Fleeting Impressions of Swanwick (Part 2)

Last week, Steve and Bea talked about their first three days at the Writers’ Summer School in Swanwick, Derbyshire; Bea from the point of view of a first-timer (or white badger, as it’s known) and Steve from the point of view of someone returning for their second visit. Now read on…


Steve: Niche Publishing

A journey through the backwoods of niche publishing, classifying niche, micro-niches, micro-micro-niches and beyond. Geoff Parkes defined in two, one hour time slots, how to identify profitable micro-niches and then exploit their potential with many examples of his own and other’s successes. Very encouraging and rendered clarity on how self-publishing can deliver a monetary return for your efforts.

Bea: Erotica

This was a hard decision…now that’s out of the way, it was a great fun one-part workshop, and I knew I was in the right place when I saw the word ‘BUTTOCKS’ written on a white-board. Tutor, Fran Tracey, delved into the creatively sensuous side of our natures, and looked at what erotica is – and isn’t.

Steve: Mind Mapping

Rosemary Kind’s one-hour Mind-Mapping review was very appropriate as it focused solely on using the technique to develop ideas, themes, plots and sub-plots. With examples and then group work we learned how to use the techniques practically in our own work – very helpful.

Steve: Evening Guest Speaker Simon Nelson

Simon, a Development Producer with the BBC, gave a far-ranging explanation of not only how the 14,000 scripts a year submitted to the BBC are filtered, but much more importantly for the budding scriptwriters among us, the criteria they use to select the 100 or so they accept. While the odds seem insurmountable, the explanation of how the BBC judge the potential not only of the script, but also of the scriptwriter, was fascinating, making working on a submission not only attractive but also seem a feasible proposition.


Bea: A 2 Z of Novel Writing

Simon Hall was his usual charismatic self, and delivered a polished 4-hour specialist course using all the letters of the alphabet e.g. I for Inspiration; Q for Quirks. It was a very in-depth excursion through the dark arts of the novelist.

Steve: Editing Essentials

Hazel Prior conducted, over two sessions, a forensic analysis of the process of editing the first drafts we produce. The many aspects of editing were covered in some detail, up to the final copy edit for spelling, punctuation, grammar and such like. The vital need for editing was underlined by the estimate that for the whole creative process from pre-idea to sale, a full 60% of time and effort is normally needed for editing. Vaguely depressing but no doubt true.

Bea: Song Writing

Paul Dodgson’s two-hour workshop was great fun. The first hour he gave demos of his own song writing played on an acoustic guitar. Examples of David Bowie’s own song-writing ideas were shown on screen, and the band – ‘Axis of Awesome’, an American band, who suggested that all songs can be sung using only 4 guitar chords – C, G, A-, F. They did a repertoire of approx. 40 songs this way; and it works! By the end of the 2-hour session, the group had written the lyrics of a song!

Steve: Evening Guest Speaker Sophie Snell

Sophie is a traditional storyteller and she performed a lyrical set of song and storytelling interspersed with chat about her life and the art of traditional storytelling. Something quite different to the other guest speakers. Her supernatural tales were spell-binding and very well delivered, and her folk singing clear and pure. While not strictly about writing, publishing and how to achieve success, the evening flew by as she enchanted us all.


Steve: Making Crime Pay

This was one of the long courses on offer (four one-hour slots) given by real life CSI, Kate Bendelow, and Detective Chief Superintendent (retired), Graham Bartlett. Between them the actions taken, and processes undertaken at a major crime scene were revealed to all the crime writers present. The care taken to preserve evidence was immensely impressive and the anecdotes of when things didn’t go to plan were very funny in a somewhat macabre way. All of us writing crime, or just thinking of writing crime, came away with a much better practical appreciation of how crime scenes and investigations are worked, than we could have got from a textbook.

Steve: Scrivener

A two-part course presented by Kate McCormick and Vikki Thompson covering many of the more useful features of Scrivener and their practical application to story writing. Many of the attendees, who had previously tried Scrivener but found it difficult to get into, found enlightenment. Murmurs of “so that’s how you do it” and “oh I see it now” were heard throughout the room. Everyone left feeling much more confidant and energised to use Scrivener for their new projects.


Bea: Travel Back

After breakfast we lugged our cases to the car ready to leave. Then, as a group, we waved off the coach taking delegates to the station and beyond. We said our final farewells to our new buddies and climbed into the car, set the sat nav for home and left the Hayes Conference centre. On the way back, we stopped again at Gloucester services for coffee and sandwich lunch. On leaving we drove straight into a major tailback from 15 miles north of Bristol to Weston-Super Mare taking us two hours to get through, deadly stuff. No obvious problems just stop start all the way. Steve dropped me off at Whiddon Down services where Bill, my husband, was waiting to whisk me on the final leg home. [Meanwhile, Kate, who had the hit the road at 6am, was back in Devon by 10.30am, feeling very smug. Ed]

Steve: The overall organisation by the committee

The organising committee, elected each year by the attendees, is made up of dedicated and committed writers who give up a huge amount of time to make Swanwick the success it is. They do a hugely professional job. The excellent quality of the tutors and speakers, and smooth running of the week is wholly down to them. Both Bea and I thank them for all their work and congratulate them on a job exceptionally well done. After the event the organisers place all the tutor presentations and course note on the Swanwick website to download and keep as a reference not only for the courses we attended but also all those others we simply couldn’t fit in.

Bea & Steve: Overall Impressions

We both agree Swanwick provides and delivers on, many levels. The courses and lectures run are excellent with offers to suit everyone’s needs. The guest speakers were not only helpful but were a tremendous inspiration. The meals and breaks offered excellent opportunities to meet other writers and discuss their experiences, and the social events were great fun. We met several delegates from last year and both made new friends who we look forward to seeing again next year, all being well. We can only underline our overall experience by saying, like the Terminator: “we’ll be back”. We hope to see you there too next time.


Filed under Conference, Member News, Writers' resources

3 responses to “Fleeting Impressions of Swanwick (Part 2)

  1. Angela Wooldridge

    Thanks, Bea and Steve for such a comprehensive overview of the week. (Not jealous at all 😉 )

  2. Jean Grimsey

    Both the blogs on Swanwick have been fascinating – and very well written. Thank you for a valuable insight into the world of this Summer School! 😀

  3. Tricia Kyne

    Superb summary; excellent read in its own right. Many thanks.

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