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Swanwick 2016


As soon as August comes round, it’s time to start packing! The Writers’ Summer School has just chalked up its 68th year at The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire.


I arrived on a sunny afternoon to find the gardens looking even more magnificent than ever. This former gentleman’s residence hosts conferences all year round, although I doubt if many make such enthusiastic use of the bar as do 200+ writers!


My room in Lakeside was very comfortable with all mod cons.


Having gone down a day early with one of the committee members, I pitched in where I could and spent a lot of time helping to set up the Book Shop. It filled up rapidly as delegates arrived and logging everything in wasn’t as easy as I’d thought. I was very happy to hand over to more experienced volunteers, whose team leader was unable to attend this year.


My efforts did qualify me for the photo call later in the week, though.


Another thing that I was very happy to do was to join the team of Swanwick Ambassadors again this year. Our role is to help new Swanwickers find their feet, firstly through the ‘White Badgers’ Reception’ and then by hosting  special tables at the first evening’s dinner. This gives them the opportunity to ask anything they like and to get to know us and each other. I’d have been very grateful for such a scheme when I made my first appearance in 2006. Not a shrinking violet by any means, I still found facing a sea of strange faces and not knowing where to sit quite daunting.


So much socialising goes on that it’s easy to forget at times that we – most of us, at any rate – are here to work, but the choice of specialist courses was as wide as ever. I don’t rush around as much as I did the first couple of years, but I enjoyed learning more about writing short stories (Linda Lewis), flash fiction (Veronica Bright), plotting and stratagem (Michael Jecks) and the trickier side of fiction (Sue Moorcroft). I also took part in the ‘procrastination free’ sessions offered in the middle of the week – voluntary incarceration in one of the lecture rooms with nothing to do but get on with my next project. My own contribution to the programme this year was a modest one. I ran a one hour session on the Wednesday afternoon. It focussed on turning an unforgettable episode into a novel, using the development of my own Shadows of the Past as a starting point.


The evenings saw speakers – John Lamont, James Runcie (pictured above), Kathryn Aalto, Michael Jecks and Brendan Nolan – followed by a variety of activities to suit most tastes.


There were discussions, quizzes, drama improvisations, discos, poetry open mic and Mark Iveson’s very popular buskers’ evening. I’m no singer, but I took a few photos on Mark’s behalf whilst he was performing. None of the entertainment was compulsory, of course, but the Swanwickers who chose to perform did an excellent job and the fancy dress disco was a sight for sore eyes.


My own costume was rather a last minute thought and came from an excellent local shop called Jolly Jesters. As the theme of the disco was Heroes and Villains, I thought Lady Macbeth quite appropriate!


Macbeth himself wasn’t present, but it didn’t take long to find the three witches!


As a long term subscriber to Writing Magazine/Writers’ News, I always enjoy catching up with editor Jonathan Telfer and his team.


It’s often said of Swanwick that it rises through the mists like Brigadoon and then disappears for another year. All too soon, it was time for the AGM, Dregs Party on the lawn and final dinner. A good time had definitely been had by all, even before the hilarious Battle of Writer’s Block which preceded the singing of Auld Lang Syne. With Simon Hall aka The TV Detective in the lead as a desperate author plagued by doubt, his glamorous granny and a scheming agent, how could it fail to bring the house down? Backed up by a multi-talented group of actors, singers and musicians, it was certainly a show to remember.


All I can say in conclusion is ROLL ON NEXT YEAR.  The new committee, chaired by fellow Ripon Writers’ group member Cathy Grimmer, (seen above with outgoing chairman Michael O’Byrne), is already at work to make sure that the programme is at least as good and maybe even better than this year’s has been.

Swanwick 2017 will run from 12th to 17th August, with bookings open in the New Year.


14 August, 2016 - There are 2 comments on this story

  1. Hi Maggie, looks like you had a great time. I’ll have to give Swanwick some serious consideration!

    Susan at
    Travel, Fiction and Photos

    Susan A Eames -

  2. I really hope you will. You certainly wouldn’t regret it.

    Maggie Cobbett -

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