10 Highlights of Swanwick 2017

Goodness! Swanwick seems like such a long time ago now. It’s crazy how just six weeks ago today, I was sat in the foyer at The Hayes putting together welcome packs for all the delegates.

If, like me, you’re already excited for the 2018 school, here’s another story from fellow Swanwicker Elizabeth Hopkinson to help fill the darkening days of Autumn:

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School really is the week that keeps on giving.

I first attended twelve  years ago and every year something has happened there to change my writing life. 2017 has been the best year of all, with so many good things to take away and follow up at home. My writing year is already different because of Swanwick.

Here are 10 highlights:

1. Winning 2nd Prize in the Short Story Contest. Not only did I take home a fabulous (if heavy) framed certificate, but also a free critique from Writing Magazine. And during the week, I was able to chat to Jonathan Telfer of Writing Magazine about the best way to use it.

Congratulations to Elizabeth, who won second prize in the Swanwick Short Story Competition for 2017.

2. Running my own contest via the Swanwick Facebook group, to name the children’s’ novel that provided our cat Sootica’s name. (Sootica the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams). The prize was a proof copy of my short story collection, Tales from the Hidden Grove, for which I now have an extra reviewer!

3. My 1-1 with John Lamont. Thanks to his advice, I have already begun to visualise the future I want. (Although I did get some funny looks photographing myself in Waterstones for the new Pinterest board!)

4. An invitation to join Yorkshire Writers’ Lunch in Huddersfield.

5. The tag line to my trilogy-in- progress brilliantly nailed by another Swanwicker over dinner: “The Magic Flute meets Farinelli Il Castrato”.

6. Getting a wheelchair-using beta reader for my trilogy. He read the first book in just a couple of days!

7. The opportunity to be part of Chasing Unicorns, a charity anthology in memory of former Swanwick chairman, Katy Clarke.

8. Procrastination-Free Day. I didn’t have the stamina to go past 2:30, but I got so many plot problems fixed. And I got stickers!

9. Learning how to be a journalist with Simon, on the Swanwick Standard. I wrote a piece for my local paper as soon as I got home.

10. Being able to revisit Swanwick whenever I want, thanks to Steve Barnett’s YouTube videos.

Thanks again, Swanwick! You’ve been amazing!

Elizabeth Hopkinson has had over 60 short stories published and won several prizes. Her first novel Silver Hands was published by Top Hat Books in 2013 and this year she has published an ebook of previously-published stories, Tales from the Hidden Grove. Elizabeth is a regular member of the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, where she has led a number of workshops. She lives in Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK, with her husband, daughter and cat, in a tiny house that is being taken over by books and artwork.

Website: elizabethhopkinson.uk
Twitter: @hidden_grove
Facebook: ElizabethHopkinsonAuthor
Blog: hiddengroveextra.blogspot.co.uk
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/3029262.Elizabeth_Hopkinson

Newsletter: tinyletter.com/hiddengrove
Patreon: patreon.com/elizabethhopkinson

Lizzie Borden Comes to Swanwick – Maggie Cobbett shares her fancy dress story from the 2017 school

Another stories from a fellow Swanwick alumnus. This week, it’s Maggie Cobbett’s turn, sharing with us her fantastic fancy dress outfit!

Shopping for fancy dress often turns up the unexpected. This year’s Wild Wild West theme seemed to call for Calamity Jane, Belle Starr or Minnehaha, but I fell in love straightaway with the axe murderess outfit based on the story of Lizzie Borden. (Yes, I know that she lived in Massachusetts. Surely some poetic licence is allowed at Swanwick discos?) The sleek black dress had long puffed sleeves and a high collar featuring a cameo brooch. It came with a voluminous net underskirt, lace-up waistcoat and mini hat with a half veil. The axe was an optional extra.

It wasn’t long after my arrival at The Hayes that certain drawbacks became apparent. The first of these was that I’d offered to co-host the Prose Open Mic, which was due to begin immediately after that evening’s speaker and would certainly overlap with the disco. With no time to change in between, I had to choose. The Lizzie Borden outfit won, of course, although I did get some odd looks in the Main Conference Hall during Cathy Cassidy’s talk on writing for children. Before that, though, there was the difficulty of actually getting into the dress with no one to help me. My room at the top end of Lakeside seemed curiously isolated. Having been told on several occasions that The Hayes was fully booked, I must have had neighbours, but I never saw or heard them. To add to the difficulty, the hearty nature of Swanwick food had started to have an effect on my already far from sylph-like figure. It took a series of painful contortions to squeeze myself into the dress and do up the long zip at the back. Fixated on the possibility of a ‘wardrobe malfunction’, I hardly dared to breathe out all evening.  The hat was a worry too. Held on with a wing, a prayer and a handful of hair grips, it obliged me to walk around like a Victorian schoolgirl in a deportment class. Did I mention that I was also wearing a pair of tight high heeled boots?

I hope that the writers who took part in the Prose Open Mic were not intimidated by the sight of me officiating with an axe in my hand as well as a borrowed egg timer and bell. Jennifer Wilson and I ran a tight ship and, by keeping to five minute slots, were just able to fit everyone in. The closest I got to the disco afterwards was the bar. I wouldn’t have dared to dance anyway, of course, but there was plenty of fun to be had admiring other people’s imaginative costumes and posing for photos

It’s just as well that I saved my energy for struggling out of the dress later on. Maybe I should have sought a volunteer to come to my room and unzip me but then again maybe not. We can’t all be as lucky as Poldark’s Demelza!

You can find Maggie at her online home here. She is also on Facebook.

A Swanwick Story: Patricia M. Osborne

In 2015, two members on a writers’ forum, Corinne Lawrence and Shirley Cook, tried to convince me to attend Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

Patricia celebrates her debut novel, House of Grace.

Although I loved the sound of joining them, I dismissed it due to the long train journey and a connection change at London. In 2016, they tried to persuade me again and suggested I enter a poem to the annual writing competition to try and win a place. I sent in a poem leaving fate to decide whether I should go to Swanwick or not. However once Corinne and Shirley booked their places, their excitement was too infectious and before I knew it my place in Lakeside accommodation was secure.

Once my booking was made I set about requesting my dietary needs and Pauline Mason the secretary was more than helpful. I was ready for my journey. I’d booked the early coach from Derby Station but unfortunately my train let me down. Once again Pauline looked after me and booked me onto the later one. Thankfully I arrived in time and was met by the lovely Lesley Deschner. Both Pauline and Lesley are great ambassadors for Swanwick.

Unfortunately, I missed the welcome meeting for White Badgers but my writer friend, Corinne Lawrence was waiting to greet me. Both Shirley and Corinne looked out for me all week. It was fabulous to finally meet these two lovely ladies after sharing work over the previous two years.

At Swanwick I was never lonely. I was concerned that I may find it a bit intimidating with around two to three hundred delegates but in fact it still has that intimate family feel and sense of belonging. Everyone is so friendly and when it’s time to go home, no one wants to leave.

Ahead of the course, a brochure is sent out that contains the week’s programme with so many fantastic courses offering choice and variety, something for everyone. In fact it’s hard to choose a favourite. Existing Swanwickers love this moment and get out their highlighting pens with excitement. For my specialist course, I chose Alison Chisholm’s poetry and booked a one to one session for feedback. I recommend this to anyone who writes poetry.

While at Swanwick, for the first time ever, I took part in an Open Mic and again those experienced in Open Mics supported and gave me confidence. The fancy dress disco isn’t to be missed either. Last year’s theme was ‘Heroes’. I went as Cleopatra and loved dressing up. This year the theme was The Wild West.

Food is included with the accommodation booking: breakfast, lunch and dinner along with coffee and tea throughout the day. It’s a real treat if you’re the person at home who does all the cooking. Mealtimes are another chance to meet new faces and chat about writing. I stayed in Lakeside and found the rooms a decent size with reliable wifi and I had a comfortable double bed. I was only a few yards away from the lovely lakes. Lakes are one of my favourite places to be and where I find most of my writing inspiration.

This year I managed to recruit a couple of my own writer friends as white badgers. I looked forward to becoming a trailblazer and I was ready to make the newcomers feel at home in this beautiful Derbyshire setting where writers come together.

And let’s not forget the famous Swanwick bookshop. I was inspired by the volume of books written by Swanwick writers. Those who had gone down the Indie route were more than happy to advise how they went about self-publishing. It was this encouragement that pushed me to come home and get my act together with my debut novel, a family saga, House of Grace.

My second visit to Swanwick in 2017 was even better than my first. This was helped by meeting an online writer friend for the first time after working together for over six years. Swanwick is a place you meet old friends and new, have fun, learn, grow in confidence and do as little or as much as you like. You will hear people talk about the Swanwick Magic, they are not wrong.

I managed to release my novel in March 2017 and I was proud to see it in the Swanwick book room this year amongst those of other Swanwick authors. You never know, by 2018 I may have two novels in there.

You can find Patricia on Facebook and Twitter. Alternatively, her online home is here.

 

 

 

 

More Swanwick Memories: Jennifer Wilson

Continuing the theme of sharing stories from my favourite writing event of the year, I am joined today by Jennifer C. Wilson.

I remember meeting her in 2016 when, as a fresh-faced White Badger, Jennifer told me her story over a drink in the bar. I am absolutely thrilled that she returned to Swanwick in 2017, and she has kindly agreed to tell us why.

Swanwick Memories, by Jennifer C. Wilson

I’d been thinking about going to Swanwick for about eight years. Each year since signing up for an adult education creative writing class back in Hexham, I’d download the programme and even pick out the courses I’d go along to, and yet, never quite got as far as booking. Now, I know that being published isn’t even remotely hinted at as being a requirement to go to Swanwick, but after my debut novel came out in October 2015, I decided that I had finally ‘earned my place’, and in January 2016, finally went ahead and booked up. I am so glad I did.

With my usual lack of punctuality, I got to Derby station three hours before the coach to Swanwick was due, and still remember the blind fear on receiving the email advising that the bus was now going to be round the back of the station, not the front, and “to let people know” if we saw them at the station. Cue a very awkward half hour trying to work out who might be going to Swanwick, and who might just think I was weird for approaching them and talking about buses… Luckily, I found some fellow Swanwickers, and next thing I know, we’re nattering over a cuppa in the Pumpkin Café. Not only did they show me where the bus was, I was also escorted to the Lakeside Reception, shown how to find my room, then taken back across to the main house to find where the other White Badgers were being welcomed with a (by now much-welcomed) glass of wine.

The rumours were true then – Swanwick really was full of friendly, helpful people. Less than an hour after arriving, I definitely felt I belonged.

That feeling didn’t leave me throughout the week, as I met friends I’m still happy to be in touch with (and already looking forward to seeing them again in August 2018!), and enjoyed even the passing five minute conversations which seemed to happen every time you looked slightly confused or lost.

As for the courses and talks – I came away from each and every one feeling so inspired. Either to try something new, with a new idea to play with, or an increased understanding in how to improve what I was already working on. For my first year, I chose ‘creative non-fiction’ as my specialist course for the week, and have since produced a book proposal which I intend to keep working on, and thanks to Sue Moorcroft and Michael Jecks’ courses, the manuscript for my second novel felt so much tighter and improved, ready for submission. In my second year, I returned to Sue’s course, this time on popular fiction, and also enjoyed this blog owner’s fun and informative course on writing intimate scenes.

I think the biggest thing about Swanwick though is simply spending a whole week in the company of other writers. I’m lucky that my friends and family are really supportive of my writing, but there’s a limit to how much even the most supportive person can take! At Swanwick, everyone is more than happy to discuss (at length) the books they love and loathe, the writing techniques they use, and how they are getting on (or otherwise) with their latest project. I got as much from chatting over lunch and in the bar after workshops as I did from the courses themselves. The subsequent online chatter and support via the Facebook group is great too, keeping the community spirit going throughout the rest of the year.

After booking for August 2017, I had started thinking I would skip a year, try somewhere new, do something different. I won’t be. This year, bringing two writing friends along made the whole thing feel even more like a community, and by Sunday lunchtime, we’d agreed that it could become ‘our annual thing’. Seeing them be as excited as I had been last year was just brilliant. I even volunteered with one of the open-mic nights, so felt even more a part of things.

Yes, I’ve come away exhausted again, but hey, at least we have Saturday and Sunday to catch up on all that sleep we miss when our brains are too busy plotting…

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015, and Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile was released in June 2017. She can be found online at her blog, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s blog. She’s currently working on her first self-published effort, a timeslip romance featuring Richard III (of course).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atwood’s Masterpiece Brought To Life

*** SPOILER ALERT *** DO NOT READ THIS POST IF YOU ARE WAITING TO SEE THE FIRST EPISODE ON CATCHUP TV!

I was in my early twenties when I first read The Handmaid’s Tale and I was utterly horrified by the concept of Gilead, the dystopian world in which Atwood set her groundbreaking novel.

Fast forward twenty years, and I still find it disturbing, macabre and terrifyingly possible in today’s society.

Due to a nuclear catastrophe, there are a limited number of women who remain fertile, known as Handmaids. They are sent to somewhere called The Red Centre to learn how to submit themselves to a family where the wife cannot have children. It is explained to them that their role in society is to bear surrogate children on behalf of these wealthy but barren women. Dressed in an outfit not dissimilar to that of a nun but scarlet red, they are to perform something known as The Ceremony on a regular basis. Essentially, the Handmaid is held down by the arms of the wife on the bed and raped by the husband.

The horror on Offred’s face tells us she despises what is happening to her, but she is wise enough not to struggle. What good would that do? More interesting is the reaction of the wife after the deed is done and the husband has left the room. She throws the Handmaid out of the room too, and we are party to a moment where the wife becomes emotional. Is she hurt because it is difficult to watch her husband being intimate with another woman? Is she hurt because of her infertility which has driven them to this situation? Does she feel her own lack of femininity, her inadequacy at being unable to bear children? But she is a woman too and in Gilead, her status is no higher than Offred’s, although she is married to a wealthy man. She too has no choice over what happens to her if and when a child is born. The human race must continue, at whatever the cost.

It was great to see Atwood herself taking a cameo role in the production, delivering a slap across Offred’s face during a training session at The Red Centre. The image is hazy and blurred, but the silhouette is unmistakeable.

At the end of the episode, we learn that Offred’s friend from before the disaster, Moira, is dead. Offred channels her anger and grief towards a man who has been convicted of raping a Handmaid. Supposedly, there is nothing to protect the Handmaids at their conscripted homes with families but out on the streets they are not to be touched.

Offred is first to deliver a blow to the convict and, between them, the Handmaids beat the man to death. It seems this act of uncontrolled violence succeeds in ensuring that the Handmaids remain calm during their given assignments. Channeling their aggression in this way seems their only release from what is happening to them.

Perhaps one of the most frightening things about this Gilead place is that the Handmaids are all given new names, to remind them that their lives from before have no significance here. We learn that Offred’s real name is June and her child has been taken from her. There is a sense that she is biding her time until an opportunity arises for her to get her back. Roll on episode two; I hope I have the stamina to continue to watch the whole series.

***

POSTSCRIPT

The reality is that now, over thirty years later, there are women in the  real world today who have no say over their bodies, who are vessels for child-bearing and have no control over their own destinies. Female Genital Mutilation and the abortion of female foetuses are horrific truths that continue to this day, in a city or a town near you, even here in the UK.

And some folk think that feminism is outdated and unnecessary…

A Swanwick Story: Julia Pattison

Regular visitors to this blog will be familiar with my frequent mention of a place called Swanwick, a village in Derbyshire, UK, and home to the longest-running (we believe) writing conference in the world.

It has been an integral part of my own writing journey and, since taking up the post of School Archivist last August, I was interested to learn how much the Writers’ School has influenced other delegates. So, I sent a request via the newsletter for people to share their stories.

The beautiful and inspirational Julia Pattison responded with this most unusual tale:

I first met Clifford Beck at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School back in 1999. He became a good friend, and over the years he’d tell me anecdotes of his time as a Far East Prisoner of War.

Julia with Clifford, Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, 2004

At Swanwick 2004 we were sat on our favourite bench enjoying a chat in the summer sunshine, when he mentioned that the following August 15th 2005, it would be the 60th Anniversary of VJ Day. With a deep sigh that touched my heart, he went on to say that it would be his dream to stand once again on the Bridge on the River Kwai, not as a prisoner this time, but as a free man.

He had planned to go with his wife Esther, but sadly she’d died some years previously, and his son Nick didn’t want to make the journey. On impulse, I said that we could make his special pilgrimage together the following Easter holiday, and the seeds for the journey were sown…

Not far short of his 90th birthday, his health had deteriorated considerably since our conversation that summer day at Swanwick, so although he had hoped to walk across the bridge, he was content to walk the few steps up to the entrance of the Bridge, where a kindly passing tourist took our photo to capture his dreamed- for moment. We then spent some time in the beautifully kept Kanchanaburi Cemetery where he said prayers over the graves of some of his fellow FEPOWs who had never made it home. Afterwards we were met by Rod Beattie, the founder of the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre ( honoured with the MBE for his research )  who gave us a private tour of the Centre. I recall that Clifford became particularly emotional when Rod took him into a reconstructed cattle truck, as it brought back vivid memories of his horrendous journey from Singapore.

The Bridge over the River Kwai

He never did get to Swanwick in 2005, or to go with me to the Beth Shalom Holocaust Memorial Centre near Laxton, Nottinghamshire, but died in June 2005. His son Nick comforted me by saying how much the trip had meant to his father, and that despite being so unwell, he had been determined to make the pilgrimage back to the Bridge on the River Kwai in March 20015 – probably with the same spirit that had stood him in such good stead during his time as a FEPOW. He had died a happy man, and had been looking forward to meeting everyone at his beloved Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

Rest in Peace Clifford, a true officer and a gentleman, and an inspiration to all who knew him.

It was a privilege to help him fulfil his dream, and to record his story for the history archives.

Lest we forget.

Julia Pattison

You can purchase Clifford’s memoirs, written by Julia, at the Amazon UK store here.

The Tempest v Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood rewrites a Shakespeare masterpiece

As a Patron of the Royal Shakespeare Company, I am lucky enough to get advance notice of the next season’s productions and when I learned that the RSC were performing The Tempest, I was thrilled. It’s not a play I had seen before and nor did I know the story.

Imagine then, if you will, how excited I was to learn that one of my favourite authors, Margaret Atwood, had been commissioned to rewrite the story of The Tempest in novel form. Bingo!

The Tempest starts with a great storm, during which the King of Naples and his entourage, including the Duke of Milan, are shipwrecked. Watching this drama unfold is Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda.

It becomes clear that Prospero has conjured the storm himself with the help of the sprite, Ariel, because this group are his enemies. Indeed, the Duke of Milan is in fact his brother, Antonio, who betrayed him for the title of Duke some twelve years previously.

Now, to Hag-Seed. Our Prospero has become one Felix Duke, renowned theatre director who gets unceremoniously sacked and ends up working in a prison where he teaches Shakespeare to the inmates. His latest project is… Yup, you guessed it, The Tempest.

Felix’s Miranda is not real, she is a memory he has recreated and transposed into the present as a mechanism to deal with the grief at losing his daughter.

Estelle pulls strings for Felix, both inside the prison and in organising the visit of the politicos. She is the Ariel to Felix’s Prospero, creating the ‘storm’ which brings them to him.

Just like Prospero, Felix exacts his revenge during the production but afterwards feels strangely unfulfilled. The result is an anticlimax. What does this teach us about the nature of revenge, methinks? Is it really worth it? Or shall we just hold our heads high, despite the injustice inflicted by those who wronged us?

All in all, a fantastic production of The Tempest by the RSC, as one would expect, and an amazing work by Ms Atwood. Again, no surprises there. Well worth the time on both counts, if you have the opportunity.

To Walk Invisible: a Tribute to a Yorkshire family

Goodness! If you want heart-wrenching drama, you need look no further than the North York moors. Last night I watched To Walk Invisible, a BBC dramatisation of the life of the Bronte sisters.

To my shame, although both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are two of my most-loved ‘classic’ novels, I must confess I knew little of the struggles of their respective authors’ domestic lives.

I was introduced to these classic novels partly by my mother, but also due to reading lists for English Literature classes at school. I read Jane Austen many years ago (during my school days, in fact) and her novels enjoy legendary status across the world, even today. But she produced stories that examine the quest for a suitable matrimonial match among the genteel English society into which she was born. They are hardly life or death situations, per se.

Austen couldn’t possibly have imagined the frustration of three sisters, united only in their despair for their wayward brother as he succumbed to his demons doing his level best to tear the family apart as he did so.

Few women back then published novels. George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), writing around the same time, wrote under a pseudonym in order to be taken seriously. The Brontes were a well-educated family for their position, being daughters of the widowed Reverend Bronte, but their education appears to have been somewhat haphazard, starting off at a school, but then being removed by their father and taught a little at home after their two older sisters (Maria and Elizabeth) had contracted tuberculosis.

It occurs to me that perhaps it is only in enduring the seemingly bottomless pit of such torment that we, as writers, find tales of such extraordinary passion. They do say that it is only by knowing sadness that we can identify happiness when we find such a thing.

I shall ponder on this thought as I begin compiling my Must Do list for 2017.

Item #1 – a visit to Haworth!

Swanwick 2016 – The Magic Continues…

The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire
Swanwick Dinner
Communal dining room at the Hayes. Picture courtesy of Geoff Parkes (far left in the photo).

Sadly, I didn’t get to go to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in 2015. I had a very sick cat at home and no idea how long she had left on this mortal plane so, as heartbreaking as it was, I decided to stay with her in her final weeks. It was definitely the right decision.

No such emotional trauma this year, thankfully, and I couldn’t wait to bundle up the car and head off to Derbyshire for another memorable week of friendship nurturing and raucous laughter. I wasn’t disappointed.

After the initial settling in period, it was time to get my books across to the book room. This year was the first time I had my own book to sell, which was wonderful experience. So, too, for Mark Iveson and his non-fiction book Cursed Horror Stars.

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Mark Iveson and me, proudly displaying our own published books in the Swanwick Book Room for the first time.

The first full day saw me sat in a fascinating specialist course on Character Psychology with Steve Hartley. Such a great course, packed with interesting material for creating interesting characters for our stories.

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The incorrigible Phil Collins appreciating how I managed to pour myself into a corset!

Monday evening during Swanwick week features the infamous Fancy Dress Disco.

I do like this photo of me with dear friend Phil Collins. I can’t remember how much I had to drink by this point. I certainly wasn’t sober!

This year’s theme was Heroes and Villains. I chose Maleficent (any excuse to get out my corset); Phil’s pirate outfit turned a few heads too!

 

I set out to make sure I attended short courses which I felt would be of direct use to my own writing experience. This year, Michael Jecks gave phenomenal instructions about plotting and tips for bulldozing through writers’ block. I came away refreshed with lots of ideas for my novel.

Similarly, lovely Sue Moorcroft‘s course gave invaluable insight into the finer points of writing fiction. All in all, it was an exhilarating, if not exhausting, week of learning.

On the last day, after the AGM and the raffle to win a free place at Swanwick the following year, everyone disappeared back to their rooms to dress up for the Dregs Party. It’s a great excuse to bring out those cocktail dresses and a few of the guys even brought their tuxedos for the occasion.

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Dregs Party on the hallowed Swanwick lawn. Thankfully, the rain stayed away!

Some exciting things to note for me personally this year: I made my acting debut! A very small part during the renowned Page to Stage extravaganza was quickly followed on the last night by the Final Night Pantomime.

Written by Simon Hall, The Battle of Writers’ Block tells a humorous tale of an aspiring but self-conscious writer, Trevor, who is trying to write a novel. Haunted by the twin sisters of Doubt and Success, he is persuaded to take a trip to Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, where he receives the inspiration to finish his story. Lots of gags and a healthy dose of innuendo had the audience howling with laughter, thankfully!

Cast of this year’s pantomime, The Battle of Writers’ Block, written by Simon Hall. L-R: Lesley Deschener, Phil Collins, me, Simon Hall, Cathy Grimmer, Marion Hough, John Lamont. Photo courtesy of Louise Cahill.

Finally, the opportunity came along for me to play a part in helping the school. The archivist was wanting to step down, and so a vacancy popped up for someone organised who can help collate all the various documents that Swanwick has amassed over its 68-year history. I am looking forward to taking on this challenge and I’m hoping to start getting it into some kind of electronic format soon.

Swanwick Lawn
Chatting on the lawn. Picture courtesy of Geoff Parkes

All in all, it was another fantastic Swanwick experience, full of friendships. Special thank you to Geoff Parkes for the use of a couple of his photographs in this post.

Hope to see you all next year for another week of writing mayhem!

Interview with Elizabeth Ducie, on the release of her novel “Counterfeit!”

I first met Elizabeth at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August 2013. After chatting with her on several occasions, I was struck by her story and her methodical, business-led approach to writing.

I am thrilled that she has agreed to be interviewed for my blog, and I wish her all the best for her new novel, Counterfeit!

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1. Hi Elizabeth, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a late starter in terms of writing fiction. I spent more than thirty years as a scientist in an industrial setting; and although I wrote many thousands (possible millions) of words during that time, they all had to be factual. Then, one day I woke up and thought “I want to do something different; something creative”. So I started writing short stories and at the same time, began mapping out ideas for Gorgito’s Ice Rink. I am a Brummie who moved to London, then Kent, but now resides very happily in a semi-rural setting in Devon.

 

2. I love your blog. Did you set it all up yourself? If so, what tool do you recommend for other aspiring bloggers?

I have set up a number of different blogs and websites over the years. I set originally set Elizabeth Ducie up myself using the free platform Blogger. I also had a separate website which I wrote using SiteBuilder. These days, I tend to use WordPress, which can be used both for dynamic blogs and static pages. If it’s a fairly simple application, I use the free version, wordpress.org, although it’s always worth spending a small amount on a proper domain name, which is more professional-looking.

Recently I decided it was time for a complete upgrade of my online presence, and engaged Natalie Harris of Mebmelon to run the project to integrate my blog and my website. We used the paid-for software, wordpress.com, which has more functionality; I am delighted with the results and now that it’s up and running, I’m back to managing it myself.

 

3. Can you describe a typical day for you?

I’m very much of a lark, rather than an owl, so I am usually up before 6am. I’ve been working hard on my fitness levels over the past year, so on weekdays, I will head either for the swimming pool or the gym for an exercise class. Then after breakfast and a catch-up with my husband, Michael, I fire up the laptop. I try to concentrate on my writing during the morning, and if I can get a solid 4 hours in, then I judge it as a successful session. Then I do all the administration and marketing in the afternoon. We live in a small town, where there’s always something going on, so I’m often out in the evenings, but if not, I chat to Michael while he cooks supper. We tend to read and listen to music rather than watching television, but will usually end the evening with one or two episodes from our latest Box Set.

 

4. How much of yourself have you included in your stories?

Well, they do say you should writer about what you know. My novels are set in the pharmaceutical industry; both they and some of my stories are set in locations in which I’ve worked; and many of the minor incidents I describe come from real life. However, I try hard NOT to write too much of myself into my characters, because if I do, it inhibits what I can let them do. When I first wrote Gorgito’s Ice Rink, I wouldn’t let Emma have a boyfriend, or any fun, because I was scared people would think it was autobiographical. In the end, it was Michael who said: “for goodness sake, it’s called fiction for a reason!” But when I write my character studies, I make a point of giving them characteristics that make them different from me.

 

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5. What gave you the idea to write Counterfeit?

I worked in Southern Africa in the early 2000s, on a project for the Commonwealth Secretariat, although we were trying to regularise pharmaceutical manufacturing regulations across the region, rather than concentrating specifically on counterfeits. I saw many shocking things while I was there, but came to realise that a straight-forward Western European right and wrong was not always correct or practical. I developed the theme initially as a 6K words story but quickly realised there was much more to it than that.

 

6. Do you keep a journal? What kind of things do you write in it?

I don’t keep a daily journal usually. However, when I am away from home, I often do a hand-written account of my travels and things that go wrong, or amuse me. Then when I’m back home, I convert these into a series of daily blog posts.

 

7. Could you tell us your favourite book that you have read recently?

I’m glad you specified ‘recently’. I find this such a difficult question to answer when it refers to everything I’ve ever read. I’ve just returned from a working holiday to Portugal and took the opportunity to catch up on my reading, which has sadly suffered in recent months while I’ve been concentrating on Counterfeit! I can’t pick out one single book, but Alison Morton’s Roma Nova series of historical novels was brilliant; and Annie Murray’s Meet Me Under The Clock introduced me to my home city but in an era before I was born. However, my absolute favourite at the moment is the Dark Tower books by Stephen King, especially book 7, which brought everything to a close. I am so in awe of that man and his writing.

 

8. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

The industry is evolving at such a speed; the opportunities for writers have never been as wide as they are now. There is the traditional route, with agent and publisher; there is the completely independent route where you do everything yourself. And there are many options in between. Consider all of them and decide which is right for you. Do NOT see self-publishing merely as a fall-back position if you can’t get an agent. I made a positive choice to go independent, due to issues of control and speed of publication, and have never regretted it. But, whichever route you take, make sure the final product is as good as it can be. You owe that to your readers and to your writing.

 

9. What can we expect from you in the future?

I will be writing book 2, Deception!, and book 3, Corruption!, in the Suzanne Jones series and hope to launch them in 2017 and 2018. I will also be re-launching all my other books on a wider distribution platform.

 

10. How can we get hold of you online?

My website is: www.elizabethducie.co.uk;
I am on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube;
I am always happy to chat to readers and can be reached at elizabeth@elizabethducie.co.uk;
Details of Counterfeit! and all my other books can be found here.

Thank you so much Elizabeth!