Saturday, 13 August 2016

Swanwick 2016 - the friendly writer's conference

So, I'm back from Swanwick Summer School with a notebook full and ideas. As a 'white badger' (first timer or newbie) we got the special treatment. A reception in the main lounge was laid on during late afternoon on the day we arrived. It was a chance to get to know other newbies. Straight away we had something in common as well as writing in common. That evening at dinner we also had our own tables with a Swanwick Ambassador to answer any questions we might have. After that meal we mingled at mealtimes with those who were back for a second or fourteenth time!

Before I get on to the courses I attended, I just like to say that if you have ever thought about going be prepared to:

be amazed
have fun
learn lots
pace yourself
be locked into great conversations with friendly and helpful people
make new friends
take a large notebook
be exhausted
encounter slide splitting laughter during evening entertainment (speakers, Page to Stage and Panto)
dance (if you want to (disco's))
dress up or dress down
admire the beauty of the surroundings
enjoy everything Swanwick has to offer within reason - watch for burnout!

I have to say that at Swanwick I met the friendliest group of people ever encountered at a writer's conference. Everyone is happy to chat. Everyone mucks in. You feel part of it whether you are a published writer or still trying to find you feet. New friends are made and there is lots and lots of laughter. I met up with some 'twitter' people I follow and made new friends. From the opening night speaker to the Panto on the last evening it was wonderful. Such a variety of the courses and options to daily immerse oneself into.

I chose Writing Original Poetry with Alison Chisholm as my special course. This ran for an hour over four mornings. There was homework, a chance to share your work and one group activity. I came away with new ideas for finding new ways into poetry. There was a choice of one-off daily short course and afternoon workshops. The courses I chose were Self Publishing (with the excellent Helen Barbour)  and Hybrid Publishing (Chris Browne) (I wanted to see what the difference was), Flash Fiction (Veronica Bright),The Trickier Side of Fiction,(Sue Moorcroft), Ending and Agents (Erin Kelly) and a course entitled How to Eat an Elephant (Bridget Holding), which dealt with splitting the writing process into chunks as well as offering some writing exercises on how to get rid of negative thoughts and look at the positive feeling of writing.

There were other courses I had considered but one has to make a choice in the end. I heard from others how excellent the other choices were and maybe some of them will be repeated another year.

Tuesday was described as a free day. However, there was always something to do. You could have attended the Procrastination Free Day - a chance to get writing or go along to the Crime Special, which is what I did. I have to sat this was my favourite day. If I never write a crime thriller this day will never be considered a waste. It was informative and fun. In the first session Michael O'Byrne (retired chief constable and writer of Police Practice and Procedure (which I have!)), Simon Hall (BBC crime reporter and writer of the TV Detective Series) and Kate Bendelow (forensics expert with Greater Manchester Police) informed us about fingerprinting, guns (there were replica guns and we were told to go into a shop that sells them and ask to feel the weight!) and much else. In the second session they were joined by Ian Martin (retired detective sergeant) for a Q&A panel. The questions came thick and fast.

Evenings always began with a speaker after the meal and then there were other things going on - a fancy dress disco, a writer's quiz night, Page to Stage (mini sketches written by delegates - drama and comedy), general knowledge quiz, open mic night, buskers night and on the last night the panto, farewell and disco.

If you could drag yourself from your bed in the mornings there were chances to some meditating or a quick writing session and there were 'unwind your mind' sessions in the late afternoons. The grounds offered secluded places to sit and contemplate, write or read, pathways to walk, a chapel and garden with labyrinth, where I spent half an hour or so unwinding and even threw a badly written poem together!

There was a whole afternoon I had free on Tuesday and I took myself off for a walk, firstly into Swanwick village and then explored a public footpath close to the Conference Centre entrance which took me to Butterly Railway (Preserved line) across beautiful fields.

If you did everything you would be shattered very quickly. As a first timer I felt overwhelmed at first and I dropped one session I'd intended to do so I could have some time out. Some people came to write in solitude. Basically, you do what you want and if nothing is what you want then no one is going to tell you off. You don't have to chose what to do until the morning and if what you chose wasn't quite what you expected or it didn't work for you you didn't have to go back. I met people who did one session of one short course and switched to another for the second session because they didn't want to miss out! That's the beauty of Swanwick. It's there for you. You do as much or as little as you want.

By the way, the rooms are nice, everything is included in the price, full board as well as biscuits at morning break and cake at afternoon break. There are even machines that produce hot chocolate and latte etc. You won't go hungry and you won't ever get bored!
The view from my window

My bedroom, a place to write (tea & coffee making facilities included)

I nearly forgot the Book Room. Open twice a day there was a nice selection of books written by delegates and course leaders for you to buy as well as an information room with lots of freebies. Thankfully, I left room in my luggage for books!

I procrastinated over whether to read at the open mic night and was egged on by others to have a go. So, nervously I put my name down and wore a long skirt so no one could see my legs shake as I stood up to read! I'm proud I did it because I know I'd have regretted not having a go otherwise. I even entered the flash fiction competition (100 words) and was shortlisted! That took me by surprise and gave me encouragement in my future writing.

So, have I convinced you? Go and have a look at the programme on the website if you want to know more.
Busker's Night in the Main Lounge (packed to the door)

Page to Stage comedy sketch

On my walk

Butterly Railway

Sometimes a writer just has to chill!
The grounds

Panto night - the chorus and musicians
The Lake
Simon Hall - Panto -  'The Battle of Writer's Block'

Some freebies

The Vinery - a favourite quiet space of mine


  1. Good to read your blog and see your photos. Lovely to reconnect through blogspot. X