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: 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.

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:
download
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!