Swanwick Writers’ Summer School is a staple in many writers' calendar, so you can imagine my pleasure when asked to tutor a four-session 'Getting Started in Fiction' course for them. Planning the programme began ages ago but I was still tweaking up to the last minute. Used to running workshops for numbers between 4 - 15, I practically had a cardiac arrest when a veteran Swanwicker said numbers could be anything from 10 to 70. Seventy? I calmed myself by reasoning that Swanwick attracts experienced and published authors so my course would be for a small number of newbies, and this proved to be the case. I resumed normal breathing and took 999 off my speed dial.
There is nothing worse than a group too terrified to contribute or read back their work, but this bunch was receptive and needed little encouragement to participate. They also produced some great writing - perhaps because some weren’t quite as new to the art as 'Getting Started in Fiction' would suggest. I received some very positive feedback from students and hope the official feedback forms are as encouraging.
I also participated in a number of workshops and attended talks. I loved the session with children’s author, Steve Hartley, of Danny Baker, Record Maker fame. Steve is very serious about being silly. What do he and Bridget Jones have in common? Simply enormous pants. Steve’s were big enough to fit eleven people in and he proved it. His workshop the following day on characterization, using the concept of character based on Carl Jung’s work was inspirational.
David Nobbs’ witty talk was sheer joy from a consummate master of his art. Writing for many of the best comedy acts and sit-coms at their height in the 70s and 80s, his work formed the British collective culture of the time. I was sorry to be able to attend only the first of his sessions the following day.
The social side of Swanwick in today’s networking culture was rich. It was great to put faces to names I’d come across in various writerly forums. There were always friendly and interesting people to talk to, some quite eccentric. I was a little bemused when asked if I was ‘the one who has toothache’ and wondered if my habitual facial expression was of tortured agony. Tearing off to peer in the nearest mirror I was only somewhat re-assured. One supercilious lady queried my credentials for running a course. ‘Why? You’re not famous. Are you?’ ‘No’, I replied, ‘I’m not famous - yet.’