Swanwick65: Cruising in Fifth Gear

This is the point in the week where we are still motoring, but thinking of slowing down. There’s been a lot of writing to do today (which can’t be bad for a writers’ summer school). We started by Lifting Up Our Pens with Ben and his eclectic collection of postcards., which for me brought back memories of graffiti in Kazakhstan. 


Then it was on to Zoe Lambert’s course on Literary Short Stories. Zoe’s workshop style was relaxed but well-paced. We searched our bags for suitable items to define a character (and I wondered briefly if she’d pinched my idea – see day 2 – then remembered it’s a well-known technique for triggering characters) before settling down to write from the middle of a scene. Later, we listed all the bits we should remove during editing (adjectives, adverbs, repetition etc). It made me wonder how we ever manage to keep any words on the page. We learnt that not all adverbs are bad, only weak ones, and had a go at creating unusual pairings of verbs and adverbs.
In amongst all the short courses, it was day 3 of the specialist courses, so we were back with Alexa working on the Literary Novel ideas we’ve been developing since Sunday. Today we focused on setting, using mind maps to learn more about place (mind maps! I wondered briefly if Alexa had also been pinching my ideas – see day 2 – until she showed us the reference to this use of the tool – on the Mslexia site).
Finally, it was on to Karin’s Write Around exercise combining mood diagrams and English proverbs. With less than thirty minutes to write, it’s difficult to finish anything – but several members of the group did just that. Which just goes to show that while fine words butter no parsnips and a rolling stone gathers no moss, it might just be possible to make a silk purse…no, perhaps I’d better stop that sentence right there!
So out of today, I have three possible pieces of flash fiction, one short story outline and the start of a novel, which will probably migrate into another short story. Not bad going.
The social side of Swanwick is always a feature of the week and this year is no exception. So, looking back, we had the quiz on Monday evening. The wonderful Jean Sutton with Elvis the Cockney was unable to be here this year, although she had written a letter to greet all the quizzers. Her place as quiz mistress was taken by the indomitable Joyce Ward – and the questions were much harder this year than previously. Who knew that Wendy Darling had three first names (Wendy Moira Angela)?
Last night saw the return of Write, Camera, Action, organised as usual by Katy White. Six short plays, chosen from the large number submitted in advance of the School, were workshopped during the afternoon and performed in the evening. All six  were great fun – and I’m sorry that I laughed in the wrong places during the Improvisation piece (but I wasn’t the only one!). For me, the best was Rachel Conti’s ‘Procrastination’ – a topic close to most writers’ hearts.
Tonight we’ve had a new addition to the programme: Swanwick’s Family Fortunes. I think it’s best we draw a veil over that one! Let’s just say it was a chance for all the usual suspects to get up on stage and be silly to the delight (and some bemusement) of the audience.
Tonight’s speaker was the animator, illustrator and author Curtis Jobling – and what can I say? I didn’t write a single note from the minute he bounced onto stage and started treating us like an audience of appreciative school kids to when he finished answering questions an hour later. It was like being hit by a steam train; and not just any old steam train but one driven by Bob the Builder, with Raa Raa the Noisy Lion stoking the engine and Frankenstein’s Cat controlling the whistle, all pulling carriage-loads of werewolves, werelions and other inhabitants of Wereworld. The man was so impressive; he didn’t use notes, he produced cartoons on the flip-chart at the same speed as he talked, and when he read from the first in his fantasy series, his eyes barely touched the page. I also forgot to take any pictures; so I’ve embedded a link to Curious Cow instead:  there are plenty of pictures there and they certainly kept us amused!
By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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