Who’s In The Garden On Tuesday?

Today, we’re heading to my home county of Devon; to Plymouth, home of the Hoe, where Sir Francis Drake allegedly played bowls, and also to our latest guest on the Virtual Swanwick tour, Fiona Samuel.

Hello Fiona and welcome. Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing

I’ve been writing in some form of capacity since I was a kid. I was that child with the overactive imagination who was always off daydreaming, making up my own stories, marvelling at the English language and annoying anyone would listen by constantly asking where words came from and why things were called what they were, ‘but why did someone decide that a car was going to be called a car?’.

I’m still writing THAT novel (if you have your programme from 2012 or 2013, look at the profiles of the committee, you’ll see what I’m talking about) and at this rate, I may have it done by the end of the next decade. It has been given a recent boost in that I am working on it again. I pretend that I don’t like poetry (have you tried teaching it at GCSE?!) but I realised a few years ago that I actually really like it. I seem to be ok at writing it so I do tend to write poetry as well but it’s usually completely angst ridden and never sees the light of day!

By trade, I’m an English and Media Studies teacher but I do teach Creative Writing back home and have taught here at Swanwick as well.

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

I was one of Ann Palmer’s pioneering TopWriters way back in 2005. I was put forward by the much missed Roy York. I immediately fell in love with Swanwick and its magic and have been a regular ever since, missing a year here and there (and always regretting it when I do but I do have a valid excuse as I’m usually off travelling and exploring). This year’s Swanwick will be the fourth one that I have missed out of a potential 15, so I haven’t done too bad.

Swanwick changed my life. When I first attended in 2005, I was coming out of a difficult period in my life and had no self esteem or confidence to speak of. By the end of that week, I had sung (badly) a crucified version of Bohemian Rhapsody in front of the delegates on the lawn at the Dregs Party (horrifyingly, there is a film of it somewhere!) and was positively buoyant from the whole week. Coming back the next year, I had ditched my career and was going back to university, and then coming back in 2007, I was about to start my new career. So, with that in mind, I will always be grateful to Swanwick and the doors it opened for me professionally and the healing it did of me. It’s the reason why I like to ‘give back’ what I can to the school, whether it’s stewarding or teaching or helping out in the book room. Being the Vice Chairman (and being so far out of my comfort zone!) in 2013 was such an honour for me as it was the ultimate ‘giving back to Swanwick’ for me.

What’s your favourite part of the Swanwick week?

Asking me that is like asking me to choose between my parents! Right, here goes… I love Saturday afternoon as I usually do the meet and greet at the train station with John and get to catch up with old friends and make new ones before we have even set foot in the Hayes. I love the quiet and tranquillity of the lawn area after the hubbub of morning or afternoon coffee when everyone leaves to go to their chosen courses. I love that there is so much choice in terms of the courses. I love sitting down at meals and talking to my Swanwick buddies and seeing how their day has gone. I love going down to the Lake. I love being able to meet like minded people who do not think you’re weird for writing…and I particularly loved last year’s Swanwick as I went AWOL in the middle of it to fly to Norway for a mad 36 hours before returning to the Hayes at 4 am on Thursday morning as if it was a perfectly normal thing to do!

On the other hand, I miss Rebel’s Corner in the main hall now that the configuration has changed, I miss the ‘old guard’ who are no longer with us or are no longer able to attend, I weirdly miss the ‘try not to sit on the end of dinner table as you’ll end up serving everybody’ and I always find the waving off on Friday incredibly sad.

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 loved answering this question! I’ve been completely selfish and put who I would want to see but looking at it, I seem to have ticked some writing wish list boxes – comedy / satirical, crime, children’s, poetry, autobiographical, factual/non fiction! Here is my wish list for the week:

  • Sue Townsend: author of the Adrian Mole series and the brilliant ‘The Queen and I’. Reading ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4’ was a game changer for me. There I was, an innocent 9 year old not being able to get my head around the fact that Barry Kent was throwing an envelope postmarked France filled with water at the head of Adrian Mole. Surely the water would pour from the folds? And the envelope would be ruined and it would fall apart! So I had to ask, “Mum? What is a French letter?” I have always loved her books and was forever sticking her on the feedback form in the box about who you would like to see as evening speaker. Alas, she did pass away a few years ago.
  • Jo Nesbø: Norwegian author and popular crime writer. I love Headhunters (and it’s a great film too) but it’s his story in becoming a writer that has always fascinated me and so would be ideal for Swanwick. He was a top flight footballer, a cruciate ligament injury finished his career and so he turned to writing. He’s also quite the rock star too by all accounts. It would definitely tick the crime author box.
  • Philip Pullman: author of His Dark Materials trilogy and my favourite growing up, The Ruby in the Smoke series. He himself had an interesting childhood and journey towards writing.
  • Maya Angelou: legend. I would love to book Maya. What a legend she was. Reading the first volume of her autobiography made me change my mind about what I wanted to study at Uni. Her poetry is sublime, powerful, inspirational as is her prose and she was a great interviewee and speaker. I think she would have been a brilliant Swanwick speaker.
  • Billy Connolly: Can you just imagine this? Billy Connolly in the conference hall, going off on one of his many, many tangents and us, the delegates, in absolute stitches. What a wonderful and varied life he has had – from his childhood, to working in the shipyards, to playing folk, to comedy, to acting and all the rest in between. And he’s a knight no less! As Billy would say, ‘Fancy that!’. He would be awesome. It would be difficult to condense it into an hour though!

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

This is my nerdy study but it’s where I write and gaze out of the window and stare at the church clock tower while my mind has a wander into whatever place I am writing about.

It’s where I intend to spend as much time as possible during VS and so I have equipped it with some Swanwick essentials to help me along. So, from the left…

  • Photos of the first two TopWrite cohorts – where it all began for me.
  • Books by fellow Swanwickers and my dream line up for evening speakers next year!
  • Obligatory sunglasses to cover excess baggage under one’s eyes due to late nights and early mornings.
  • Photos of just some of my favourite moments from the last 15 years and some of the lifelong friendships I have made at Swanwick.
  • iMac for serious intentions to write, hard drive ready and waiting for lots of writing!
  • Virtual Swanwick programme so I don’t miss anything.
  • Notebook and pen for serious note taking during courses (when not writing).
    • Pencil case for when ink runs out.
  • Headphones for some downtime and to accompany virtual walks around the lake.
  • Drink to sustain throughout the week, caffeine and then some vodka for the Virtual Dregs Party.

Not pictured: Other Swanwick essentials…lawn, camera, croquet set, radioactive yellow custard and other ‘interesting’ desserts, clothes to allow for ‘four seasons in one day’ weather…

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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