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)
I usually post about Day 7, but there's not much to say beyond the usual: we had breakfast early, left on the coach, it was sad. The train journey home was mercifully uneventful which is more than can be said for some of the others travelling home.

So I thought this year I'd post about the things I didn't do, either because they're not my cup of tea or because there simply isn't enough time or caffeine to get through everything.

For the early birds, the day starts with Lift Up Your Pens, Lift Up Your Hearts, or a meditation session by the lake. The first is a session involving some sort of guided writing (prompts etc), or writing development. I tried this once in my first year and discovered that writing that early is not for me. I hated it, although I know others love it. Lift Up Your Hearts is a short session of non-denominational refection. Since it's run by a different person each session it can be anything from music and poetry readings to traditional hymns. I've never been - see above re early mornings. Meditation by the lake is exactly how it sounds, and although I'd be tempted to go it would mean bring a small amount of extra kit with me (comfy trousers and something to sit on) and since I travel by train I pack as lightly as possible.

On the days with a full set of courses there are sessions called Unwind your Mind, which take place after all the courses have finished. These are sessions with the aim of winding down after a long and busy day. Since these take place right after the workshop sessions I tend to forget they're on since the workshop sessions are usually when I have quiet time. I do wonder if I'd get through more of the sessions if I did this instead!

Page to Stage is the week's theatrical productions. Five minute scripts are submitted and chosen throughout the year, and on Tuesday the various writers, directors, and actors get together to rehearse ready for the performances on Wednesday evening.

There are also various activities going on during the evenings. It's impossible to go to them all, not least because some of them happen at the same time. Ones I missed this year include the traditional icebreakers (after a four hour train journey I'm ready for bed straight after the speaker), two quizzes, two discos, and the buskers night. Other years have included dancing, karaoke, and old-style singalongs. Of course people also set up their own impromptu sessions, as there's a games room and a giant outdoor chess set, as well as lots of outdoor space for yoga and/or just lounging around.

There's no way to do it all, and this year wasn't the first I've wished for a time-turner so I could do more. Maybe I'll figure it out in time for next year.
clhollandwriter: (Matter)
To me, Thursday feels subdued even at breakfast. It's the last day, and as courses finish up time to leave gets closer.

We started with the final session of the specialist courses. In Novel Writing, Simon Hall went over the importance of using all the senses, and also touched a little on subplots - something raised by Erin Kelly in the Psychological Thrillers course the day before.

The short course I chose was Plotting for Historical Fiction, with Michael Jecks. I didn't realise he writes historical crime fiction - I seemed to have accidentally ended up with a very crimey week. Although he was a good speaker, the course was marred by a rude audience member who felt the need to argue with him. Since I was already feeling short-tempered I decided not to ruin my mood - and the rest of the day - by going back to the second half. Instead I retired to my room to finish my Alex Gray novel and a bag of caramels. Time well spent, so I didn't feel I'd missed out.

There were no more courses, so I surfaced for afternoon tea and the AGM. It was a short affair this year, since the committee was standing unopposed and only one person was standing for the position that was becoming vacant. There were a few other bits and pieces to deal with, including setting up Friends of Swanwick which is an initiative to try and support the school the rest of the year, as well as support the Topwrite scheme and start a hardship fund. It's very much in its infancy, so there will be more information to come on how it will all work.

Everything has a deflated feel after the AGM, which is perhaps why it's traditional to party after. There's a short break before the Dregs Party, which is usually held on the lawn but was indoors this year due to the weather. A lot of delegates "dress for dinner" in suits and dresses, but since I had limited luggage space I was in my usual jeans and t-shirt.

After dinner we had a pantomime instead of a speaker - a performance of the "first draft" of Romeo and Juliet which was very funny and had the audience divided into Montagues and Capulets. Finally there was the last night disco, and as usual I stayed up later than I meant and went to bed knackered and sad it was all over.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Wednesday is always a bit odd after the gear-shift of Tuesday. It's back on the courses, but it's also the last full day in terms of workshops and speakers.

In the third part of the Novel Writing course we went over the importance of knowing your theme, and of pinning down your period and setting. Tutor Simon Hall had already discussed the importance of hooks in the session on opening lines, but reiterated the importance of suspense throughout a novel in order to keep the reader's interest. He also pointed out the importance of imagination and of taking time for yourself, something I think most of us are guilty of not doing.

For the short course I picked Psychological Thrillers, taught by Erin Kelly, which occupy a unique niche between crime fiction, women's fiction, and literary fiction. I've read a couple of psychological thrillers and enjoyed them, but didn't realise that it's a genre largely written by women about women - although there's a notable exception in that the author of As I Go To Sleep is male.

Psychological thrillers have links to Gothic fiction, which particularly caught my interest. Setting is hugely important in both, and often the novel takes place in enclosed settings. Both are also "women in peril" stories. As Simon Hall did, Erin raised the importance of hooks - raising questions at the start that are eventually answered, and asking other questions as you go.

The evening speaker was Simon Brett, TV and radio producer and author of comedy crime novels. I'd been told he was excellent and he didn't disappoint. The evening entertainment was the Stage to Page performances, but I was tired so headed to my room to sit in bed with a book and a cuppa.
clhollandwriter: (block)
Tuesday is always the quiet day at Swanwick - no classes, although there are panels and an evening speaker. For once I took the whole day off. Other than a chat with a couple of people about poetry, and socialising, I didn't do much.

On offer to those feeling less lazy was an Interview with an Agent - although this had to be cancelled because the agent, Meg Davies, broke her wrist. In true Swanwick style they found a last minute replacement, although I doubt it was as strange as the year Katie Fforde got stuck in traffic and was replaced with a variety show.

There was also a Publishing Panel, for Q&A with a handful of small publishers, self-publishers, and hybrid authors. For the theatrically inclined we had the new tradition of the Page to Stage rehearsals, and for the masochists there was the Procrastination Free Day in which they were locked in a room with a notebook or laptop and made to write all day. It's amazing how stickers can motivate people.

I skipped the evening speaker as it seemed to be heavily marketing-skewed and very much not for me. After that was a quiz and the buskers evening, but I somehow managed to get to bed having not done anything on the programme - a true day off, for once!
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
On Monday I felt even worse about getting up than I had on Sunday, but I dragged myself to breakfast and the second part of the Novel Writing specialist course. In it Simon Hall discussed characterisation, and how you can say so much with a character's appearance and mannerisms before you even start to look beneath the surface. Then we did look beneath, at drivers and backstory, and the importance of "gritting the wheels" to give characters something to struggle against.

I skipped the first part of the short course and sat down to do some writing. It was at this point I discovered my keyboard wasn't working. Since I only got the thing three days before I was not impressed and spent the next couple of hours in a mood. However a friend turned out to have the exact same one as me (even down to the colour) and offered to lend it to me since she was doing her writing the old-fashioned way. She is at the top of my Christmas card list!

Since I planned to go to a workshop session in the afternoon, I moved my quiet time to the second part of the short course and spent a little while in bed eating cake and reading the book I bought on Saturday. Then I went to the hour-long workshop on fantasy where we discussed tropes and cliches and how to avoid them.

As I was feeling a bit grungy I skipped the evening speaker Della Galton, even though I know she's really good. After that it was the poetry open mic, which was interesting as always. It overran and no one seemed to mind although a few people slipped off for the fancy dress disco. Once again I got to bed very late.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
On Sunday I was awake early and not happy about it. There is no good reason to be awake at quarter to six in the morning, especially at the weekend.

The courses kicked off with the first part of the four-part specialist courses. The choices this year were Novel Writing, Scriptwriting, Writing for Children, Poetry, and Succeeding on Purpose. I did a lot of motivational courses last year, so decided to focus on writing this year. It was a choice between the novel and poetry courses, and I went for the novel as I'd done a lot of poetry courses in recent years.

The tutor was Simon Hall, author of the TV Detective novels who also works for the BBC. He started with the importance of voice, and then of an opening line that grabs. Ideally these two are linked and the opening line will also give an idea of the attitude and character as well as what the book's about.

For the short course I picked CSI: Investigative Techniques for Writers, a course about crime scene investigation by Kate Bendelow, a writer who's also a SOCO. It was a fascinating course, and she clearly loves her job. I don't write crime fiction, but was aiming to take a course to learn and this didn't disappoint.

As I did last year, I skipped the workshop session to catch up on sleep. It's very hard-going if you try to do everything.

The evening speaker was Mario Reading, author of historical fiction and metaphysical non-fiction. I'd been interested to see him since I have an interest in all things metaphysical, and afterwards picked up a book of his translations and interpretation of some of Nostradamus' prophecies. He discussed why he feels agents are a must, the disadvantages of being a bestseller, and why it's sometimes better to accept a smaller advance rather than fail to earn out a larger one.

After the speaker I gathered with some friends and we spent the rest of the evening playing Exploding Kittens.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
The plan this year was to blog as I went along, instead of doing it all the week after I got back. However it turns out there isn't that much time to blog unless you specifically stay up late/get up early. Especially if your brand new tablet keyboard doesn't work.

As usual Day 1 is arrival day. Everyone turns up in dribs and drabs. There didn't seem to be as many people at our usual meeting place this year, the coffee shop seemed rather empty, but that turned out to be because everyone else was already on the coach,

There were some trivial but welcome additions this year - mugs in the rooms rather than cups, and a bank of coffee machines that dispensed a variety or coffee and/or chocolate beverages. In a conference full of writers this was particularly popular.

On the Saturday it all really kicks off with an evening speaker. This year it was Scottish crime writer Alex Gray. She spoke so engagingly about her works and journey to becoming a novelist (and I think she may have a bit of an author crush on her character Solly Brightman) that I rushed off to buy the first in her series and get it signed. She told us how she was rejected by a publisher because although they liked the book they "already had too many Scottish writers" - which I think says a lot about what's wrong with the publishing industry these days. She also told an anecdote about the importance of querying. The publisher who ended up taking on her first novel originally lost it, and she only found out by querying.

Afterwards was the traditional icebreaker social events, but after a day of travel I was tired and had an early night.

March 2019

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