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.

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.

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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!

The Drowning Pool, Syd Moore

The Swanwick Writers’ Summer School of 2013 was a pivotal time in my writing journey. It was the first time I had visited the school, and it was a life-changing experience, both in terms of writing and in terms of the people I met there.

For part of that glorious week, I chased poor Syd Moore around the conference centre with a copy of this book. Eventually, I found an opportune moment for her to sign it for me, and I was thrilled. It was the first book I had ever owned which was signed by the author.

I have always had a fascination with witchcraft, ever since reading Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at school. There’s something about the fact that there is yet so much we don’t understand about the physical nature of the world in which we live. This makes our imagination fill in the gaps of knowledge with stories of fantasy and imagination.

The Drowning Pool gives us a rich story into this abyss of knowledge with a wonderful story about a young widow and her connection with a historical figure, both with the name of Sarah Grey. Sarah’s raw emotions shine through in every page, and her paranormal experience allows her to come to terms with her own loss. I loved the dream sequences and the historical flashbacks which are equally beautifully described and full of imagery.

I’m not usually a fan of ghost stories, but I was drawn to the witchcraft elements of this book and in actual fact, I wasn’t at all spooked out. Instead, the appearances of the ghost are well-handled and much more sentimental than I expected. Certainly, I shall be reading more of Syd’s work, and I do hope she makes it back to Swanwick soon!

Magical Writing Retreat: Kerivoa

I can’t believe it’s only three weeks since I returned from The Write Retreat. It feels like such a long time ago now.

It was the first time I’d ever driven abroad, having previously always been on city break holidays where you walk around everywhere, or beach holidays which involve far too much alcohol to even consider driving. So, a new adventure awaited me as soon as I trundled off the ferry at Roscoff.

The journey to Katherine’s was very straightforward. I knew in advance that the French tend not to label their signs with road numbers as we do, so instead I chose to navigate by towns. The journey from Roscoff therefore, involved following signs first to Morlaix, then Guingamp, then Bourbriac, where Katherine met me and we drove up to the farmhouse.

Sipping bubbles on arrival. Katherine is such a wonderful hostess!
Sipping bubbles on arrival. Katherine is such a wonderful hostess!

The site of the farmhouse is an old Bronze Age settlement (the old bread oven still stands a little way off the main track) and I got a sense of something very special about the place as soon as I arrived. The tranquility is almost palpable.

As regular followers of this blog will be only too aware, I adore animals, so I was overjoyed when Katherine’s Westie, Kerrig, put in an appearance, closely followed by Merlin, the gorgeous black Labrador and finally, the wonderful cat, Fifi, who took a particular shine to me for the entire week. I fancy he sensed I was missing Lily so made it his mission to fulfil surrogate pet duty!

Easter Saturday meant a trip to Guingamp to sample a little shopping and practice my very rusty French. Luckily, I got by rather well and purchased gifts for family and friends before setting off back to the farmhouse for Katherine’s delicious cooking and my writing. (Well, that was the reason I was there, after all!)

Guingamp Market square, Easter Saturday. The obligatory visit to the chocolaterie!
Guingamp Market square, Easter Saturday. The obligatory visit to the chocolaterie!

Sadly, that was the last we saw of sunshine for a good few days. However, I was there to write so it didn’t matter a jot. And, write I did. Lots. Over the course of the week, I wrote no less than seven chapters of my new book.

When I arrived at Kerivoa, I had three chapters completed for what I thought was going to be a short erotic novella. This has now morphed into a larger work, incorporating more characters and venturing off into a paranormal romance direction with just a couple of erotic scenes. Funny how that happens!

Beautiful Fifi - just the most perfect muse one could possibly wish for!
Beautiful Fifi – just the most perfect muse one could possibly wish for!

I achieved so much during that week, that I am now afflicted with trying to recreate that atmosphere here at home, which is easier said than done. I have the cat, yes, but I also have a full-time job, laundry, cleaning, tidying and other procrastinating, which is driving me mad.

On top of those things, I also have some wonderful friends who are writing and publishing new books which I want to read, so I do feel as though I’m spinning lots of plates right now. Having said that, it’s a fantastic feeling to have, as I know I shall never suffer from boredom ever again!

Writing outdoors, with Fifi and Merlin.
Writing outdoors, with Fifi and Merlin.

The best single thing about my week was Katherine’s support and encouragement to follow the story and her gift for creating a truly magical and inspiring setting, even when the heavens opened and I was mooching around in my PJs and slippers!

So, back to the retreat I shall have to go. Probably not this year, what with Swanwick looming and not being able to take any more time off work than I already have planned. I believe I shall make it a priority for 2015 though.

Watch this space!

 

 

Writer With Pets: Madalyn Morgan

I met actress, writer and radio presenter Madalyn Morgan at my first Swanwick in 2013. She was one of many people I met there who inspired me early on in my own writing journey and I’m thrilled that she has contributed to my blog.

Maddie has reminded me that it’s not just the cats and dogs which share our homes which we can consider pets. Those of us lucky enough to have gardens know that the great outdoors plays host to any number of wild creatures and they too can be an inspiration.

Which came first, a love of writing, or a love of animals?

Animals came before writing, but not before acting.  Let me explain.  My first cat adopted me just before I went to Drama College in London.  I had a hairdressing salon in Rugby and the girls who worked for me insisted I took in a scruffy little stray.  I said no, but by the time the girls had fed him for a couple of weeks, they had fallen in love with him and he had taken over my flat.  Toby Two-Shoes ended up living with my parents at the pub I grew up in, when I went off to London in 1974.

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Susie Kit-Kat adopted Maddie when she was an actress living in London

My second cat, Susie Kit-Kat, was fifteen when she came to live with me.  I was an out-of-work actress and she had been orphaned when her mum of ninety-three died.  The lady was famous in South London after a court appearance for not paying her TV license.  She told the magistrates that she had enough money to pay the TV license, or feed her cats, but not both.  She chose to feed her cats.  Susie travelled with me to several repertory theatres.  She wasn’t much help when I was leaning lines though, she used to fall asleep.

Describe your pets.

My first cat, Toby, was jet black with white front paws – hence the name Toby Two-shoes.  Susie was a tabby, very soft and very pretty with big eyes.  Her lips were strange.  Most of the time she looked as if she was smiling.  A regular feline visitor to my garden is, Blanca.  She disturbs my writing so much…  She stalks the fish in my pond, so I run out and shoo her off.  She is pure white with piercing blue eyes – and she is very cheeky.  She knows I would never hurt her, so she sits and stares me out.  Only when she decides to leave, does she slink off.

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Blanca, hiding in Maddie’s wildflower garden under the apple trees

Take me through your writing day.

My day starts early.  I wake as soon as it is light, which is not so bad in the winter but in the summer, it can be too early.  However, it is as I’m waking up that I have my best ideas.  I have to write them down immediately.  Like dreams, they are very real at the time, but they quickly go out of your mind once you’re awake.

Sometimes I’m bombarded with ideas for my next book before I’ve finished writing the current one.  I was line editing my second novel, Applause, for twelve hours a day.  Stupid I know, sitting at the computer for that long is bad for your legs.  However, two nights running I was kept awake by the plot of China Blue, the third book in the Dudley sisters saga,  which I haven’t started writing yet.

“Editing Foxden Acres, I had Applause wake me up. Editing Applause, I had China Blue wake me up.”

 

In the spring and summer, I make a cup of tea and switch on the computer.  While it warms up, I take my tea and walk round the garden.  I fill the birdbaths from the water butt, put down seeds for the birds and look at the fish.  One my garden creatures are happy I go back to the computer and, with a second cup of tea, check my emails, Facebook and Tweets, before opening my writing file.  Once I start writing it’s a cup of tea and a chat to the fish and frogs every couple of hours.

 

How do your pets help or hinder the writing process, and/or inspire you?

That is a good question.  They hinder and inspire in equal measure.  I was prone to being stressed, but my pets calm me.  Fish and frogs are fascinating to watch, which is relaxing.  On the other hand, if the weather is good, I am in and out of the garden all day, which is a hindrance.  In the summer, I eat my lunch outside so I can watch them.  By then the frogs are used to my voice and will sit and watch me as I am watching them.

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Frog sunbathing on a lily pad

The fish too are used to my shape and come for food.  But my favourite time is the end of my writing day.  Around six o’clock I sit and relax by the pond with a dish of olives and a glass of wine.  Perfect.

 

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Shubunkin, goldfish, yellow and black tench

Summer is the best time for man and fish, except when you lose one.  I was heartbroken when I returned from Swanwick in August 2012 and found a beautiful red, silver and black, Shubunkin and two red goldfish were missing.  My neighbours saw a bird of prey in my garden and I guess it took them.  However, the good news is, last year I saw two tiny baby ‘black’ goldfish.  I can’t wait to see how much they have grown, if they survived the winter, which I’m sure they did.

In the winter, my workstation faces the garden and I spend far too much time gazing out the window at the birds.  I hang suet balls, seed, and nut feeders in the trees for the tits and sparrows, throw seeds on the steps for the ground eaters like Robins and other small birds, and put currents and apples out for the blackbirds.  Two beautiful little doves visit every day and what they don’t eat the pigeons see off.  I love my garden, my birds and my fish and frogs.  I never tire of watching them – and I never tire of writing.

Popping in and out several times, a day is good for a writer.  I spent far too many hours at the computer without taking a break, while I edited Foxden Acres and then Applause, and had extremely painful legs as a consequence.  Writers need to get up every hour or so and move about.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

So, here we are. I’ve arrived in West Cumbria, chez Mama and Papa, amid severe gales and showers of both sleet and hail. To make matters worse,  the distraught feline on the back seat made her displeasure all too obvious by howling for most of the journey.

So tempers were frayed to start with, before I learned that my father’s broadband connection has been reset and so the network and password data on the back of his router is useless. Cue a phone call to TALKTALK to get it all sorted.

Now, I am not the most patient person in the world as it is. So, I consider today to have been a triumph, since I have not lost my temper with anyone yet. However, it’s only just gone dark. There’s plenty of time before bed!

So, as I settle into a Christmas with my family, as I’m sure many of you will be doing, it’s time to reflect on a year of success for my fledgling writing career. And also to look forward to how it will likely leap forward in 2014.

By far, one of the most wonderful experiences was my first week at Swanwick which I shall treasure forever. Meeting so many talented writers and being immersed in a literary world was such an inspiration. Certainly, it gave me confidence and courage to write more than before and with a more determined purpose.

Visiting authors at book tours has also become an inspirational pastime which I look forward to doing much more of in 2014. Both Elizabeth Gilbert and Mark Forsyth have given me food for thought about my next steps into the world of authoring.

I have been writing my short stories which, as many of you know, will be published under my pseudonym sometime in January. One of my tasks over the holidays is to browse through thousands of book covers to choose just the right ones for my stories.

All very exciting stuff for someone who, less than twelve months ago, didn’t know whether this was just a passing phase that I would get bored of eventually. Although I do still get moments of self-doubt, as I believe most writers do from time to time, I believe I’ve made great progress this year.

So, if you’re a dedicated follower of this blog, first of all I’d like to say a huge “Thank you!” and also give you a taster of what’s to come in the next few months.

Short stories published for the kindle and available through Amazon only to start with. Watch this space or check my Facebook page () for details.

I’m off to Brittany in France for a writing retreat at Easter, another in Rome in June and then Swanwick again in August to top up on inspiration and meet up with my writing friends.

I also plan to be developing a website for my alter ego to help promote my kindle stories so look out for more on that. So, with that and continuing this blog, I shall be a very busy lady.

Finally, I have this novel which has been swimming around in my head for a while and really needs to get onto the page. So, there’ll be more work on that from to time.

So, all that remains is for me to wish you and all your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year 2014!

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School: Reflections

What an amazing week!

I am thrilled to report that my first Swanwick Summer School was a magnificent success. It was truly wonderful to be a part of such a lively community of fellow wordsmiths. The term networking doesn’t really apply, not least because it doesn’t feel as though I’ve made new contacts; instead, I have made new friends. It’s a unique and inspirational environment. To hear everyone’s stories about what they write and their lives in general was delightful. I was particularly touched that the fact that I am not yet published mattered not one jot to anyone I spoke to. Some of these characters deserve a particular mention.

I had some expert guidance and advice from Roy Devereux about writing magazine articles and, more importantly, getting paid for it. I also had a one-to-one session with Roy where we discussed an article I had already written and talked about the next steps to getting it published. I’ll let you know my progress with that one.

Special thanks must also go to Autumn Barlow for her course on self-publishing. She gave many hints and tips which I shall be following very soon. Thank you Autumn!

Thanks must also go to Alison Chisholm for her course on writing autobiographies. She has opened my eyes to the fact that autobiographical writing can be done using fixed periods in your life, something which had never occurred to me before. I now have a couple of ideas to explore in this genre too.

Tarja Moles provided some superb information about creating and managing a blog. Look out for some great new content and improvements to this site over the coming weeks.

I even met a fellow ailurophile, the multi-talented Stella Whitelaw and learned of a local writers group, the Bardstown Writers, which I hope to visit very soon.

The highlight, however, would have to be winning an original signed Curtis Jobling cartoon at the AGM auction on the final evening. I will admit to being just a little starstruck as I asked him if I could get his picture in the bar!

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In short, I have come away from Swanwick with many more friends and a certain magic coursing through my veins. I am more inspired to write and more determined than ever to be a success. I cannot thank you all enough…

Swanwick Eve

Tomorrow I’m off to my very first residential writing event in Swanwick, Derbyshire (see link here).

I’m really very excited. My college course was only once a week for a couple of hours and there was the online writing course that I went on in April. While both informative and interesting, and despite the fact that I learnt a great deal from both these endeavours, the writers school in Swanwick will be a wonderful opportunity to immerse myself in the writing world for a whole week.

I’ve connected with a few people on Facebook already, so it’ll be nice to meet up with some of these people when I arrive. I’ve also been in touch with an author with whom I have a one to one session arranged. He has already given very positive feedback on a piece which I sent him earlier, so I’ll be thrilled to get his advice on how to get published.

There’s a pretty hefty schedule arranged for us throughout the week, judging by the programme which arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago. However, my goal is not to fill my week entirely by listening to others talk. I also want to get some serious writing done.

As regular readers will know, I am a sufferer of Procrastination from time to time. How thoughtful, then, that the organisers have arranged for the whole of Tuesday to be a “Procrastination-Free Day”. Perfect!

So, look out for perhaps an update during the week, and definitely a selection of post-writing school reflective thoughts around the 18th/19th August.

Right folks! I’m off to pack my pens and notebooks. See you next week…