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The Value of Community: another story from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School

Time and time again, you will hear people talk fondly of the friendliness of the delegates at Swanwick. Unlike some other conferences, there is no pressure to meet agents or engage in furious networking, but this contribution from Rita Berman shows us how, even in the most laid-back atmosphere, the contacts we make on our writing journeys can never be underestimated.
I travelled from the USA to attend Swanwick in 1988, 1999, 2002, and 2004. 
Not only did I learn from a number of professional authors, and meet many delightful people but I also gave talks about my experience as a freelance writer.
Hugh Rae, who taught novel writing in 1999, guided me in the writing of my mystery-novel, The Key, which I published in 2014.  The same year, I met Elena Sollewijn-Gelpe from Brussels and in 2002 while we were at Swanwick helped her proof her book Bullets in the Bedroom.
I interviewed Judith Spelman, one of the speakers at Swanwick in 2002, and published it online at Absolute Write  in 2004.
For a week-long immersion into all aspects of writing, comfortable accommodation,  good food and pleasant surroundings, you can’t beat Swanwick.
Parallel Lives, was published in 2016. It is a memoir of growing up in London during the Blitz in the Second World War.  It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in Kindle and paper-back versions.
London-born, RITA BERMAN is a freelance writer, lecturer, editor, and author of Parallel Lives (2016), The Key (2014), The Dating Adventures of A Widow (2013), Still Hopping, Still Hoping: the biography of Carla Shuford (2012) and The A-Z of Writing and Selling (1981). Her memoir, I Saw London Burning, appeared in Celebrating Family History, Heritage Books, 2005. Berman also contributed to Journey Proud, Carolina Press, 1994.

Her publications include more than 600 articles and lectures, in magazines and newspapers both here in the UK and in the USA.

If you’d like to learn more about her, her online home can be found here.

Lily goes to Rainbow Bridge

It’s been just four weeks since I had to make the dreadful decision to have Lily put to sleep.


It’s always hard saying goodbye to your pets; they are very much-loved members of the family, after all. However, we all know that there comes a time when they look up at you in such a way and there’s a pleading expression in their eyes. That was exactly what happened and the second I spotted it, I just knew that she was suffering and I couldn’t allow it to happen any longer.
She was a very brave little girl, right up to the very end. I made the decision to have the vet come out to my home and perform the procedure. It meant less stress for her by not having to transport her to a surgery. She was sat on the duvet in my spare room and I stroked her and told her I loved her. As I held her in my arms, she slipped away peacefully, taking an enormous part of my heart with her.

Going ‘over the Rainbow Bridge‘ might be a phrase you’ve heard with regards to the death of a pet. It is believed by many that our pets wait for us at the foot of the bridge until our time comes, and then weLily2 cross the bridge together to go to heaven. The idea comes from Norse legend in which the bridge, known as Bifrost, connects earth with the home of the gods, Asgard. A beautiful interpretation of the ideology can be read here.

It’s an idea which brings great comfort at a time of sorrow for grieving owners. I know many of you will have felt this heartbreak at one time or another too, so my heart goes out to you for your loss.

The vet arranged for a private cremation, so I could keep a small casket with her ashes. It sits in my writing room, on the shelf where she used to sit when she watched me write. I think she would like that. It’s a warm place and she always liked to be near me.

So, this is a very empty and soulless house now, and it’s really hard not having her arrive at the door to greet me when I come home from work. However, this is only a temporary measure, for a have a couple of kittens coming to me after Christmas. I always swore I’d never be without a cat in my life, so it made sense to start looking, and the local rescue centre had a number of kittens arrive a few weeks ago. Stay tuned to my Facebook page for photos and news after they have arrived home.

Happy Christmas to you and your loved ones, I wish you a peaceful a prosperous New Year for 2016.




George R. Stewart: Earth Abides

I was given this book as a gift and, I have to say, I’m very glad I received it because it’s not a book I would have chosen for myself. No, I would have passed it over on a shelf. However, it came with a healthy recommendation, so I felt obliged to read it.

The critics use some superlative language: “A magnificent piece of creative fiction” blurts one. “One of the finest of all post-holocaust novels” says another. So, I am here to tell you all what I thought of it.

The story begins with the protagonist, one Isherwood Williams, returning home from a trip into the wilderness. During the journey he is bitten by a venomous snake. Ironically, it is this venom which saves his life because at the same time, a curious disease sweeps the globe, wiping out virtually every human being. The venom from the bite appears to cancel out the effects of this plague, thus making him a rare survivor of what is forever afterwards referred to as The Great Disaster.

After some considerable period of time, he meets a woman called Em, a fellow survivor, and they set up home together in San Francisco. In time, they bear children and are joined by a few other survivors, creating The Tribe, and over the years, new generations of humans are born who have no recollection of what life was like before.

For a time, they live by looting convenience stores for tinned food. There are relatively few of them and since there is still running water in the taps, they remain in a group of houses high on a hill over looking the city and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ish is the one who stands out as the intellectual mind of the group. Surviving this tragedy has not quenched his thirst for knowledge about how to continue civilisation – with books and learning. He even tries to engage the smaller children in an informal school environment with a view to teaching them how to read and write.

One day, however, the water trickles and stops running altogether. Now Ish is faced with finding a resolution to the more basic survival problems.

The author uses some beautiful language in this book. In the first few chapters especially, Ish is alone and therefore dialogue is minimal.

I could identify very much with the character of Isherwood. I myself have an ingrained desire for knowledge through books. One of the downsides of being clever at school was finding that my peers mostly lacked the knowledge I sought, so I came to rely on books for information instead.

Much of the book explores Ish’s frustration that other members of The Tribe, including his wife Em, do not share this academic aptitude. Rather, they seem content to maintain the status quo, changing something about themselves and their habits when it is deemed necessary instead of anticipating problems and planning for prevention or minimum impact.

As The Tribe continues to grow, and the generations expand and change, so too does the natural habitat around them. It’s at this point that the author illustrates the fragile balance of the Natural World so well.

In the early years, the rat population almost overwhelms Ish and Em as there are so few people left and much uneaten food about. Eventually though, their available food supplies dwindle, and the rats turn to cannibalism. The natural order of things is restored and they retreat into hiding once more.

All in all, this is an enormous story. It tackles some of the Big Ideas, touching on religion, philosophy, natural history and anthropology, all of which poor Ish tries to get his head around so he can pass it on to the future generations.

I did find it heavy going at times. If anything, I also found it rather long. However, I’m not sure it could be cut shorter without compromising the story as the prose is already pretty tight and succinct, and there are sections which the author glosses over, referred to as ‘The Quick Years’.

I was quite surprised to find I wasn’t particularly moved by this novel, despite the deaths of so many characters, but perhaps this is deliberate. Maybe primitive homo sapiens was more comfortable with death than we are, accepting it as an inevitability of the Cirle of Life.

Please read this book, by all means. It does not provide answers to the Big Questions of who and why we are, but it will certainly make you think.