clhollandwriter: (Default)
At this year's Swanwick Writers' Summer School, crime writer AA Dhand gave some wise (and eminently quotable) advice: "Fail early, fail often, fail forward", and "Change the narrative". The latter accompanied a story about how his father changed the relationship with teenagers who smashed the windows of the family's shop, eventually hiring them as paper boys, simply by sitting down and having a drink with them. Eventually Dhand realised he, too, needed to change the narrative, and start writing the world he knew instead of the one he thought he should be writing - which led to his successful Harry Virdee series.

There are always a number of evening speakers at Swanwick, and they generally have something wise to say, so here's some sage advice from previous years.

- "Let the characters create the story." - Stephen Booth (2017)

- "The point of fiction is to enlarge what's possible." - Sophie Hannah (2017)

- "Know your antagonist as well as your protagonist. They are the hero of their own story." - Imogen Cooper (2017)

- "Don't be cautious, write what you want." - James Runcie (2016)

- "Not all stories will suit your tongue, and not all stories will flow from your pen." - Brendan Nolan (2016)

- "Sometimes it's better to accept a smaller advance rather than a large one that you then struggle to earn out." - Mario Reading (2015)

- "Short stories open small windows into large events." - Zoe Lambert (2013)

- "You should be the audience you writer for." - Curtis Jobling (2013)

- "If you know your voice it will help you stop wasting time writing things that aren't you." - Steve Hartley (2012)

- "Define your own level of success. Don't compare yourself to other writers." - Helen Cross (2011)

It's always interesting to hear what they have to say, and I often find the most enjoyable speakers those who write or work well outside my comfort zone, say in crime fiction or TV drama. It's also reassuring to hear that well established series writers like Stephen Booth are pantsers, that anything is possible. Of course they sometimes contradict each other - Booth was followed the following evening by Sophie Hannah, who tightly plots everything and finds it the best way to keep up with her multiple projects. But that's the nature of writing, nothing works for everyone. However in 2014 I heard the same advice three times, so it must be true: persistence is key; write for yourself; trust your instincts.

clhollandwriter: (marchin)
My first full day at Swanwick confronted me with a host of choices: where to sit at breakfast, what to have for breakfast, and what to take as my very first short course.

On offer were: SF for Beginners, Plotting the Plot, Reseeing the Right Brain, and Making Wave on the Airwaves. Making Waves sounded interesting, being about writing for radio, but the description said we should have listened to the Afternoon Play on Radio 4 for a week beforehand, and feeling like a student who hasn’t done their homework I gave it a miss. Plotting the Plot did exactly what it says on the tin, and Reeseeing the Right Brain was about Right Brain work ( and imagery, which seemed a bit complicated for the first morning.*

Having not yet worked out that stepping out of my comfort zone was the best approach, I opted for SF for Beginners. Although I’ve had a few science fiction stories published (a whole three come this November!) I still very much regard myself as a beginner. The course was pitched a little lower than my knowledge level, but it was obvious that a lot of people who’d never thought about writing sci-fi before were getting a lot out of it, and the exercise where we were given pictures and asked to write descriptions of them, and then design a whole society was good fun. I might even have got a story out of it.

For the afternoon workshop I decided to stick with genre, and picked Horror in 2011 (over Creative Writing for Beginners, Untie that Gag! and Editing Your Own Work) which was taken by agent John Jarrold in which I got to hear for the first of many times his catchphrase: “there are no absolutes in publishing”.* He covered a bit on sci-fi and fantasy as well, as that what he represents, and it was interesting to get a picture of how the market stands in the UK at the moment. There was also a Q&A panel featuring Jarrold, and another agent Meg Davis (one of the evening speakers), and another workshop on getting an agent, so rather than go into detail on each one individually, I’ll probably collate all my notes into a single post. I have a lot of notes, so they’ll probably be blog-fodder for a while…..

*Having bought a book on it since, I was right.
**As an aside, a couple of us did find an absolute – that at any event or convention which has a bar, writers/agents/editors will be found clustered around it.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
Been dark for a while, family emergencies notwithstanding, because I’ve been away at a bizarre, surreal, yet wonderful experience: Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

Imagine Hogwarts for writers. It’s basically 250+ writers of all ages, in a conference centre that’s pretending it’s a boarding school. Even the meals evoke memories of old-fashioned school dinners – fish and chips, steak pie, spag bol, with a pudding at every sitting.

There are actual classes, although unlike school you get to pick what you take. There’s a specialist course that runs all week, this year there was the choice of Crime Writing, Writing for Children, Contemporary and Literary Fiction, and Building Your Novel. There’s also a two-part short course every day, and a one-hour workshop every day but the last (when there’s an AGM instead), each with four topics to pick from – and if you decide after a session it’s not for you, you can always turn up to one of the other courses instead.

In the evening, there is a speaker. We had Iain Banks (who does a great impression of Terry Pratchett, by the way) interviewed by John Jarrold, novelist Helen Cross, crime writer Peter James, agent Meg Davies, and linguist David Crystal. On the final evening we were supposed to have historical novelist Kate Mosse, but she got stuck in traffic because of flooding and couldn’t make it so we ended up with an impromptu variety-show instead.

There are other activities scattered in the timetable too, including tea and coffee breaks (used by the unfortunate to do their homework), a Q&A panel, a day-trip to a National Trust site, sessions when the book room and the bar are open, early morning writing sessions, late afternoon writing sessions, reading sessions, chill-out sessions, discos and Latin dancing.

I didn’t write an awful lot while I was there, a couple of poems and an exercise, but it didn’t seem to matter. I was thinking about writing, talking about writing, learning about writing, and the fact that there was no pressure was great. And since I’ve got home I’ve written a lot more than I was. I’m still processing everything I’ve learned, and hopefully I’ll get through it just in time to go back next year. I’ve already requested the time off!

March 2019

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