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Swanwick 2018 – the Platinum Anniversary!

And here I am again! It’s my 13th consecutive year at the Writers’ Summer School and I hope that I’ll have at least as many again to enjoy. Despite the recent drought, the extensive grounds of The Hayes are looking as wonderful as ever. Their upkeep is due to only two gardeners and I take off my hat to them.

Places sold out very fast for this special year and I doubt whether anyone who attended left disappointed. The programme was bursting with options, literary and otherwise. It’s possible to be on the go from dawn – jogging round the grounds or meditating by the lake – to midnight (or even later), although that could result in being completely burnt out by Tuesday. I came very close to that during my first Swanwick and have learned to pace myself. Whether larks or owls, everyone will have made a different selection, but this is how my week shaped up:


I volunteered once again to be an ‘ambassador’ and enjoyed helping the 70+ new Swanwickers – who all wear white badges as opposed to yellow – to settle in. As soon as I’d finished handing out keys in one of the reception areas, I co-led a guided tour of the site and then co-hosted one of the reserved tables at dinner. During the days that followed I buzzed around in search of anyone looking lonely or distressed and attended the mid-week feedback session. I also did a couple of shifts in the Book Room, run with her usual efficiency by the indefatigable Kate McCormick aka Elizabeth Ducie.


‘Write Your Life’ and ‘Song Writing’, both with the charismatic Paul Dodgson. The first choice was a no-brainer, as most of my fiction has an autobiographical element. As for the second, I’m no musician but some of my new characters will be. To avoid copyright issues, I’ve decided that it would be a good idea to put my own lyrics into their mouths. If only I had Paul on speed dial to add the music!

Evening Speakers

These were best selling authors Sue Moorcroft and Amit Dhand, the BBC’s Simon Nelson, whose main brief is the development of new writers (!), and storyteller/writer Sophie Snell. I enjoyed them all, but have to say that Amit Dhand was outstanding. Funny and self deprecating, the story of his dogged perseverance to get his first Harry Virdee novel accepted had the delegates who packed Main Conference Hall rolling in the aisles and the queue to buy his books afterwards almost stretched back to the bar. Only three in the series so far, but the television rights have been sold and I foresee many more titles over the coming years.

In Conversation with…

This year’s line up, chaired by our very own Simon Hall (journalist and novelist), consisted of our guest star Jonathan Telfer (editor of Writing Magazine), prolific short story writer Della Galton and crime scene investigator/writer Kate Bendelow. Much hilarity ensued. 

Open mic events

I co-chaired the Prose open mic once again with Jen Wilson and read ‘To My Writing Partner’ at the Poetry open mic. That is the sonnet that got me to Swanwick in 2006 when it won me a free place and you can read it elsewhere on my website. Yes, I know. Hi-de-hi, everyone! As I wasn’t taking part in Buskers Night, I was pressed into service to take photographs. (See the gallery below for a selection of these.) Swanwick has a wealth of musical as well as literary talent.

Page to Stage

Three five-minute dramas and four comedies, submitted in advance and selected by an external panel of judges, were cast and rehearsed during the week. That being so, most of the actors needed to read from their scripts, but it didn’t prevent them from playing their parts convincingly. We then cast our votes for the best comedy, best drama, best actor in a comedy and best actor in a drama. The highlight of the evening for me was Steve Barnett’s portrayal of a ghost. A young WW1 soldier shot at dawn for cowardice is protesting his innocence while his mother (played by Faye Wentworth) grieves for him by her local memorial (on which his name is not included). Steve’s performance moved me to tears and I was delighted when he won.

Extra bits and pieces

It was interesting to take part in Kate McCormick’s ‘What are you writing now?’ session on the first evening, to hear the prize winning readings – poetry, prose and children’s fiction – later in the week and to attend Roy Devereux’s ‘Swanwick at Seventy’ presentation. I was also honoured to be the ‘tail end Charlie’ guest on Elizabeth Ducie’s Swanwick blog. 

Special Events

Fancy dress disco – 1940s theme to reflect the long history of the Writers’ Summer School and a tea dance. I improvised an outfit for the former and hired one for the latter. (Most of the costumes came courtesy of Swanwick’s very own Jolly Jesters, who obligingly deliver to and collect  from The Hayes each year. That’s a particular boon for delegates who arrive by coach and are very limited as to what they can bring along. See if you can spot me in their collage.)

Celebration cakes provided by The Hayes (one gluten free and one not), group photograph on the lawn and a gala dinner.

Selling my wares

‘Workhouse Orphan’ sold particularly well in the Book Room, as did the still popular ‘Easy Money for Writers and Wannabes’. 

Impromptu events and conversations

Too many of these to list here, but they are in many ways the life blood of Swanwick. Catching up with old friends and making new ones, hearing tales of success or failure from all points of the compass, swapping ideas, listening in on jam sessions, lingering far too long over meals or in the bar – particularly in the bar – are often the things I remember long after the main events of the week have faded in my mind.

Please click onto the gallery below for more photos of the week. 


Swanwick 2019 can’t come round soon enough!






18 August, 2018 - Make the first comment on this story

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