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.

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!

Interview with Peter Jones, on the release of his novel: The Truth About This Charming Man

29103615Author Peter Jones has been a significant part of my writing journey. He was the guy I went to for help with formatting and uploading my very first offerings to the global phenomenon known as Amazon, which I did under my pseudonym.

Therefore, I am truly delighted that he has agreed to be interviewed for this blog and to talk about his new book The Truth about this Charming Man.

The novel charts the antics of one William Lewis, an aspiring actor, who has dreamed of treading the boards for about as long as he can remember. He has yet to be involved with the theatre, but he still manages to get to do something of what he loves by pretending to be people that he’s not in the real world.

It’s hilarious, well-written and kept me hooked until the very last page. A very solid 10/10 from me. Here’s what Peter had to say:

 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Where do I begin?!

I started professional life as a particularly rubbish graphic designer, and followed that with a stint as a mediocre petrol pump attendant. After that I got embroiled in the murky world of credit card banking as a ‘fix-it’ man. Fun times.

For the past 6 years I’ve been a full time author, with three and a half self-help books under my belt (if you’re unhappy, lonely or overweight I might just be your guy), and more recently two hilarious rom-com novels.

I don’t own a large departmental store and I’m not a dragon of any description.

 

Can you describe a typical day for you?

Most days I’m writing. I like to be at my desk, working, by 7am. By midday I’m usually beat (creatively speaking). Afternoons are reserved for post, admin, social media, that kinda thing.

Once or twice a week I’m out giving a talk at a WI, or a U3A, or a writing group somewhere – entertaining people with tales of this writing life.

 

You wrote a few non-fiction self-help books before your move into the fiction market? What made you change? Was it a difficult transition?

It’s ironic. I never wanted to write self-help. That kind of happened by accident.

I was in the middle of writing my first novel (in the evenings, after work) when I lost my wife. As you can imagine that event turned my world upside down. Made me question what I wanted in life. Made me question everything.

I decided to take those fix-it man skills and apply them to my own life – to build the happier future that I so wished I’d given my wife. When some of the changes I came up with started to make an obvious difference to my demeanour a colleague suggested I ought to write those ideas down. Six months later I’d accidentally written How To Do Everything And be Happy. I self-published it (because I couldn’t be bothered with the effort of sending it to agents and publishers), and it did well. Really well. Really, really well. So much so that Audible and Harper Collins came knocking, as did an agent.

However, after three and a half non-fiction books I was keen to get back to the still unfinished novel. Naively I thought my non-fiction readers would pick up my novel out of curiosity, but I soon realised I was effectively starting again from scratch. My then agent was only interested in my non-fiction, as were HC and audible. It took me a while to find a new agent, and land a new book deal.

 

In your latest novel The Truth About This Charming Man Will comes across as a sound character with a good dollop of common sense, despite his unluckiness in love. How much is he like you? 

I like Will a lot, and yes, I suppose we do have a lot in common, although I don’t really see him as ‘unlucky in love’. He’s quite upfront about the fact that theatre is his first love – and I totally get that. If you told me I could be happily married to Kylie Minogue for the rest of my life, OR have a 50/50 chance of three book deal with penguin… I’d take the latter every time. Is that mad? I think it might be.

 

Will plays a number of different ‘parts’ in the book, to great comedic effect at times. To what extent do you think this mirrors the parts we all play in our own lives? (i.e. husband/wife, child/parent, boss/employee)

Blimey. That’s a deep question. Let me side step it.

Initially, The Truth About This Charming Man was never intended to be a novel. It was a five part short-story about an actor, who acts in the ‘real world’ (rather than ‘on stage’), and what happens when he’s asked to play two characters at the same meeting. But the more I wrote, the more intrigued I became by the duality of the other characters, and how – as you say – people often play different roles in their own lives. Roles that might, sometimes, require a little bending of the truth.

When my (new) agent suggested I turn the short story into a novel, I looked to that duality for my inspiration. The book then wrote itself.

 

Could you tell us your favorite book from 2015?

I read a lot of non-fiction in 2015. My favourite was Excuse Me Your Life Is Waiting by Lynn Grabhorn.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Stop aspiring and get writing.

 

What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m juggling a couple of projects at the moment. There’s some exciting talk about a Truth About This Charming Man film or TV series (can’t say more than that at this stage), but regardless of whether that happens or not, a third novel should be out in the not too distant future.

 

Where can we find you?

http://facebook.com/peterjonesauthor

http://twitter.com/peterjonesauth

http://peterjonesauthor.com

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

I have just got to tell you about this book I just finished. It’s another great choice from the book group that I joined last summer (thank you ladies!).

The book is set in the not-too-distant future. We learn that NASA has been making trips to Mars for some time. Sometimes these are unmanned trips to drop off supplies and sometimes manned voyages to conduct research. A tragic accident during one such journey results in astronaut Mark Watney being left behind after his crewmates presume him dead.

A large proportion of the book is written in Mark’s own words in the form of a logbook. We learn early on that he is an incredible individual with an astonishing sense of humour which never fails him, even in the most challenging of situations. It goes without saying that he is extremely clever and resourceful; his scientific, and especially botanical, knowledge saves his life on more than one occasion.

The reader gains a wonderful insight into the characters back on Earth, too. We meet the guys at NASA, desperately gathering the cleverest minds they have to put together a rescue plan and get him back home. I could really picture the billions of people glued to their TV screens watching him via satellite as he goes about his day on the Red Planet. We learn a little of his cremates too, as they learn he is still alive and mount a rescue operation to go back to Mars and collect him.

The author captures the reader’s imagination very quickly, and holds it throughout. I couldn’t put this book down. I’m not a scientific person, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the technical content, but from what I know of the author, I don’t get the impression he would have messed up.

This is a story of overcoming adversity, of soldiering on against all the odds, and ultimately, a tale of triumphant victory. I am not at all surprised this was made into a film. It lends itself very much to the Hollywood disaster movie genre very well.

512e-pP0zGL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_For those of you who have seen the film, I understand it’s also very good. It’s on my To Watch list. This is almost, but not quite, as long as my To Read list, which means it’s unlikely I’ll get round to it any time soon.

Awesome book though. It had me in tears on more than one occasion. A solid 9.5 out of 10 from me.

Why not a nice round 10? I hear you ask. Well, there’s a very good reason for that. I have a thing for geeks. Mr Watney is my favourite geek out there right now, and I have a teeny crush on him and I feel this emotional attachment may be clouding my judgement. So there!

To Kill A Mockingbird – Is it still relevant today?

I was absolutely thrilled when someone suggested we read this for my local bookclub last month.

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Having just read the sequel a few months ago, I was very much looking forward to getting into this one again. I say ‘again’ – we actually read this at school, and I remembered that I had really enjoyed it.

I have re-read a number of books from childhood recently. Regular readers may remember my post about the Lord of the Flies and how being an adult can change our perspective on a story. I did wonder if a second reading of Harper Lee’s classic tale would have a similar effect.

There were lots of things about the story which I had completely forgotten. The touching sub-plot of Boo Radley and his affection for Jem and Scout springs to mind.

I remember as a child there was a house in our street which looked a bit neglected compared to the others. It desperately needed a lick of paint and a tidy up of the garden, and that probably would have done it. But to us children it was the topic of much gossip, as was the older guy who lived there, apparently alone. We used to make up stories about how he had murdered all the other children in the neighbourhood, and we used to wonder which of us would be next. (Jeez, I just got a shiver up my spine thinking about that!)

I had also forgotten the court verdict after the infamous trial, although looking at the story as a whole, it almost doesn’t matter.

So, I arrived at bookclub last month full of lots of things to say. Inevitably, most of us thought exactly the same thing: this story is most definitely as relevant today as it ever has been.

*** SPOILER ALERT *** For those of you who have NOT read the sequel, please do not read beyond this point!

I came across this great article from the Huffington Post which discusses what we really think of Atticus Finch (a literary hero so great that his first name is a popular baby name for white males in the US). Especially when we learn that he does not quite deserve the pedestal upon which we have perched him for such a long time.

Consider too the recent uprisings in the US, including KKK rallies and the figures relating to civilian killings of members of the African American population by white police officers. This is very sobering reading and tells us that racism is, in fact, alive and well in certain areas of the United States. Shame on them.

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.

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

 

Review: Labyrinth, Kate Mosse

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year so far, and I don’t say that lightly.

I love reading books where the action takes place along two different time lines, but so few authors can really get this right. I believe Kate Mosse has done a superb job with Labyrinth.

In 13th century France, the spirited and adventurous Alais, daughter to a leading political figure in Carcassonne, becomes aware of a greater truth that her father entrusts to her, that of the safekeeping of ancient Egyptian texts belonging to the Cathars. Her people are being persecuted, however, and she must keep the books safe from the hands of the Northern French Crusaders who are currently marching south, pillaging land and possessions as they go.

In the present day, Alice joins an archaeological dig in the Languedoc region and inadvertently disturbs a curious burial site, bringing Alais’ story to light. Everywhere she goes there are echoes of the past, threatening her sanity and ultimately, her life.

Mosse never allows the two plots to coincide. Instead, they run seamlessly alongside one another, merging only at the very end when the reader gains a beautiful understanding as if, we too have been entrusted with this sacred knowledge of a Universal Truth.

This is a great book for celebrating the role of women in fiction. Both leading characters are women, and neither is constrained by traditional, stereotypical female roles. There is a useful glossary at the back for interpreting the Occitan language (something akin to Old French, but with distinct differences), although this is hardly necessary, and her Author’s Note explains all historical references and separates the fact from fiction.

I was never a fan of history at school. Indeed, it is through reading wonderful books such as these, that the fire in my own belly ignites and I want to write my own stories about the past. I shall certainly be reading many more from Mosse, including her recent offering, The Taxidermist’s Daughter.