Monday, 25 August 2014

Our African Adventure Part 2


Arriving at Kariba, we discover The Cutty Sark hotel is definitely NOT in the same league as the Sheraton, but the room overlooks the lake and the pool is as warm as bathwater. After lunch we visit a crocodile farm. The crocs are numerous, somnolent - and very smelly. Not really living up to their reputation here, not a snapping jaw in sight.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Goodbye Gardening Guilt

I grew up in a house with a beautiful garden. Both of my parents were keen gardeners and my father in particular spent every summer evening and most of his weekends, when not in Church or watching Aston Villa play, tending his flower beds. Each year we would have a wide spread of spring bulbs, followed by trellises covered in rambling roses; walls disappearing behind deep purple clematis; canes bending under an abundance of sweet peas; chrysanthemums the size of saucers; and vividly-coloured dahlias, so beloved of earwigs. The smell of Lilly of the Valley, the sight of green tomatoes; or the touch of a velvet peony petal always takes me straight back to Ryland Road.

Friday, 15 August 2014

#Swanwick66: A Final Chapter

Day six was, as always, a day of 'finals': the final chance for the early risers to gather in the chapel for Lift Up Your Hearts, or by the lake for Meditation. And no, I didn't make either of these - I was too busy slaving over a red hot keyboard, writing yesterday's blog post.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

#swanwick66: A Theatrical Day Five

The Wednesday of Swanwick always seems a little frantic to me; it's when we realise we are more than halfway through the week and time is starting to run out for all those conversations we were planning to have, those photographs we were planning to take or those books we were planning to buy. But, there also seems to be a growing level of inspiration and more people skipping classes to work on their latest work in progress, put into practice what they've learned in a course or from a 1:1.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

#swanwick66: Snippets from Days Three and Four

As the clock ticked around to 9.30 on Monday morning, the screen remained determinedly blank and I realised I wasn't going to get my presentation to run, I grabbed a pen and headed for the flip-chart. It was like being back in one of my training courses in Russia (without the translator, the snow and the vodka, of course). There are some things you never forget! I hope it wasn't too disruptive for the audience - but for me, it was just like the good old days.

#Swanwick66: An Extra Special Guest for Day Three

'Fame Starts Here' were the words Aileen Armitage taped to the front of her typewriter to inspire her when she started her writing career. She first came to Swanwick forty seven years ago and became a regular member of the school for many years. It was at Swanwick, sixteen years later, that she met her husband-to-be, the late Deric Longden. On Monday night Aileen returned as guest speaker and held us all spellbound, making us laugh and cry at the same time, a quality also found in Deric's writing.

Monday, 11 August 2014

#Swanwick66: Snapshots of Day Two

Day two started with a traditional Swanwick breakfast: sausage, hash browns, egg and beans. I tried to convince my neighbour that cooked breakfasts on Sunday contained no calories, but I don't think she believed me! It didn't stop either of us partaking, by the way.

The day is still buzzing round in my head, so here are some snapshots from my short-term memory:

Learning from David Hough that editing can be done in a structured manner (music to this scientist's ears);

Trying to feel sorry for Della, when she told us she still gets rejections (and that her file is now too heavy to carry around as proof) just after she told us she'd sold more than 1500 stories in just over 20 years;

Remembering absent friends and mourning ones we will not see again as Diana read out the In Memoriam card in the chapel;

Gathering with 30 other members of the Swanwick Facebook group, putting faces to names and acknowledging how the group helps to keep the family feeling running throughout the year;

Having attendees at my tutorial on Scrivener come and tell me afterwards how useful they found it (thanks guys, that makes it all worthwhile);

Seeing Katherine trying to hold on to her skirt as the pouring rain of this morning was replaced by fierce winds this evening;

And watching Roy and Fliss sing 'If you were the only girl in the world' at the candle-lit WWI commemoration.

This evening's speaker was Shirley Blair, Commissioning Fiction Editor of The People's Friend. She began  by asking how many of us had heard of TPF, and then how many of us had read it. The majority of the audience raised their hands - and I suspect if she'd asked how many of us had ever submitted a story, she'd have had another forest of hands. Shirley had been asked to speak on publishing opportunities in TPF - and she gave us a wonderful run-down of each type of story: short story, long read, and serial plus an overview of what happens to our submissions once they arrive in her office.

But I suspect for many, the best part of the evening was the Q and A session, where all sorts of queries were thrown at Shirley, each of which was answered honestly but kindly. She reminded us that the culture of TPF is for safe, cosy stories - and also gave hints on the types and length of stories that had more chance of being accepted. How many of the audience, I wonder, spent the rest of the evening running through their WIP files and planning their next submissions? (Although, in truth, some of us also spent time to go to the disco - but that's another story.)

Saturday, 9 August 2014

#Swanwick66: Impressions of Day One

The year has flown by: it seems like only yesterday we were waving the coaches goodbye in the rain last August - and here we all are back at The Hayes once more. The first day is always a chaotic jumble, so here's just a few of my highlights to be going on with:

Hugs from old friends that made me forget my stewarding duties;

Meeting 'white badgers' and trying to make them feel less nervous;

Awarding Katie the prize for most fluorescent outfit so far;

Cheering when Fliss was presented with the Quaich;

Seeing Zana looking well and happy;

Noticing that the custard is a paler shade of yellow this year; 

And being thrilled with my thank you present from Diana and the Committee.

Tonight's guest speaker was Christopher Lee (not the dead one!): prolific author, broadcaster, former Archers scriptwriter and adviser to the Foreign Office. His opening comments were that "writers look smug and self-satisfied; they are miserable sods who are not nice to other people." 

We were advised never to marry a writer and more to the point, never be a writer. He went on to say it was a lousy, lousy job and why would anyone do it. But he also admitted it was a great life and a fabulous thing to do. And you know what? I doubt if there was anyone in the room who would disagree with him. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

What Have We Learned?

Yesterday, like many people in this country and beyond, I attended a church service to commemorate the start of World War I. We remembered those who went to war, primarily the men, and we thought about those left behind, mostly the women, whether mothers, wives or sweethearts. We heard of the bravery of individuals, including those who had the courage of their convictions and refused to fight. And we talked a lot about peace: blessed are the peacemakers. 

But throughout the service, there was one thought running through my head, screaming to get out: we have learned nothing from that terrible conflict, from what went before, or from anything that followed. As we see pictures of plane debris and bodies scattered across an unprotected field in Ukraine; as we read of thousands fleeing civil war in South Sudan; and most of all, as we hear the screams of terrified children caught up in bombing raids in Gaza, I can't help feeling history has taught mankind nothing at all - and we should be ashamed.

In four years time, we will presumably look backwards once more, this time, celebrating the end of the 'war to end all wars'. It would be so much better if we had a peaceful future to celebrate as well.