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.

Yummy School Project!

Many years ago, as I was nearing the end of sixth form and thinking about university, I acquired a penpal from France.
Claire lived in Brittany with her mother, father and sister. As teenage girls do, we chatted mainly about our respective school lives and our hopes and dreams for the future.
So much deliciousness!
Fast forward twenty-odd years. The magic of Facebook has kept our friendship alive, although the tone has changed somewhat. Nowadays we discuss the impact of Brexit and whether or not I should move to France!
Claire is now married with two children, living near Paris and teaching English at this school. She also adores chocolate. Or, more appropriately, her students do.
It was this love of chocolate which fuelled Claire’s imagination to undertake an unusual school project –  to create a recipe book, in English, written entirely by her students.

Ah…. Chocolate! One of my favourite topics, as my ample hips will testify.

Imagine, then, if you will, what a delight it was when Claire asked me to help with the translation of her students’ recipes into English.

And what a wonderful surprise when, some months later, I received a copy of a book containing said recipes in the post. It even has my name in the back. (Sadly, this book is not available on Amazon. Boo hiss!)

On that note, I’m off to make some brownies. Bon appetit!

Local SfEP Meetup – South Warwickshire Editors and Proofreaders

My journey into the ‘Dark Side’ continues!

I’m joking, of course. Editing other authors’ work is giving me valuable insight into how to improve my own writing. I am also finding that I am in a position to be able to advise fellow indie authors about their work, having been in their position.

Being the sociable creature I am, I was thrilled to learn that there is a local South Warwickshire group of SfEP members, so I went along to their bi-monthly meeting to say hello and find out more.

It turns out that there are other editors who walk the line between editing and writing, in fact it turns out that some of us have mutual friends in people I have met through going to Swanwick.

I look forward to meeting up regularly with this bunch, and sharing tips and stories. Watch this space!

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Chillin’ and chattin’ at The Lounge, Leamington Spa

 

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!

A New Chapter Begins…

 

“If you don’t think you can afford to hire an editor, try not hiring one!”

Catherine Ryan Howard, Dublin Writers’ Conference, June 2015


Since I began writing just four years ago, I have been lucky to have received so much help from a wide variety of writing contacts. I have been blessed to have such a great support network – writers are such a wonderful community! So I decided I wanted to give something back and thus help others on their respective writing journeys in return.

For some considerable time in my day job I have been the go-to person for anyone in my team who wants an email spell-checked. At one point there were jokes about whether I should have been a schoolteacher.

Like most of you, I have seen some of the best and worst of self-published fiction out there for purchase on Amazon and other outlets. In my opinion, there is nothing that does more harm to the cause of independent authors than seeing work which is poorly edited or, in some cases, not edited at all.

I am passionate about us indies being professional in our approach. It is so simple now to produce a book of high quality, almost parallel to that of the big publishing houses.

After some thinking and deliberation, and then some more thinking, EMH Editorial Services was born!

I have now successfully completed two courses with the Society for Editors & Proofreaders: Introduction to Proofreading and Introduction to Copy-Editing. Next on my list is Fiction Editing and I am planning to brush up on my grammar too, as well as investing in some serious textbooks.

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Close followers of my Facebook author page will have noticed I have created a new page, EMH Editorial Services where you can post any enquiries you may have.

You can also contact me via a new email address: EMHEditorial@gmail.com.

I am fully aware of the need to keep the costs of such services to a minimum for indie authors, while still delivering a quality service and helping you make your book the best it possibly can be.

If you have a book which is nearing completion, do give me a shout. Let’s discuss what is the best for your book.

For new clients, I will ask for a 2,000 word sample from somewhere in the middle of your book and I will conduct this FOR FREE. This is for two reasons:

  • It helps you to see what I can bring to your book in terms of polishing, before you have to commit to making any payment;
  • It helps me assess the level of work required for your book, so I can give you a realistic quotation for the whole project.

So, what are you waiting for? Drop me a line…

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!

Happy New Year for 2016! My plans for the coming months…

Howdy folks!

Well, it’s been quite a hectic start to the year, not least because I am now the proud owner of two beautiful kittens!

Freya & Marlowe
Freya & Marlowe

Here they are, sitting side by side, as they often do, posing for the camera. Freya is the long-haired one. She’s an absolute sweetheart and adores being brushed, lying on her back in my arms, purring away. Marlowe is her stepbrother and he’s not quite so affectionate just yet. He prefers chasing all manner of things, including his own tail, round and round in circles until he gets dizzy and flops into a heap on the carpet.

They actually have different mums, but they were brought up in a communal feral setting. Thankfully, the foster mum has done a spectacular job at making sure they were handled  and well socialised before they came to me. They’ve been here nearly two weeks, and they’ve settled really well so I’m very pleased. Stay tuned over the coming months for news on their progress. In the meantime, see here for a short video.

sfep_straplineTowards the very end of 2015, I made a very important step towards my goal of quitting the day job. I took, and passed, a course in proofreading. If you, or anyone you know, is looking for a final proofread of an already polished manuscript, please do get in touch at lizhurstauthor@gmail.com for further information.

Recipients of my newsletter will know that work on the second novel in the Lost Souls series is progressing well, albeit slowly. I write in fits and starts sometimes. There will be an inspiration of some sort, and I can get two of three chapters done in one go, then I run out of steam and it sits there, neglected and collecting dust, until the next flurry of activity. I am pleased with what has made it onto the page so far, though, and my characters are developing nicely. Keep reading my newsletter for progress on the book and a cover reveal some time in late Spring.

Like so many people at this time of year, January heralds the start of the holiday booking season. I have booked two trips so far this year: Dublin and Swanwick, both writing conferences. This year’s Dublin trip in June is for a whole week this time, so I can take advantage of more of what the city has to offer. (I’m particularly intrigued by the National Leprechaun Museum!) Having missed Swanwick last year due to Lily’s illness, I’m looking forward to catching up with my wonderful writing family in August too.

So, there will be a lot going on, and a lot to keep you informed about as the year progresses. Goodness! I don’t know how I shall have the time for work…

 

op99lj 4de[p;,i8kkn ygv rfdxwsl[p0[kjt5h e (NO FREYA! Keep off the keyboard when Mummy’s writing!)

 

 

 

Siren Spirit Goes Live on Amazon!

It’s so exciting to have my very first novella released and available to buy on Amazon!

I’m thrilled at the way the cover turned out (doffs cap to Andrew Brown at Design4Writers for an amazing job).

Cover design by Design4Writers
Cover design by Design4Writers

I can’t tell you what a fantastic journey it has been to get this far, to have my very own book in my hands.

Yes, I can actually say that because, even though the paperback copy is not yet available to purchase on Amazon, I am holding the proof copy in my hands as we speak. EEK!

Stay tuned to social media for more news on the launch: Facebook and Twitter are your best ways of contacting me.

The Social Media Labyrinth

There’s no getting around it these days. If you want to be a successful author, you must have an online presence and this must include the use of social media, at least to some extent. I would recommend a Facebook Page (as distinct from your personal profile) and a Twitter account as the bare minimum.
The reason is very simple: readers expect it.
The days of an author being able to hide behind the security blanket of the publisher are long gone. Even those authors who are lucky enough to have a publishing deal are still expected to engage directly with their readership.
So, the question is no longer “Should I be using social media?” but “How the hell do I find the time to do all the social media engagement required?”
To resolve this issue, I used to use Hootsuite. Once a week, I would painstakingly trawl the internet looking for ideas and content to create a .csv file and upload it into the application. After a few attempts and subsequent corrections, eventually it would upload. This whole procedure would take me approximately two hours, to write 7 days’ worth of tweets at 6 tweets per day. Facebook was another task altogether.
Well, it didn’t take long for me to see the flaws with Hootsuite. For one thing, you can’t bulk schedule posts with images. Images are critical to reader engagement on Twitter, so I knew I was already at a disadvantage. Also, once a tweet has been posted, it is binned, never to be seen again. This meant I would have to repeat this laborious task every week. I began to dread Sunday afternoons.
[Exit Hootsuite, stage left]
Well, folks, I am very proud to say I have found all the answers I need in this cute little fellow:
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Cephalopod frenzy?
Now, I should point out here that I have a full-time job (as well as being a writer), therefore I probably have some more disposable income than some of you may do. However, I do consider this a very worthwhile $49 per month, and I’m all about value for money.
The system works very simply. Having signed up and linked your social media accounts, the next step is to create your categories. You might have one for writing tips, for example, and another for inspirational quotations. I have one for cat pictures too. (Sorry!)
After you have a couple of categories, you need to start adding content to grow your library. The Edgar library is really like a proper library of data. Once an item is saved, it remains in this repository for ever.
Edgar will then recycle these posts for you, over and over again, according to the schedule you give him. Now, let’s take Twitter. Apparently, the life of a tweet is just 24 minutes. Facebook, however, is much longer. Personally, I post 6 tweets a day (sometimes a few ad hoc), and a Facebook post just once.
Because I’m no longer under the pressure of doing a whole week’s worth in one go, I can now get ideas for content whenever I get a few spare moments. I have got into the habit of saving pictures and links I like whenever I’m on Facebook, with a view to following them up at a later date.
For me, Edgar is not free, but is very much about freedom, and in the 20-30 hours I spend a week on my writing business, I’m up for as much freedom as I can get my hands on. I’d highly recommend this to anyone for whom managing your social media feels like a burden. You’ll get some control back in your life and, ultimately, more time for writing!

Review: From Cornwall to the Andes, Barbara Webb

I don’t read a great deal of non-fiction but I was drawn to this book, partly due to the striking painting on the cover (which I later found out is the author’s own work), and partly because of its acutely personal nature.

“How brave!” I thought. “What great courage this lady must have to share such a private and emotional journey in such a public way.”

I find I am drawn to people who display characteristics such as courage and strength. Webb seemed to be just such a person and so I decided to purchase this little book.

The first thing that is clear is that the author is no shrinking violet. This is a lady who has travelled all over the world, visiting countries and cultures of which most of us can only dream.

Yet not even such experiences can shield us from the very human condition of profound grief when a loved one dies.

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been, after such a traumatic period in one’s life, to make the decision to commit to paper the journey from her late husband’s diagnosis through his death and into the unknown territory of widowhood.

But the beauty of this story is that there is no wallowing in self-pity amongst the pages. The illness and subsequent deterioration in her husband’s condition is handled with care and tenderness, which many in a similar position will find of great comfort.

Instead, we find a moving tribute to her late husband and a candid reflection of her own despair after his death. How lucky we are that the author found herself and created such a wonderful new life to share with us.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It moved me to tears on occasion, but between the pages lie also joy and hope, and this makes it an inspiration for those with a loved one also suffering from terminal illness.

You can find out more about Barbara Webb and her books below:

Website: http://www.cornwall2theandes.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cornwall2andes