheduled to run. This is a subject I could immerse myself in happily for the rest of my life. It’s a huge topic with an enormous variety of content that spans the globe, though my particular interest is in the myths of the British Isles. Elizabeth has a new book on Asexual Fairy Tales coming out in September, and she had some pre-publication copies available in the Book Room. I was elated to be one of the first people to have the chance to read it. I started on it the day I bought it, and I love the gentleness of these stories, where no-one feels the need to fit into a traditional relationship, but the characters are all drawn together by their similarities of outlook and by their personalities, rather than the need to find ‘the perfect mate’. I loved her course, and as a bonus, I came away with the outline for a new fantasy novel for adults, set in ancient Atlantis, which I’ve since started writing. It’s provisionally entitled Poseidon’s Daughters, and I’m already over 10,000 words into it!
Other courses I was determined to attend were on Character Psychology, Blogging for Authors, Short Story Writing, and Writing for Competitions. All were excellent, and I’m so glad I was there. I hadn’t intended to be at the Writing Picture Books sessions, but having got into conversation with the tutor, Lynne Hallett, on the previous night, I thought it might help me re-write a couple of stories for younger readers I was having difficulty with. That hope at first looked like being in vain, despite the excellent advice in her presentation, as it seemed to want to come out as a poem again. But when I appealed for help from the group, I received just the nudge in the right direction that I needed. Before the second session ended, I had begun a much better version, and by breakfast the next morning, I had re-written my two stories in prose form, and was much happier with the result.
Another course I thoroughly enjoyed was Colin Ward‘s Getting Your Readers in a Twist. I’ve never considered myself to be all that talented at creating twists in a story, but this session showed me that it’s easier than I thought. As a bonus, I’m very much enjoying reading Colin’s crime novel, To Die For, which kept me entertained all the way back to Tunbridge Wells.
Speaking of entertainment, there was plenty on offer during the week. Every evening saw a different presentation, including talks by writers, a panel discussion on writing topics – and even a display of magic with a writing theme! We had buskers and readings of poetry and prose, and the last night’s finale featured a hilarious adaptation of the classic song YMCA, re-titled HMRC and chronicling the struggles of one writer (Elizabeth Hopkinson again) in trying to complete her tax return online. There was also an adaptation of ‘I would walk 500 miles’, amended to read, ‘I will write 500 words’, and sung in an authentic Scottish accent. The week also offered more than one opportunity for a good boogie!
But best of all was the cameraderie. Everyone was delighted to be there, and so ready to talk to anyone who approached them. I made a few friends, whom I intend to stay in touch with, but my next meeting with most of these lovely people will be at the next Swanwick I’m lucky enough to attend. It was a fantastic week, with many happy moments – and perhaps best of all, I crocheted a lovely scarf while I was there, into which I wove all the positive writing energy that was so freely floating in the ether. Any time I’m feeling dull and uninspired, I shall wear that scarf, and I’m quite sure I will find myself itching to put fingers to keyboard once again.