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: (poppy)
It's not really a seventh day, since we have to be off site by 10am - and those of us getting the coach leave at 8.30am, which is when we normally have breakfast. As usual breakfast had a deflated feeling, with a lot of people having left already or simply not got out of bed, and everyone seemed to be tired. Friday is the morning when it all starts to catch up....

After being ferried by a particularly grumpy coach driver, we made our way. I napped part of the way home, crammed into my seat between my luggage and another passenger. At least I had a window. The latter part of the journey took in the scenic route, which was very soothing until the carriage filled with chattering scouts, fresh from a camping trip. Even less restful was the announcement that the train was going to sit in a particular station for fifteen minutes, and that there was another train leaving shortly going to where I was headed. This left me dashing across the station like a mad thing, getting to the platform just as the second train pulled in. It cut about half an hour off my journey, but it wasn't exactly restful. Next time I will avoid the scenic route!
Picture
clhollandwriter: (poppy)
Today we were back on the courses. Zoe Lambert, yesterday's speaker, took a course on Contemporary Short Stories, plus we had a drama workshop, The Art of Horror, and the Bish, Bash, Bosh Intro to Blogging. Since I already blog, and I'm not particularly into horror or drama, I went to the short story course. We each had to provide an item from our bags for others to use as a prompt, supplemented by a couple added by Zoe, then pick two and think about who might carry those items - who are they, what else do they carry, and where are they going? We were supposed to write a scene with that character; I mostly ended up with notes. It was a useful exercise though, and I ended up with something I can work on.

In the poetry course we learned about love poems and praise poems, the rondelle, rondelet, and ghazal.

For the second part of the short story course we were supposed to bring something ready to edit. I didn't have anything so gave it a miss and went looking for the Hayes escape tunnel instead. The conference centre was taken over to house prisoners of war, including "The One That Got Away".
The final one hour session slot offered a choice of Poetry for Children, Boutique ePublishing, Characterisation, and Writers' Circles. I took Boutique ePublishing, to offer up an alternative viewpoint to the self-publishing course earlier in the week. It was very nearly a disaster - while we all sat there waiting for the tutor to turn up, he was sat in the room next door waiting for us. Whoever had set up the overhead projector had done it in the wrong room. There was a lot of information, slightly squished into the time due to our late start, but it was interesting.

The evening speaker was Curtis Jobling, an animator and writer who has worked on Wallace and Gromit, designed Bob the Builder and invented Raa Raa the Noisy Lion. After introducing us to Curious Cow (a series of ten second shorts on Nickelodeon), he live-doodled a series of characters to demonstrate how figures from the same show are based on the same set of shapes, to give a unifying feel. He also kindly allowed the school to keep the doodles to auction off to raise funds, and signed them all.
And then guess what happened. That's right, I had an early night!
clhollandwriter: (poppy)
Tuesday is the Swanwick "day off". Being smack in the middle of the week of classes, it offers an opportunity to rest, reflect, write up the ideas we've been too busy to work on, and catch up on sleep.

It can only be very loosely called a day off, though. There are no classes, but there are plenty of other optional activities. This year saw the return of Write, Camera, Action! Writers, actors, and directors get together to work on previously selected plays by Swanwick delegates, ready to perform them during the evening. There was also the new Procrastination Free Day, which saw Alexa Radcliffe-Hart lock 15 writers in a room and not let them out except at lunchtime. The feedback seemed to be positive - everyone got a lot done - and I heard several suggestions for how to expand on it for next year to allow more people to take part.

There was also a morning interview with Jon Wood of Orion. For some reason (possibly because he was sandwiched between last night's crime fiction speaker and the police panel) I got the impression this would be crimey, when it turned out to be publishey. I'm quite annoyed I missed it.

After the interview, and an all-important coffee break, was the police panel. This was going to be crimey, so I gave this a miss as well.

I had planned for Tuesday to be a proper day off, so I spent some time napping, reading, failing to write: there's little more demoralising being one of four people in a room, and the other three are all scribbling or clattering away. I also found another amusing sign to photograph.
I also took a wander around the lake a couple of times, enjoying the peace and quiet of everyone else being busy. I paid a visit to the sinister willow, from last year's day three, but something had changed. It didn't have the same atmosphere, it was much more light and airy (lefthand picture). It took me a couple of minutes to realise this was because the trees on the other bank (shown in the other picture) had been cut down. Without them, the area seemed a lot less sinister and interesting.
The evening speaker was Zoe Lambert, who has written a collection of war stories called The War Tour, who spoke about war tourism and voyeurism, and how war affects all parties involved.

I had planned to go to Write, Camera, Action! but I was tired (I was still recovering from two weeks of solid training at work) and went to bed early again.
clhollandwriter: (poppy)
Day Three is Monday which, since classes started on Sunday, I spent thinking was Tuesday.

The Short Courses on offer were Fashioning Fiction from Fact, taught by yesterday's speaker Syd Moore, Editing Your manuscript, Starting Your Novel, and Self-Publishing Erotica. While Syd Moore's course sounded fascinating, I opted for Self-Publishing Erotica - not for the naughty bits, but to pick up useful tips and hints on self-publishing. I came away with a list of useful links and information.

In the poetry session we covered acrostics, and an exercise called The Garden of Panic (about halfway down the linked page). We also looked at short forms like haiku and tanka, and the gushi - a Chinese form which is a quatrain rhyming a-b-c-b, with the same syllable count in every line (this can be anything as long as it's consistent) and - here's the hard part - can only contain single syllable words. I haven't tried this yet.

Duing the hour before lunch I went looking for an amusing sign I'd heard was somewhere in the main house. It seemed appropriate.
During the tea break there was a Twitter meet up, in theory for those already tweeting. in practice we spent the time explaining how Twitter works to the uninitiated, before dispatching them to the Twitter 101 workshop session for some hands-on exploration of the site. The other workshops on offer were Writing for Short Story Competitions, NaNoWriMo, and Grave Inspirations (an exploration of facts and customs about death and funerals). It was a choice between competitions and Grave Inspiration for me, and I took the latter. It was very interesting, but I couldn't help feelling the competitions workshop would have been more useful, if less fun.

The evening speaker was Michael O'Byrne, to speak about criminal investigation and policing. I'm not really into crime fiction, so I gave it a miss. I'd have had (yet another) early night, except that  the Poetry Open Mic was on at 10pm. I puttered around for a bit in my room and the bar, before heading off to listen to other people's offerings - I forgot to bring any poems of my own. The star of the show had to be Anuradha Gupta, who read from memory from her book. She said she'd never read her poetry to an audience before, but had got some tips from friends, and I have to say she's a natural. The following morning the last of her books sold in the book room before I could even get there! Another one to add to my Amazon wish list.

After the poetry reading was the retro disco, but by that point I was tired from two days of paying attention, and went to bed instead where I lounged with a hot chocolate and a book.
clhollandwriter: (poppy)
This was a recurring problem over Swanwick week, but I really struggled to get out of bed on day two - the first full day of classes. Unfortunately you need to be at breakfast for 8.30am if you want to get a decent seat, so a lie in was a no-no.

The choice of Short Courses on Sunday was between Screenwriting (taught by yesterday's speaker James Moran), Stories for Women's Magazines, Business Skills, and Writing Autobiography. I opted for the Women's Magazine course, where we studied the kind of stories accepted, and requirements of, magazines like Woman's Weekly. I have to admit to buying a couple of issues of the fiction special earlier in the year for research, and now I'm hooked. This might have something with not being able to take a Kindle in the bath.

After the first session is a coffee break, and I made a quick visit to the Book Room and picked up a couple of books: some poems by Alison Chisholm, and Public Speaking for Writers by Alison and Malcolm Chisholm. I also replaced last year's Swanwick pen. There were several other books I was interested in, including Anuraha Gupta's beautiful poetry collection New Moon Rising, and Elizabeth Hopkinson's historical novel Silver Hands. Having a limited amount of both cash and space in my luggage, I added the novel to my Amazon wish list for my Kindle, and decided to think about Anuradha's book. Being art as well as poetry, it's not the sort of thing an electronic version would do justice to.

The Specialist Courses, which run all week, were on Poetry, Writing Young Fiction, Literary Fiction, and Making Money for Magazines. I was going to take the latter, but decided in the end it would be to dry to sustain my interest for an entire week and took the safe option doing poetry as the other two would take me well out of my comfort zone. It was taught by Debjani Chatterjee, and we discussed using the senses and memory to make poems real. We drafted poems about breakfast (a lot of people wrote about the porridge), and I also drafted a poem about a rocking horse, so it was time well spent.

After lunch we had the second part of the short course sessions, which I skipped because we'd be looking at The People's Friend, which is not a market I intend to submit to. Then it was time for a tea break and I popped back to the Book Room, to see if any new books had arrived with the latecomers. Debjani had brought books with her when she arrived, and I picked up a gorgeous hand-crafted Indian edition of her book I Was That Woman. I also noticed that Linda Lewis' Writer's Treasury of Ideas was there, so picked up a copy as it's been on my Amazon wish list since last year's school.

The hour-long workshop choices were Comedy Writing, Folk Tales, Promoting Your Work, and Begin Family History. I picked Promotion, and it turned into a lively discussion: the tutor favoured traditional methods over social media and blogging, and asked those of us who are online for our input. I'm not sure she was convinced by the end to join us!

The evening speaker was ghost story writer Syd Moore, who shared the background of her novels The Drowning Pool and Witch Hunt. I'm a sucker for history and all things paranormal so it was fascinating. After the talk I had to resist buying one of her books to get it signed. I'd spent all my book money, so they went on the wish list too. Once again I went to bed early, and left others to sing the hours away at the Buskers' Night.
clhollandwriter: (poppy)
It's become something of a tradition that I blog about Swanwick the week after I get back. Not only does it extend the Swanwick vibe by a week, but it also means I can enjoy my week without worrying about getting a blog post up every day - and that means I don't have to take my laptop.

As usual I arrived by train, and was surprised by how few people were waiting at Derby railway station. Normally we'd take over the frontage of two separate coffee shops (well we are writers), but this time we were all crammed around three tables. I found out afterwards that a lot less people booked to travel on the two coaches this year, but there had been a lot of arranging of lift shares on the Facebook group over the last few weeks, which probably had an impact. It's the first year we've had the facility to do it.

The conference centre was strangely quiet when we got there, with a lot of people in their rooms unpacking and more still to arrive. I went to my room - the same as last year, and it's a good job I didn't request that because I'd misremembered the number - and unpacked while dancing around to Absolute 80s on the radio. Then I went to sit on the lawn and wait for friends to arrive.

The evening speaker was James Moran, who's written for Spooks and Doctor Who, and also wrote the films Severance and Cockneys Vs Zombies. He told us about being inspired by a second-hand script book for Time Bandits, just how much rewriting goes into a screenplay, and also left us with the excellent quote "Every villain thinks they're the hero of their own story". He wrote the screenplay for Severance (which is very funny, by the way) while also working a full time job, and believes that if you really want to be a writer you'll make time for it.

After the speaker there was the opportunity to go to the "What are you writing now?" and "Alternative Fairy Tale"  icebreakers, but knowing how tiring the rest of the week can be, I opted for an early night instead.

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