Swanwick: S Day minus 1Every year, during the second week in August, around 300 writers gather in Swanwick for the Writers’ Summer School, which has been running for more than sixty years. I don’t think any of the current delegates having been going from the very beginning — but some have been attending for the past twenty or thirty years. They talk about ‘the magic of Swanwick’ and reminisce about the days before the rooms were upgraded to en-suitefacilities and all the walkways between the conference rooms were roofed in. Throughout the year, regular attendees keep in touch via Facebook and the Swanwick monthly newsletter. They yearn for tea and cakes on the lawn; the chance to catch up with old friends; and the opportunity to peruse new releases in the book room.
I first attended Swanwick in 2006 and, frankly, found the whole experience rather overwhelming. There was a small group of us, all white-badgers (as first-timers are called) who alternated between throwing ourselves into everything that was going on (until exhaustion took over around day 4) and trying to keep out of trouble (not laughing at the serious bits or being late for notices or meal-times). It felt rather like moving to the ‘big school’ for the first time.
I returned in 2008 and 2009, during which time I learnt to be more selective about the timetable and allowed myself some down-time during the week. I also presented a session on writing as a small business. In 2010, I managed just one day and two nights; last year, I missed Swanwick altogether due to pressure of the day-job.
This year I am returning for the whole week. This time tomorrow, I will be on a train heading towards Derby and the Hayes Conference Centre. I am looking forward to meeting old friends once more — and getting to know writers that I have so far only ‘met’ via Facebook. I am also presenting another session on the business of writing and leading a write-around hour. For the first time, I am attending not as a part-time writer of non-fiction, taking time out of the day-job, but as a full-time writer; so this year, Swanwick is part of the day-job.
I don’t know whether I will come away from Swanwick talking about magic and counting the days to next year; I do know that I’m going to enjoy the opportunity to ‘work, rest and play’ with lots of other writers over the next week – and that I will return home full of energy and ideas.