Who’s Also In The Garden On Saturday?

Next on our tour of Virtual Swanwickers, we are dropping in on the writer who has shaped this week’s programme for VS and made it the best so far. She lives just a few miles away from Swanwick, which makes it all the more poignant that she is unable to be with us in the flesh this week. I’m delighted to introduce this year’s VS coordinator, Helen Ellwood.

Hello Helen and welcome. To kick off, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?

I began to write seriously after visiting Swanwick for the first time in 2011. Having enjoyed the autobiography course with Bridget Holding, I came home with the confidence and tools to put the finishing touches to a memoir, Message in a Bottle (about my month of survival on an uninhabited desert island).

I’ve had three plays staged locally, had a few short stories published on the radio and in anthologies and am just putting the finishing touches to my animal memoir, Your Paw in my Hand, about how my animals have opened my spiritual eyes. I’ve also finished a fictional version of my island story and co-written a couple of fantasy novels.

What is your link to Swanwick? Have you been many times in the past?

I fell in love with Swanwick in 2011. The only years I’ve missed since then have been due to my chronic pain condition which can flare up unannounced. The first time it happened, Katy Clarke and Diana Wimbs kept me company in Virtual Swanwick, which is why I’m so keen on its continuation. I hope, hope, hope that I can go next year, because not having some actual Swanwick magic in August is miserable.

What’s your favourite part of the Swanwick week?

This is a tricky one. I think it’s arrival on Saturday afternoon. There’s such a buzz as you collect your keys and put your bag in your room. I like to take a couple of moments, looking out of the window with a big grin on my face before heading off for tea, flapjack and that very special reunion with the Swanwick family.

The after-dinner speakers are always a highlight of the week. Given an unlimited budget and access to all writers, living or dead, who would you book for next year?

I’m trying to decide between William Golding and Ray Bradbury, because they’ve written two of my favourite books: Lord of the Flies and Fahrenheit 451. But then again, I’d like to listen to a lecture by JRR Tolkien. I’d love to hear him talk about legends and how they led to his creations, and I’d like to talk to him in the bar afterwards and tell him what a huge success he still is.

And finally, share with us a picture that illustrates your attendance at VS 2019 and tell us why.

When you live with chronic pain, it can feel like you’re in a cage, watching everyone else live their life. When you’re housebound and in chronic pain, you really are in a cage. This year, I felt desperately sad about not being able to make the 20 minute journey to Swanwick from Derby. I wanted to hide away and not look at the Facebook page as people got more and more excited about the programme and about meeting up together.

Then I realised I wasn’t going to be the only person suffering some kind of calamity. There would be other regular Swanwickers also unable to get to the magical land for various reasons: sickness, family crisis, financial difficulty etc. Maybe some people, as happened to me in 2016, will find they can’t go at the very last minute, even though their suitcases are packed and their ticket is bought.

So instead of hiding away, I decided to open out and offer to run Virtual Swanwick. I immediately felt part of the magic again. Creating a Virtual Swanwick programme has been fun and will provide some structure to the Virtual Swanwick week. I hope everyone, actual and virtual, has a wonderful time.

We certainly will, Helen, and we too hope to see you here in The Hayes next year.

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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