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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.

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Today is the last day. As always the morning is busy, with the final part of the specialist courses and the last short courses. These were incredibly sensible today, with instruction on Scrivener, grammar, worldbuilding, and Succeeding on Purpose.

I took the latter, which was about setting goals and retraining the brain to look for opportunities instead of saying "I can't". The second half had about a third more people than the first, so word had obviously got around about how funny and engaging the first half was.

Instead of a one-hour course, Thursday always sees the AGM and appointment of next year's committee. The officers were standing unopposed, but there was a vote for the remaining committee positions. The following block on the timetable is labelled Time for You but might as well say Pack Now. After this short break, during which I pack and have a cup of tea, there's the Dregs Party where people unload the last of drinks and snacks they don't want to take home. This is officially held on the lawn but as I type looks in danger of being moved indoors.

Dinner is a three-course affair this evening, to celebrate the seventieth year, and after that is the farewell which includes drawing the raffle and possibly the committee humiliating themselves in the name of entertainment. They never reveal the entertainment in advance but i'm sure some old favorites will make an appearance.

The last night disco is back this year, although my disco buddy isn't here so I'll skip it. Although the programme officially ends around eleven, the bar shuts at twelve and no doubt there will be some who keep the Swanwick spirit going until the early hours.
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I'm posting this a day late as I didn't get a chance yesterday - a Swanwick friend was visiting for one day only so I took the opportunity to spend time with her instead.

Tuesday's speaker Simon nelson was excellent. He went over five-act structure, and how turning points happen at the mid-point of the story. We also looked at the beginnings of TV shows Happy Valley and The 4 O'clock Club to illustrate pacy, grabby openings. I took more notes than for any other evening speaker, more than for some courses!

Wednesday saw the return of the regular run of courses, with our crime investigation turning from preservation of the scene and forensics, to the actual investigation. We took a closer look at the crime scene in the corner, and ran a mock press conference.

The short courses included a look at "wild words", song writing, and editing, and I took the final parts of the Writing as a Business course, which was unusually running as two short courses instead of as a specialist course. We looked at project and time management, something I desperately need to do better at.

In the usual one hour course slot we had a birthday celebration for the school, with a "school photo" (the first since 1956) and birthday cake. 

The evening speaker was Sophie Snell, storyteller, singer, and folkorist. She also has a psychological thriller out in November, based on fairy tales. Something else to add to my wishlist!

I stayed up late in the bar for the first time this week, chatting to my friend. Thursday is the final day, featuring the last of the four part courses, and a mystery instead of a speaker since they never reveal what's going into the farewell.
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I skipped the speakers last night in favour of an early night, although those who went say it was excellent. Tuesday is generally a lighter day, although there was a change to the usual format this year as most of the one hour sessions have been moved to Tuesday slots to allow for celebratory events (Swanwick at 70 and a birthday party) during the 4pm slots on Monday and Wednesday.

First up this morning were Acting for Writers, Dear Della (a session with writing agony aunt Della Galton), Niche Publishing, Writing for the Under Eights, and the course I took, Promoting Your Work with resident crime writer Val Penny. While I knew about Twitter and Facebook pages, I came away with a list of Facebook groups to check out, and a list of dos and don'ts which included DO write more, and DO be proud of your work, two things I always struggle with.

The second session offered courses on Erotica, Mind Mapping, being a Writer in Residence, Reviewing, and an excellent course on New Fairy Tales. Tutor Elizabeth Hopkinson is an enthusiast and I left not only with websites and Facebook groups to check out, but also a huge list of books to add to my wishlist.

I went for a nap at this point as I was feeling unwell, but emerged for the tea dance (although to watch, not participate).

This evening's speaker is Simon Nelson of the BBC's Writersroom, to speak about TV drama. I may go if I feel up to it.
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Yesterday's speaker AA Dhand was one of the best speakers I've seen at Swanwick, and told us of his journey from childhood cornershop to published author with a TV series in the works - via over a million words of failed drafts. It's always a mark of a successful speaker when you can hear their words repeated around the school the following day, and today was full of people telling each other to "change the narrative" or "fail early, fail often, fail forward".

First this morning was part two of the specialist courses. For those of us on the Making Crime Pay course this meant a not particularly after-breakfast-safe discussion of post mortems, and why you should never ask a pathologist how to kill someone and get away with it. 

Today's short courses were The Business of Writing, Creating Characters, Writing for Children, and Self Publishing. I did the business course, since it seemed like a useful thing to take (which it was). Unusually, this is actually a four-part course over two days instead of two hours over a single day. Parts three and four deal with setting up as a freelancer so I'm not sure whether or not I'll take those since I need to keep the day job.

This afternoon was Swanwick at 70, a celebration of how the school has changed over the years. The first ever programme, which includes a reminder to bring ration cards, can be seen on the website. It's changed immensely just over the eight years I've been attending, and some of the older delegates can be heard chatting about the long-gone swimming pool and Garden House, or the days when delegates shared rooms with each other - sometimes complete strangers.

This evening has a panel instead of a speaker, of Writing Magazine editor Jonathan Telfer, and prolific short story and novel writer Della Galton, hosted by frequent visitor and tutor Simon Hall. I may give this one a miss as I'm already flagging from classes and so much socialising, as well as waking up at 6am without the aid of either an alarm or my cats.
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It's that time of year again, and I'm back at Swanwick Writers' Summer School for its seventieth year. It's the longest running writing school in the UK. Getting here was surprisingly stress-free considering it involved a rail-replacement bus service, but still tiring.

Given the travel and full-on socialising that started while we waited at Derby station for our coach (which was late), I got to the end of dinner feeling tired and cranky. The evening speaker was Sue Moorcock, but I decided to spend the evening on a phone call home, and streaming Netflix in my pyjamas. Possibly the most important thing Swanwick's taught me over the years is the importance of self-care - which includes time to myself. Getting overtired can ruin my enjoyment of the rest of the week.

Today saw the start of specialist courses on poetry, crime writing, novel writing, short stories, and memoir. I opted for crime writing (even though I don't write crime), the first two sessions of which are looking at forensics and scene preservation. There's a mock crime scene in the corner, which I haven't had a chance to look at properly yet, so I hope to take some pictures tomorrow.

The short courses on offer today were a mini-film making course, sitcom, more poetry, and writing for competitions. I went to Secrets of Sitcom - something else I don't write. Well, I am here to learn! We went into the building blocks of what makes a sitcom, and in groups discussed our own concepts. It hasn't made me want to start writing sitcoms, but it did occur to me that if you take out the comedy you're basically left with a soap. I also thought about how well the format would - or wouldn't - translate into prose.

The hour long courses today were readings of the prize-winning competition stories, or preparation for the Page to Stage (drama) and Swanwick Standard (journalism) projects that run later in the week. I took the opportunity to have some me-time, something I try to build into every day as otherwise it gets a bit full on.

Tonight's speaker is Amit Dhand, who writes novels while working full time as a pharmacist. I'm looking forward to seeing how he gets it all done,

March 2019

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