clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Day Seven is not really a day, as all we do before we leave is have breakfast and say goodbye. Then it's on the coach for those of us heading to the station. Once we're unloaded there's already a sense of separation, of normal life creeping back in, as everyone scatters to their individual platforms. I miss the days when those of us who had a longer wait for the train would gather in a coffee shop, chat (those of us not horribly hungover from the previous night's disco, anyway), and extend the week those few minutes more.

I had mixed feelings about leaving this year, part sadness it was over for another year and part relief that I got to go home. The last twelve months have been frantic - I've changed job, moved manager three times and team twice, had health problems that are likely to have a long-term impact, plus bought and moved into a house. During all of this I've barely had the time, let alone the energy, to write. While I spent most of the year longing for Swanwick week, when I got there I found I didn't have the ability to deal with homework, large groups of enthusiastic writer folks, or watching everyone eat cheesecake or fish and chips that I couldn't have. As a result I was tired, cranky, and snappish, and I apologise to anyone who found themselves on the receiving end.

The trip home was longer than usual due to the route but after a nap, ten hours sleep, and another nap the following afternoon, I felt a lot more refreshed. And it turns out my week wasn't wasted after all. Despite not writing, and not feeling like writing, I've still got the post-Swanwick motivational kick. I've got ideas for two projects and the desire to do my homework. This weekend, I'll dig out the notes from the Manifesting Your Goals course I took in 2014 and create a timeline. It appears some of that Swanwick magic rubbed off after all.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
As always, I approached Thursday in a state of semi-exhaustion. It doesn't seem to matter how much sleep I get - or don't get - I'm always tired by the end of Swanwick week.

In the final poetry class a handful of people read out their homework, and then we shared our devices for creating original poems. Mine was to cut up several poems you like, put the pieces in a jar, and pick out a few random pieces to use as a springboard. Obviously this is for inspiration and the lines themselves shouldn't appear in the poem.

The short courses on offer were about comedy sketches, family history, finding inspiration from song lyrics, and "How To Eat an Elephant" which was about breaking writing projects down into manageable chunks. I took the latter, since the thought of starting something new on top of everything else I've done this year is a little overwhelming.

Instead of a workshop session, Thursday sees the AGM. It was short but sweet this year, since we had exactly the same number of people running for the committee as there were positions and no two people running for the same one.

On the programme, the spot after the AGM is labelled "time for you" and I always use it for packing as it frees up the rest of the evening. As I headed back into the main building several people were setting up the dregs party - an opportunity to get rid of leftover food and drink delegates don't want to take home - on the lawn. It was a bit damp and chilly for me so I went to the bar.

There's no after dinner speaker in Thursday, instead there's a pantomime. This year it was "The Battle of Writer's Block" featuring BBC journalist Simon Hall as Trevor, a joke writer trying to write a novel and win Success while being plagued by the villain Doubt. There were the songs "500 Words" and last year's "Is This the Way to Summer School?" which were catchy enough to sing along to.

After the pantomime was the traditional farewell, and then it was off to the bar to wait for the disco to start.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Wednesday saw us back on the courses, with poetry tutor Alison Chisholm dividing the room into groups based on poetry forms we'd never tackled before. I ended up in the terza rima group, which is a poem divided into three-line stanzas with an interlocking rhyme scheme. Our task was to discuss what theme might suit the form, and how we could adapt or develop it to make it our own - and then to write one for our homework. Unfortunately by Wednesday I'm usually running more on caffeine and sugar than actual brain power, so this seemed like a mammoth task and I opted to spend my time sleeping and socialising instead.

The short courses on offer were: endings and agents, plotting and strategem; cover design; and even more poetry. I'd decided early that this year was poetry year, but the session turned out to be a workshop and it was a bit late in the week for me to cope with on-the-spot writing (see above). I made a few notes and wrote down the exercises to add to my "do at home" pile with the homework from earlier in the week. In hindsight, I wish I'd taken the first part of Erin Kelly's course (on how to write endings) and the second ("strategem") part of Michael Jecks' course in which, among other things, he discussed ways of tackling writers' block.

The workshops were on writing about an unforgettable episode in your life, and also on hybrid authors. I took myself for a walk around the lake and then went to sit in the vinery for a bit.

The evening speaker was Irish storyteller and one-time Swanwicker Brendan Nolan. He spoke a little about how attending Swanwick - and one of first night speaker John Lamont's courses - changed his life, as it gave him the motivation to write his first book. He also told us stories, one about a traveller and a bar of gold, and another from Irish mythology about Aengus and Caer. I've never seen the hall so quiet!

After the speaker, it was time for the Page to Stage Performances prepared earlier in the week. In previous years this has run concurrently with other entertainments, however from last year it was changed to be the sole offering, so no one taking part felt like they were missing out.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Traditionally Tuesday is the "day off", but this only means that there are no classes. Most don't rest however, as the morning is usually taken up with a speaker and a panel on a particular area of writing, and the afternoon with rehearsals for those taking part in Page to Stage. Alongside both runs the Procrastination Free Day, one session for those with laptops and one for those without, during which people are shut in a room to write to their own goals - only being let out when it's time for food. It feels all too much like a workshop to me, despite the shiny stickers being offered as bribes, so I steer clear. Maybe I'll give it a try when I have a project that coincides with the school.

This year's theme for the morning was crime, and was hosted by retired policeman (and then Swanwick Chairman) Michael O'Byrne, forensics expert Kate Bendelow, and journalist and crime writer Simon Hall. Each gave a short talk on a different aspect of crime fiction, including common mistakes made by writers, and why you needn't bother dusting a steering wheel for fingerprints. Michael gave a visual demonstration with replica weapons as to why you should think hard before having your killer shoot a rifle from a moving vehicle, and also why it's important to know where your shell casings are. The second session was a Q&A where the three were joint by Ian Martin, also a retired policeman, to answer any questions the audience could throw at them.

As I wasn't taking part in Page to Stage, I spent playing card games with a friend and relaxing.  I also went on the mini-excursion to the other side of the site to see the beginning of the escape tunnel.

If you read this blog in 2013 you might remember me posting these pictures:


The Hayes was once used as a prisoner of war camp, and there is a case of memorabilia in the bar area, including photographs of how the site looked then, and also the spoons used at the time - some of which were used to dig the tunnel. This year there was a short talk about the history, and then a trip to look at the tunnel itself. The camera on my phone doesn't really do justice to how steeply the tunnel descends, or how tight a squeeze it is.
 

It was back on the usual programme at 8:20pm, where the speaker was Michael Jecks, author of over 30 historical crime novels and also a tutor for the following day. There was also a general knowledge quiz, and the buskers night.Save
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Day Three saw us discussing the mathematics of poetry in part two of the poetry specialist course - how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide to improve a poem. Our homework was to do just that, or do write a poem about one thing in the jargon of another.

The short courses were on song writing, non fiction, fantasy fiction, and "the trickier side of fiction" - viewpoint, flashbacks, and dialogue, among other things. I took the latter, and while I didn't learn anything new from the course it was a useful refresher. In fact, the course was so popular we realised partway through the second session that some latecomers had crept in and sat on the floor!

The workshops were an ideas generator session and one on flash fiction. Personally I don't get on very well with workshops - something about being told to sit and write for an hour rubs me up the wrong way, so once again I gave these a miss and spent some time relaxing instead.

The evening speaker was Kathryn Aalto, leader of the creative non-fiction specialist course, who was followed by the first of the week's discos and a retrospective of the first 25 years of Swanwick - the latter of which inspired a mini-excursion the following day.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Day Two sees the start of the specialist courses that run all week. This year's subjects were creative non-fiction, journalism, short stories, character psychology, and poetry. I toyed with the idea of creative non-fiction, but opted for poetry as I've been doing more of that lately while creative non-fiction is completely new to me.

In the session we discussed ways of working on poems that aren't working (edit them shorter, and then longer again), and the tutor Alison Chisholm requested that for the last session we think of ways to come up with original poems. She also gave us homework - poems from the past, and five ways to look at them to start something new.

The short courses on offer were self publishing, a grammar refresher, picture books, and connecting with an audience. I took the latter, even though I was in two minds about signing up for the poetry open mic that evening. Tutor Joy France was a little frazzled, having arrived from a festival minutes before, but was an engaging and lively tutor. She discussed audience reaction, memorising works, and how you won't always know something works for performance until you try it. It made my mind up about the open mic, but when I went to sign up all the slots were taken. Maybe next year.

The workshops were on flash fiction or a briefing for Page to Stage, a theatrical event that takes place later in the week. Since I was planning on taking a specialist and short course every day I'd planned to take the workshop time to rest and/or nap since it's a busy week.

The evening speaker was James Runcie, author of the Grantchester Mysteries. He told anecdotes from his varied career, and gave writing advice, including: "Don't be cautious: write what you want." I should really listen to that.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Last year I blogged the week as I went along; this year I'm back to posting the week after. I just couldn't find the spoons to fit it in during the week this year.

Day One is really only half a day, since the earliest we can arrive is 3:30pm. For most of us it feels full, since we've either been travelling or have been on site early to set up. This year the travelling took up more time than usual - for me because the route I'd been booked on was longer and with more changes, presumably to avoid the trouble spots where there are strikes and cancelled services. Others had to travel through the trouble spots, and a lot of travel updates were passed back and forth on Facebook.

For those of us who arrive in time, Swanwick starts with a cup of tea and meeting up with old friends. I usually take this time to unwind and unpack. Then it's off to the chairman's welcome, to find out such important housekeeping elements as the code to get in the accommodation block.

The evening speaker for Saturday was Swanwick regular John Lamont. He taught last year's specialist course on "Succeeding on Purpose", which I regret missing (and have asked on my feedback form to be run again!). John spoke about the adaptability of the human brain, and about visualisation and retraining the subconscious - both of which are important in learning good writing habits, or unlearning bad ones.

After the speaker the traditional Saturday evening entertainments are "What Are You Writing Now?" and an alternative fairy tales icebreaker. I spent a short time in the bar catching up with friends, and had an early night to sleep off the travel.

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