Thursday, 23 August 2018

Benedick and Beatrice

Much Ado About Nothing
I ended my trip in style tonight watching ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at Jimmy’s Farm in Suffolk. The play was performed in a forest clearing by just six actors from the Red Rose Chain Theatre Company. Open air theatre has a magic of its own but when produced, directed and acted with such skill as was the case tonight, it rises beyond magic to something truly majestic.

The magic of open air theatre
Somewhat fittingly, considering last week’s #Swanwick70 also had a 1940s theme, tonight’s play was given a wartime setting. 

‘Much Ado’ was my set text for A level English. I remember being taught that in Shakespearean times ‘nothing’ was pronounced as ‘noting’, which double meaning is appropriate for a play where much of the mischief, for good and for bad, is caused by people overhearing conversations and spying on others.

Benedick and Beatrice, so in love (well, maybe)
Listening to strangers frequently provides a good prompt for a fiction story. As I return home I must pay attention to the conversation of those around me in hopes that I will find inspiration to get back into my writing. And in the imaginary world I can create as much mischief as I like, as long as no one recognises themselves in the story.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Awesome People

Ziggy the Dragon-Slayer
I have had a super time staying with my fabulous family. We have played amazing card games, walked Ziggy the wonderful dog, eaten incredible food and drunk marvellous wine. 

And together we have watched three superhero films: Iron Man 2, The Incredibles 2 and Spider-Man: HomecomingThey are all classic tales of good versus evil, of the fight for what is right. 

But for all their heroism and special powers, the superheroes are portrayed as ordinary people with human failings. Iron Man is depressed, reckless and a drunkard; Mr Incredible struggles to cope with fatherhood; Spider-Man is naive and conceited.

The villains meanwhile have their good points. Vanko acts out of misguided loyalty to his late father; The Screenslayer was traumatised by her father’s murder; The Vulture is a man who took his responsibilities to provide for and to protect his family too far.

By coincidence, ‘Heroes and Villains’ is the theme for the current 1500 word short story competition being run by Jesmond Library, closing date 29 November 2018.

Time spent relaxing with family is an excellent thing - it needs no excuse and is never wasted. But with this coming competition in mind, I can also claim that a weekend immersed in superhero films is vital research.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Zzzz - time to reflect

Reflections, the lake at The Hayes, Swanwick
Swanwick 2018 is over. Goodbyes have been said, addresses exchanged and social media details shared. Brigadoon-like, the Writers’ Summer School has disappeared into the mist. It’s magic will not be seen again until it emerges twelve months later into the bright sunshine of August 2019.

Waking up the first morning after Swanwick was a little disconcerting. I reached for my programme to find out what exciting courses are happening today and where I should be and when, only to realise I’m no longer at The Hayes. Instead I started reading through my notebook to remind myself of just some of the many things I have done, seen and learned this last week. 

One particular phrase that stuck out was one used by Bradford novelist Amit Dhand, the guest speaker on Sunday evening. When events weren’t going well, or seemed stuck in a negative pattern, his father would “change the narrative”. He would do something unexpected. Amit told of the time his father shared a beer with local youths who, up to that moment in time, had been regularly throwing stones at the windows of the Dhand’s corner shop. His actions ‘changed the narrative’. 

I shall continue to dwell on that lesson. I can’t rewrite my history. But I can do something to alter my future. So when I get bogged down, whether in my writing or in actuality, I will do something to ‘change the narrative’. 

Friday, 17 August 2018

Yes, I can

#Swanwick70 - Day 6

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just the first step.”
Martin Luther King
The final course I attended today was not strictly a writing course. It was titled “Succeed on Purpose” and was a light-hearted look at how the mind works. We explored techniques to change the way we think and by so doing change the outcome of our actions, allowing us to succeed on purpose.

The tutor encouraged us to write down a goal, to commit to it, to visualise how that success will feel, then to plan and act as necessary in order to achieve that end. And so I shall take that first step and record my goal here.

My goal is to have my children’s A-Z published by December 2019.

There, I’ve said it. Now all I need to do is to make it happen.

Thursday, 16 August 2018


#Swanwick70 - Day 5

I attended a short course on writing Erotic Fiction earlier this week. Some very ‘interesting’ pieces of writing were shared during the workshop. But I will not be repeating them here in this blogpost.

I shan’t reveal the bawdy words to the parody version of an old music hall song which, and at their request, I was tricked into reading out loud to a table of old ladies.

Nor shall I record the conversation tonight in the bar which caused such raucous laughter.

None of these things can ever be spoken of. 

It’s all censored. 

Because, of course, what happens in Swanwick must stay in Swanwick.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Write Your Life

#Swanwick70 - Day 4

Secrets lie beneath the surface
One of the advantages of Swanwick is the huge variety of courses and workshops on offer. None have to be booked in advance and you can switch from one to another. Or do none at all.

So far I have learned about Writing for Competitions, Publishing, Niche Publishing and Erotica.

For my specialist course I chose “Write Your Life” to find more about Memoirs. According to Laurie Lee, the purpose of autobiography is “the laying to rest of ghosts, an ordering of the mind, a celebration of living and an attempt to hoard its memories”.

Despite this, I have no intention to write about my life. Nevertheless there are techniques used in writing memoir which are transferable to fiction writing and I hope these will give depth and substance to my future short story writing.

This all makes Swanwick sound very serious but it certainly isn’t. Everywhere people are smiling and there is much jollity. 

And although we have passed the halfway point there are still two very full days of laughter and good humour to come.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

“Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things”

Prosecco and chats in the bar
#Swanwick70 - Day 3

With Dan Quayle’s comment in mind, I shall keep this blog post concise.

Events at #Swanwick70 continue to race along in a blur. I have lost track of what day of the week it is. I rely on the programme to ensure I make it to the right room for my chosen courses, to remind me of meal times, and for details of the evening’s entertainment. Tonight there was a chat show panel, followed by the Prose Open Mic and then a 1940’s themed fancy dress disco.

Above all there are so many people happy to chat over dinner, with a coffee and at the bar.

Perhaps the Prosecco is to blame for our verbosity and any subsequent unclear, inarticulate things?

Monday, 13 August 2018

Uniform yet Unique

Follow the rules 
but stand out
#Swanwick70 - Day 2

It’s the time of year when shops are trumpeting their ‘back to school’ offers. Children are bought new shoes, shirts and socks, trousers and pinafores, ready for the new academic year. Fully kitted out in their uniforms, they will be indistinguishable from their classmates as they respond to that first school bell.

In this morning’s short course on Writing for Competitions we were told to ‘put on the uniform’. That is, to read the rules so our entries follow the requirements as to word length, font type, etc. Then comes the tricky part. Having made the format of our entry uniform, we need to make the content of our submission unique.

Later this afternoon I listened to the prize winning entries from the ‘Write your way to Swanwick’ competition. I didn’t win. 

The Open Mic Poetry this evening was excellent with some very talented poets performing their work. I wasn’t one of them. 

Tomorrow evening I will watch the Prose Open Mic. I shan’t be reading.

The reason why is that, in all three cases, I failed to enter. 

To continue the analogy, I had the uniform but didn’t walk through the school gates. So now no one will know how uniquely wonderful my writing is. 

I know what should be written on my Swanwick School Report: “Must try harder next year”.

Sunday, 12 August 2018


So much to do, so little time
#Swanwick70 - Day 1

Hurray! I’ve arrived at Swanwick Writers’ School. This is the platinum anniversary, 70 years since the first event in 1948. There are 297 delegates of whom I know only a few but that doesn’t matter. There is a wonderful camaraderie because of our shared interest in writing.

One of the initial steps is to decide what specialist courses, workshops and short courses to attend. There is so much choice and not enough time.

If I could turn back time...
Then there are the social events. When I was here two years ago the Poetry Open Mic and Buskers’ Night were both fabulous with so many talented performers. As from last year a Prose Open Mic has been added. All three are expected to be oversubscribed so it may be a case of drawing names from a box.

There are two discos, a tea dance, parties on the lawn, plays to be performed, the list goes on and on. I have heard more than one person wish for one of JK Rowling’s Time Turners so they can fit more in.

I should be sensible and pace myself. I know I should. But it’s hard to resist all the wonderful opportunities laid out in the timetable.

Oh well. #Swanwick70, here I come!

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Student Life - then and now

So here I am in York staying in a student hall of residence. I am three times the age of the youngsters in the common areas playing table tennis and sitting at their laptops. I am old enough to be their grandmother, for goodness sake! How did that happen? Where have the years gone?

Student luxury
It seems no time at all since my parents dropped me off at Ridge Hall in Birmingham. There I shared a bedroom. There was just one bathroom further along the corridor, shared between 10 of us. Everything was very basic.

Today the room I’m in has a double bed, an en-suite shower room, flat screen TV, cooker, microwave, toaster, fridge. Oh the luxury!

Breakfast (lunch, dinner and supper) in bed
But despite the more comfortable surroundings I don’t suppose the essence of the student experience is much different. The thrill of being independent of your parents. The joy of meeting new friends. The intellectual stimulation of conversations into the early hours about philosophy, religion, politics. The challenge of lectures and tutorials, research in the library, then essays and exams.

As a private writing retreat university halls of residence can work well. Perhaps it’s the studious air that is embedded in the fabric of the building. Whatever it is, I think I may do this again to encourage me to sit at a desk and just write.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Rights and Wrongs

Righting wrongs

Salad (so much more
tasty than porridge)
My journey today took me to a coffee shop in the little village of Askham Richard near York. Nothing unusual in that, you may say. Except this one is different - it is in the grounds of a women’s prison. All the food and delicious cakes are made by prisoners. The waiting staff are prisoners. The garden centre next to the coffee shop sells fruit and veg which has been grown by prisoners. 

HMP Askham Grange is one of only two open prisons for women in the U.K., catering for those coming to the end of their sentences. It is all about rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. And it has proved very successful in helping its residents to turn their lives around.

It’s a place where those who have done wrong can learn to do right. If you’re in the area I would encourage you to visit The Grange Coffee Shop.

Wronging rights

Freda and Barry’s favourite 
lets its writers down badly
Meanwhile in the world of magazine writing there is trouble. The rights of short story writers are under threat. 

Copyright and the moral rights to be acknowledged as the author of a piece of writing are now being demanded by Woman’s Weekly. 

Most of the professional and regular writers for the magazine are refusing to agree to these terms. 

Outrage is also being expressed by high profile authors in social media. And there has been strong support from the writing press, with both Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine reporting on the issues. 

More information is available in this post by Joanne Harris on the Society of Authors website.

Protecting our rights is important.

Doing what’s right is important too. Let’s hope Woman’s Weekly realise this soon.