clhollandwriter: (Marvin)
What is there to say about day seven? I got up too early, packed the last of my things in a hurry, and was just in time for breakfast. On the Friday it's not the leisurely affair it is the rest of the week - those of us on the coach have to finish in time to get ourselves and our luggage on board. There isn't quite enough time to eat and say goodbye to everyone.

It seems like, once we get to the station, everyone becomes strangers again. We all end up on different platforms. Those lucky enough to have a cafe and a wait sit and chat, but I ended up perched on the platform trying to decide if I'd rather be too hot with my jumper on or too cold without it.

On the train I discovered my mp3 player, loaded with several hours of music, had decided not to hold its charge over the week. I was too tired to read and ended up dozing, since if I missed my station I could easily get a train from where this one terminated. I slept through the arrival of the trolley with coffee, which didn't improve my mood.

On the second train I made the effort to stay awake, since if I missed my stop I could end up somewhere very awkward to get back from. I read some of David Crystal's By Hook or By Crook, which I'd meant to start at Derby but couldn't keep my eyes open for, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

At home there was unpacking and laundry to do. Although there's a weekend between the end of Swanwick and returning to work for most of us, it's not enough. I wasn't the only one posting on Facebook about 11+ hours of sleep on Friday night!

Now the trick is to keep the momentum going, through the commitment of day job, family,
housework, and the need to eat food that doesn't come out of a microwave. I heard the same advice three times at Swanwick so it must be true: persistence is key; write for yourself; trust your instincts. Let's hope that's enough to keep me going until next year.
clhollandwriter: (Moogle)
Day six always starts off slightly subdued for me. By then I'm tired, and facing the prospect of going home the following day. A week of no cooking, washing up, or laundry only reminds me very strongly how much I dislike them!

The short courses for the day were Simon Hall's crime writing course, children's/YA fiction with Steve Hartley, marketing e-books, or the astro-characterisation course of my train-buddy Judy Hall. I'd decided early on that I was taking the marketing course, although by Thursday breakfast I was starting to lean in favour of crime writing. In the end common sense won out - after all, I don't write crime fiction - and I went to the potentially more useful course.

It turned out to be the only course all week that I regretted taking. We started out by discussing finding a niche, which is all very well and good but sometimes there just isn't a new one worth digging into - or if there is it might not be something you want to write in. I felt it was getting into write for the market and not for yourself territory, which was completely at odds with what I'd been learning on the Ways of Seeing course. It also happens to be at odds with what I believe in. The next thing we learned was that you should offer free stuff on your website to harvest email addresses and send a newsletter even if the topic ("I have a novel out!") is nothing to do with the reason they signed up in the first place. Since I hate spam emails and being advertised at, I decided this was very much not for me and not to bother with the second part of the course.

In the final part of Ways of Seeing, I realised I'd forgotten to do my homework. We discussed blocks to creative, and how to work through them. Fear seemed to be a large part of this, which made me wonder what it is that I'm afraid of that's got me blocked currently. Certainly I'm finding it difficult to sit down and work on anything. Maybe I need to add having another chat with my inspiration and inner critic to my timeline!

Instead of the marketing course, I went to part two of the crime writing course. As expected, it was fantastic. I figured out a short version of what I'd missed in part one (the importance of first impressions, place, and characters with motivations and backstory), and learned about plot and the importance of persistence.

I wandered away despondent, as it was the last course on offer. After a quick tea break it was back to the hall for the AGM, where I failed to win a free place in the raffle. The following slot on the programme is labelled Time For You, and is my traditional time to pack - since I don't want to do it after the disco or early the following morning.

There was no speaker on the final evening, instead we had a version of "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue" which revealed that no one at Swanwick had a clue how to play the kazoo. After that was the traditional last night disco, which kept a number of us up until just after midnight. When the music stopped that was the signal that Swanwick was truly over for another year, with nothing between me and the trip home but not enough sleep and a hurried breakfast.
clhollandwriter: (poppy)
Back on the courses again for day five, and I was starting to feel a bit glum, partly because of tiredness and partly because there were only two days remaining. The real world had encroached a bit with unfortunate news from home, which brought returning all that much closer.

For the short course I considered both the public speaking and Wild Words courses, comedy sketch writing and working with the media being very much not for me. Wild Words seemed designed to complement the Ways of Seeing course, only using an outdoor setting. However it looked like it was going to rain, and I decided to look at a new skill rather than building on what I was already doing in the novel course.

Public speaking was in two parts: the first on the technical side; the second on getting over the fear of doing it in the first place. It took some of the mystery out of it, certainly, but I'm not sure if it will be enough as I get nervous just speaking to my department at work as a group!

Back in Ways of Seeing, we looked at trusting our instincts and listening to hunches. We did another guided visualisation, this time to speak to our inner critic, and as a group seemed to find it easier. A number of people found it looked like a parent, some had monsters, and one even found it looked like himself. At the end, we were given another homework to do, which involved speaking to a character from our work.

The evening speakers were David and Hilary Crystal. They came to my first Swanwick in 2011, where David was a speaker and his enthusiasm was catching. This time they both gave a presentation on their new book, Wordsmiths and Warriors, which is a linguistic tour of the UK. I had a setting idea for a story during the talk, although I'm not sure what to do with it. I also discovered how creepy it is when someone says "Y Y U R" to an audience of around 200 people, who respond in unison "Too wise you are, too wise you be. I see you are too wise for me." I felt like I was witnessing the triggering of a cell of sleeper assassins!

A friend and I were out of the hall fast enough to be first in the queue for a signed book, although as Wordsmiths and Warriors is in hardback I settled for a more portable paperback. Afterwards we went to the Ceilidh, which is Scottish dancing, but a technical hitch pushed the start so late I gave up and went for a more reasonable 11.30pm bedtime!
clhollandwriter: (Moogle)
Day four at Swanwick is traditionally the "day off", although all that really means is that there are no classes. In the morning we had speakers on "Bookselling in the Digital Age" and a fantastic presentation from a member of the Derbyshire Police Forensics Team on how forensics are used to solve cases. After this is the "Page to Stage" workshop, where the plays selected prior to the school are workshopped ready for performance the following day. Alongside all this runs the Procrastination Free Day, during which willing participants are locked in a room to write and only let out for meals and tea breaks.

I went to the speakers, and then spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in a mostly empty bar and reading.

After dinner we had BBC journalist and crime writer Simon Hall, who was one of the best speakers I've seen at Swanwick. He told lots of anecdotes, which are likely to become Swanwick in-jokes as you really had to be there. Afterwards was the poetry open mike, which I'd been considering skipping due to tiredness. In the end I was glad I went since there were some excellent performances, including one from Topwriter (young writers who are given a subsidised place) Rufus Lunn, which showed why he deserved his place on the Topwrite scheme. He certainly gave some of the older and more established poets a run for their money!

After the poetry I ended up in the bar, having neon-pen lightsaber fights and talking until - you guessed it - far too late!
clhollandwriter: (Moogle)
I somehow managed to drag myself to breakfast after the previous late night, although not everyone I was up with managed it. It's on days like that the Swanwick breakfast - cereal, pastries, followed by cooked - is particularly appreciated.

The short courses on offer were writing for The Peoples' Friend, solving plot problems using business skills, e-books, and Manifesting Your Goals (neuro linguistic programming). Since I don't intend to write for the People's Friend and I already know the basics of e-books, it was a choice between the other two - both of which looked useful. In the end I went for the NLP course since it seemed to offer more on the getting-butt-in-chair front. All the advice on plotting in the world won't help if I can't make myself sit down to write!

In the course we discussed how the brain filters what is important to what you're doing at the time - if you're focused on something, that's what it will see. It will delete things that aren't important, which is why you can respond to someone while you're reading or writing and have no idea a moment later what they said. It will also distort things, and give them meaning where there is none. In order to make this work for you, you need to move past your goal (finish a book) to the outcome of your goal (sell a million copies, get a big house and car) - the unconscious needs to know exactly where it's going, because otherwise it chooses the quickest route to gratification (eg Candy Crush!).  This will also allow it to see other methods of getting there, rather than being too fixated on the goal.

We also looked at how to deal with limiting beliefs, and  setting out a timeline for achieving goals. Both of these are something I need to work on, although I suspect I need to set up a timeline for setting up my timeline!

This course had a little bit of a crossover with the Ways of Seeing course, since this was also about harnessing the subconscious and unconscious minds (these are not the same thing). Xanthe told us about the different parts of the brain and how the "fight or flight" instinct shuts down conscious thought. This is why it can be so difficult to think when confronted with something (even something actually non-threatening like public-speaking) that frightens us. The way to reverse this is do do something that requires conscious thought - puzzles, talking, reciting a poem.  Xanthe then led us on a guided visualisation to talk to our inspiration, with varying results. Our homework: have another conversation later, writing with our dominant hand for ourselves and our non-dominant hand for our inspiration. I tried not to read anything into it when twenty minutes later I shut my dominant hand in a door...

Due to the late night, I skipped the workshop again to catch up on sleep. I then followed it up with another late night playing card games. You'd think I'd learn!
clhollandwriter: (Moogle)
I'm having a brief hiatus from my POD posts, because I spent the last week at Swanwick Writers' Summer School. As always I'm a week late blogging about it, as I don't take a laptop with me. I know some who do, but they tend to travel by car which makes it slightly easier. Every year I swear I'll have a netbook by the following year, so I can take it with me, and every year I don't because I don't really need one.

This year, as always, began with a lengthy train journey. In an odd coincidence I ended up sitting next to first-time Swanwicker Judy Hall, who was teaching our Thursday course on Astro-Characterisation (using astrology to create characters). We alternated between chatting, reading, and drinking coffee, before arriving at Derby station and grabbing yet more coffee and hanging out with other early-arrivals while we waited for the coach.

My Swanwick routine begins with locating my room and unpacking my case. I like to think it signals to my brain that I'm settling in for the week. I managed to time it extremely badly this year, as I emerged to find I was supposed to have been at the Chairman's Welcome fifteen minutes previously. Instead I waited in the bar area until it had finished and I could catch up with old friends.

The evening speaker was the historian Christopher Lee, who gave the advice that poetry should be told not recited. This applies to stories as well. There were various events on afterwards, but after a day of travel I was tired and called it a night.

Sunday is the first full day of Swanwick. There was a choice of short courses in writing for competitions, playwriting, novel editing, and creating fantasy worlds. I went to the latter, where there was lively debate on examples of worldbuilding, from J.R.R. Tolkien to G.R.R. Martin, and we were given a handy list of things we might want to consider when creating our own worlds.

I'd chosen to do the novel-writing course Ways of Seeing as my specialist course option, since I'm not into writing scripts or memoirs, and I took the poetry course the last two years. The other option was a short story course run by Della Galton, which was a definite contender for my time. In the end I went for the novel course as it promised a deeper look at what makes writers writers - a similar short course has been run by tutor Xanthe Wells most of the other years I've been, but it's always clashed with something else. This year I decided to take the hint and get on with it.

During the first session we covered the iceberg of publishing/professional skills/practical skills, which is the bit you can see, and the "personal wealth" of creativity, confidence, intuition, and the subconscious, which are the parts of the writer that lie below the waterline. The course overall was about getting those parts to work for you, and not always fighting against them, which is something I need to figure out.

After the second part of the short course (and a much needed tea break) there were workshops, new on the programme for this year. I had meant to go to the one of Scrivener, but I was still tired from travel so I used the gap until dinner to nap instead.

Got talking at dinner and missed the start of the evening speaker, but I'd arranged to play a roleplaying game called Fiasco with some friends after so we ended up setting that up instead. We played until 1am, when the game was resolved with only one of our characters coming out of it well. I went to bed dreading how I was going to feel in the morning after only 6 hours' sleep...
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!
clhollandwriter: (poppy)
There were five short courses to choose from today: An Animated Journey into Fantasy and Horror; Crime Writing; How To Write a "How To" Book; Writing for Soaps; and Finding Your Inner Writer. I was originally going to go to the latter, but decided in the end it sounded too intense for first thing in the morning on the last day, so I went to Curtis Jobling's Animated Journey instead. He used anecdotes to show the importance of networking, putting yourself in the right place at the right time, and keeping lots of different work on the go. He also let us watch Curious Cow again.

The last part of the poetry course covered revenge, guilt, and excuse poems. Which are not poems about these things, but rather embodiments of them. We all had fun writing excuse poems, my excuses being a list of reasons for not leaving Swanwick in the morning.

Instead of a one hour/workshop session, we had the AGM. This is usually a pretty dry and quick affair to vote in the following year's committee, but this year took rather longer as we discussed (some with impassioned speeches) ways to raise funds for the school in future. We also had the auction for Curtis Jobling's signed doodles. All of the cats (Pilchard, Frankenstein's Cat, and Raa Raa) proved popular, and at one point we even had a husband and wife bidding against each other. The one that really set the floor on fire though was werewolf Bob the Builder
The auction winners with their prizes.
On the timetable after the AGM is designated "Time for You", which I use to pack so that I don't have to do it later. I briefly swung into the dregs party before tea, and then an early start for the evening speaker Deborah Moggach, author of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. She was very funny, and an excellent choice to round off the week.

I was tired, but it was the last night which meant the last night disco. I made the effort to stay up and dance the night away, although resisted the temptation to continue the party in the bar with friends. Getting up in the morning is enough of a problem, and Friday is always an early start. It was nearly 1am when I crawled into bed, and that was plenty late enough for me.
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)
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.
clhollandwriter: (moon)
It occurs to me I haven't posted a lot lately, other than my weekly list of links I like. That's not because I haven't been writing, more because I've got out of the habit.

Lately I've been working on my proofreading course (another post on that another time) and - of course - my Tax Return. I'm working on a set of ten poems for the Attys (I think I mentioned it before - they all have to be in a different form) but it's difficult to blog about that without gving a lot away about what I'm doing, which isn't so great for a contest.

I've done the Flash Challenge over at Liberty Hall the last two weeks. Both times I wasn't sure I was going to get anything, but the gears started turning slowly and I got a story both times. I've got a couple of story ideas to work on as well, in different genres, it's just finding the time to fit them in around everything else!

I joined the local creative writing group, as I mentioned, and can't wait for the next session. The poetry and short story satellite groups both run this week, and I'm thinking about trying one of those. I don't think I can commit to both.

And that's where I'm at so far. How about the other writers out there?
clhollandwriter: (Default)
Yesterday evening, after a couple of years of dithering, I finally got my butt to the local writing group.

It was awesome.

The venue was great for a start, an odd little cafe that stayed open just for us. The counter was loaded with old-fashioned jars of sweets - sugar mice, chocolate animals, marzipan fruits. It was like something out of a story in itself. Sixteen people turned up, and seven of us were first-timers. We all crammed around a long table, with pots of tea, in a long narrow room with reclaimed beams in the plaster.

The group's been going for six years, part of the reason may be that they're super organised. There was an agenda to work through, including details of members' submissions and successes, readings, and a creative writing exercise. I got the beginning of a poem done, and intend to finish it.

I can't wait for next month's meeting. And there are satellite groups for novel writing, short stories, and poetry. I might give them a try.

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