More Swanwick Memories: Jennifer Wilson

Continuing the theme of sharing stories from my favourite writing event of the year, I am joined today by Jennifer C. Wilson.

I remember meeting her in 2016 when, as a fresh-faced White Badger, Jennifer told me her story over a drink in the bar. I am absolutely thrilled that she returned to Swanwick in 2017, and she has kindly agreed to tell us why.

Swanwick Memories, by Jennifer C. Wilson

I’d been thinking about going to Swanwick for about eight years. Each year since signing up for an adult education creative writing class back in Hexham, I’d download the programme and even pick out the courses I’d go along to, and yet, never quite got as far as booking. Now, I know that being published isn’t even remotely hinted at as being a requirement to go to Swanwick, but after my debut novel came out in October 2015, I decided that I had finally ‘earned my place’, and in January 2016, finally went ahead and booked up. I am so glad I did.

With my usual lack of punctuality, I got to Derby station three hours before the coach to Swanwick was due, and still remember the blind fear on receiving the email advising that the bus was now going to be round the back of the station, not the front, and “to let people know” if we saw them at the station. Cue a very awkward half hour trying to work out who might be going to Swanwick, and who might just think I was weird for approaching them and talking about buses… Luckily, I found some fellow Swanwickers, and next thing I know, we’re nattering over a cuppa in the Pumpkin Café. Not only did they show me where the bus was, I was also escorted to the Lakeside Reception, shown how to find my room, then taken back across to the main house to find where the other White Badgers were being welcomed with a (by now much-welcomed) glass of wine.

The rumours were true then – Swanwick really was full of friendly, helpful people. Less than an hour after arriving, I definitely felt I belonged.

That feeling didn’t leave me throughout the week, as I met friends I’m still happy to be in touch with (and already looking forward to seeing them again in August 2018!), and enjoyed even the passing five minute conversations which seemed to happen every time you looked slightly confused or lost.

As for the courses and talks – I came away from each and every one feeling so inspired. Either to try something new, with a new idea to play with, or an increased understanding in how to improve what I was already working on. For my first year, I chose ‘creative non-fiction’ as my specialist course for the week, and have since produced a book proposal which I intend to keep working on, and thanks to Sue Moorcroft and Michael Jecks’ courses, the manuscript for my second novel felt so much tighter and improved, ready for submission. In my second year, I returned to Sue’s course, this time on popular fiction, and also enjoyed this blog owner’s fun and informative course on writing intimate scenes.

I think the biggest thing about Swanwick though is simply spending a whole week in the company of other writers. I’m lucky that my friends and family are really supportive of my writing, but there’s a limit to how much even the most supportive person can take! At Swanwick, everyone is more than happy to discuss (at length) the books they love and loathe, the writing techniques they use, and how they are getting on (or otherwise) with their latest project. I got as much from chatting over lunch and in the bar after workshops as I did from the courses themselves. The subsequent online chatter and support via the Facebook group is great too, keeping the community spirit going throughout the rest of the year.

After booking for August 2017, I had started thinking I would skip a year, try somewhere new, do something different. I won’t be. This year, bringing two writing friends along made the whole thing feel even more like a community, and by Sunday lunchtime, we’d agreed that it could become ‘our annual thing’. Seeing them be as excited as I had been last year was just brilliant. I even volunteered with one of the open-mic nights, so felt even more a part of things.

Yes, I’ve come away exhausted again, but hey, at least we have Saturday and Sunday to catch up on all that sleep we miss when our brains are too busy plotting…

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015, and Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile was released in June 2017. She can be found online at her blog, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s blog. She’s currently working on her first self-published effort, a timeslip romance featuring Richard III (of course).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wild Writer Within Us All

So, here it is. A brief account of my final writing-related travel experience of 2016:

I don’t visit France anything like as often as I would like, and it’s been many years since I was in the south. Let me assure you, I will certainly not be waiting as long until my next visit.

I had been looking forward to a retreat with fellow Swanwick devotee Bridget Holding at her Wild Words nature retreat ever since the moment I returned from Swanwick back in August. (Goodness, that feels like such a long time ago!)

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The setting sun casts its pink glow on Bugarach Peak.
 Day One consisted of meeting and greeting my fellow retreaters, Susan and Catherine, and settling down to a delicious banquet, cooked by chef and host, Sander, and washed down by generous amounts of local wine, which is included in the price of your stay at the Le Presbytere.

The garden is beautifully well-kept by his partner Rommie, and they grow most of their own fruit and vegetables which are beautifully presented at every meal.

A hearty and healthy breakfast in the morning preceded some time spent with Bridget who gave us exercises to flex our writing muscles. In the afternoon, we went for a walk to the nearby lake, which sits directly at the foot of Bugarach Peak.

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I can vouch for this lake being as fresh and exciting to swim in as it looks. Honestly!

Braving the coolness of the water, we went for a dip. This was my first time swimming in ‘open water’ in recent years and it really was exhilarating. It was nice to emerge on the bank not smelling of chlorine and being able to bask in late afternoon sunshine to dry off. I might see if I can find anywhere local where I can relive the experience, albeit probably next Spring/Summer now!

On the Wednesday we visited a magical waterfall and sat around discussing movement, writing poetic descriptions of the thunderous phenomenon. I spent some time pondering our natural world, and how we fail to acknowledge so much of it in our day to day lives; the others decided to go for another open water dip. By all accounts it was way colder than the lake, so I was pleased to transfer to the thermal pond we found a little way down the road!

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Lunch at Le Presbytere is usually of the takeaway variety, but since we stayed close to the house most days, Sander concocted some terrific salads for us to enjoy.

Thursday’s weather was a challenge. The forecast said rain, and my injured foot told me a long walk would be unwise, so after a tremendous session on plotting and structure in the morning, I retreated to the solace of my room while the others went off into the wild.

Just a few moments later, the sky darkened. It felt like the mountains were closing in on us, huddling in a rugby scrum with the village underneath. Thunder rolled in the distance, advancing like an angry army across the sky.

I went downstairs to see whether my fellow guests had returned but instead found the pets unsettled so I chose to stay with them while the storm did battle above. As torrential rain battered the landscape and wild flashes of lightning lit up the sky we sat indoors, dry and safe. It must have looked strange. One human female, two dogs and two cats all trying to fit onto a sofa!

The ladies had a truly wild experience though. They eventually came back, soaked to the skin and having tramped through hailstone showers while trying not to get stuck underneath trees!

I was really sad to leave on Friday, especially since Susan and Catherine were staying another day, but unfortunately the flights were not favourable, and I had a date with Margaret Atwood at the RST to keep the following morning, so I had to say my goodbyes.

It’s been an amazing week in the Corbieres mountains at the foothills of the Pyrenees. I will certainly be back this way some time soon…

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Look at the laughter in our eyes! From L to R: Susan, Rommie, Sander, Catherine, me. Thanks to Bridget for taking this photo.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

All Night At The Coffin Works: How do you stay up all night to write?

I had very mixed feelings about this event, I’ll be honest.

It seemed like a good idea, back in the summer when I bought the tickets. The nights were warm and stretched out way beyond teatime. Now, it was early October and, while not exactly cold, it was darker and Halloween was approaching with some determination.

Imposing door front. It was now or never!
Imposing door front. It was now or never!

I have always been someone who gets spooked easily, and right until the moment the event started, I had some misgivings about whether or not I would ever sleep again.

A coffin works. All night. What the hell was I thinking…?!

We settled in, eyeing each other with wariness. Twenty writers, most of whom had clearly never met each other, snugly fit into the room. I was very glad I had invited a fellow Swanwicker, Lol Barnes, along to join me. At least I would have someone to hold my hand, I thought, if it got spooky later on Like, in the dead of night. If the lights went out. Or something…

First thing’s first though, a tour round the museum.

Well, Newman Brothers’ coffin works didn’t actually make coffins, as it happens. They were essentially a brass foundry, so they produced all the accessories to go with coffins. Brass plaques, plates, crucifixes and handles were stamped and polished before being shipped out to the undertakers, where they would fit them to the coffins, ready for the deceased to be laid to rest.

Example os brass stamping machinery, still in working order.
Example of brass stamping machinery, still in working order.

Our guide, Owen Edmunds, was hugely enthusiastic about the place. Despite the music thumping from a neighbouring nightclub, we could still appreciate the ambience of this strange monument to Birmingham’s industrial heyday.

He showed us first into the stamping room, the presses still functioning after all these years (since 1882 to be precise) and making a dreadful racket as they stamped the thin brass plates into shapes, ready to be nailed onto someone’s coffin.

After the stamping room, we were ushered into the main building to see the warehouse. Here we learned the difference between a coffin as a casket:

Caskets are seen mostly in the US and are rectangular-shaped, exactly the same width at the top and bottom. You’ll see a single long handle fitted down the entire length of the casket which can be used to carry the deceased to their final resting place. A coffin, however, is tapered to fit the size of a human body as it lies facing upwards. Typically, you’ll have several smaller handles running down the side of a coffin which people can use to carry their loved one.

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Unbelievable variety of accoutrements you can have fitted to your coffin these days. Who knew???

The factory also has a sewing room, where ladies carefully stitched the shrouds for the deceased, in a range of colours. You could even have one made in the colours of your favourite football team, if you so desired.

Finally, we arrived in the factory office, left exactly as it was approximately seventeen years ago, as if it had just been abandoned for an untimely fire drill. The late Joyce Green who was the Managing Director at the time, had even left her reading glasses on her desk. (Slightly unnerving!)

I have to say, as a writing event it is definitely the most unusual I have ever attended. The tutors were friendly and gave us plenty of exercises to complete, along with encouragement into the wee small hours and beyond.

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Despite being dog-tired, there was something about the accommodation which didn’t seem appealing…

I was really pleased that I finally got to try my hand at some poetry, something I’ve been rather reluctant to try before. I don’t know whether it was as a result of sleep-deprivation but at 5.30am I even managed to produce some half-decent haiku. Watch out for some more of that to come perhaps…!

Many thanks to the wonderful team at Newman Brothers for letting us come to your fabulous museum.

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.

“But first, this….” Procrastination and How Writers Deal With It (Or Don’t)

This coming weekend is a bank holiday in England and Wales. I’ve taken time off from my full-time job today and tomorrow, with the sole purpose of getting some serious writing done over the break.

I have about six projects on the go at the moment, all at various stages of completion. Some have barely been started, with notes strewn about all over the place, so it’s not like I’m struggling to find things to do.

I woke around 7am this morning, and between then and the six hours until lunch, I have

  • cleaned my car (it was absolutely filthy, it has to be said);
  • been to the shop for breakfast materials (no milk in fridge);
  • made and eaten said breakfast;
  • tidied up the kitchen;
  • cleaned the inside of the dishwasher (OK, I just inserted some device into the machine and set it on the highest programme, but still…);
  • had a bubble bath (by this time, I needed it);
  • put a load of laundry into the washing machine;
  • painted my nails.

In short, I have procrastinated.

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Courtesy of TheFreeDictionary.com

Now I have covered this topic here before, but this is not an affliction which resolves itself overnight. One has to work hard to overcome this particular bane.

Friends on Facebook have provided a selection of responses. Writers in particular though, seem to be bothered by this condition more than most, and have responded more than everyone else too.

“Amateur! Come back when your hair’s in cornrows,” said one friend. She’s a talented screenwriter (and Master Procrastinator, clearly).

But the procrastination sufferer does not need this kind of idea placing into their head. I am now seriously considering taking a couple of hours out to plait my hair, having surfed the web to discover that cornrows are far too difficult to do on my own. That killed another half an hour, mind you.

I need to know that I’m not alone here. I want to hear your procrastination techniques, large and small. Nothing is too crazy here. Feel free to spill all. I’m a nice, kind person and you’re guaranteed a virtual hug at the end.

In the meantime, I’m off to bake some muffins, or something…