Mark’s In The Garden This Year

Today we’re meeting someone who has a greater claim to being close to the Summer School than anyone else. Mark Dakin was brought up in Swanwick and returns at different times of the year to visit his parents there. A Swanwicker in every sense of the word, he’s guiding us through the exciting art of worldbuilding this week.

Mark, thank you for taking the time to drop in today. Please start by telling us a bit about yourself and your writing.

Many Swanwickers talk about the magic of Swanwick. Well, I was born and raised in that magic. From eighteen months old, I lived in the white house that peers over the trees at the top of the hill as you approach the Hayes Conference Centre. My childhood has been accurately described as an ‘Enid Blyton upbringing’ – I had old barns, railway carriages, endless fields, and woodlands to play in, all within sight of the house. When we went on family walks down the fields or in the nearby Peak District, they weren’t just walks: they were ‘Dad’s Adventures’. My Dad is a natural storyteller and told us about the magic grotto beneath our garden, but he could never remember the magic words to gain access to it.

Down the fields and deep in the woods is the lost hamlet of Grumblethorpe, where there was a small structure with a small tunnel and that was the entrance to the Grumbles Kingdom. In reality, it was part of the industrial workings, but Dad never lets the truth get in the way of a good story. I would spend hours in my room drawing and writing about the Grumbles, mapping their subterranean kingdom. That is where my love for worldbuilding came from.

As for my writing, I don’t have anything published in the traditional sense, with the exception of a few short stories in anthologies. I have written the first three parts of a fantasy series, the first of which was submitted to publishers, but wasn’t taken up. It requires more work, but I learned an awful lot from the exercise. The majority of my writing is for my regular roleplay sessions that I have managed to continue throughout the pandemic and numerous lockdowns. I’ve played and run games from my mid-teens onwards and mostly created the content myself, whether the games were set in my own worlds, or within a franchise, such as the Star Wars universe.

Currently, I’m worldbuilding an ancient fantasy city on the edge of the desert, through which the spice road flows. My aim is to develop it into a fully- fledged setting for roleplay sessions or for future novels. We’ll see where the spice road takes me.

We’ve already heard about your link to Swanwick. Have you been attending the Summer School for many years?

As I mentioned, I was born and raised in Swanwick, but I first discovered the Writers’ Summer School in an advert in the Writers Magazine back in 1999 or 2000. At the time, I couldn’t justify going away on holiday in sight of my bedroom. Being a ‘day delegate’ wasn’t a thing back then. My first visit was in 2008: the Diamond Anniversary year. On that occasion, I stayed at my childhood home, not realising just how much a visit to Swanwick entailed. The next year, I stayed on-site.

I have stayed full-time or as a day visitor several times since, and the years I didn’t officially attend, I popped in to see all the familiar faces and get a feel for Swanwick once again. I had intended to attend full-time in 2021, but as with so many things, the pandemic put an end to that, even without me having to shield for the last 16 months.

After dinner speakers are a highlight of the week at Swanwick. Given an unlimited budget and access to any writer, living or dead, who would you invite to speak?

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to volunteer at Alex Davis’ Alt. Fiction and EdgeLit fantasy conventions, as well as Fantasy Cons and World Horror Con in 2010, so I have met many wonderful writers from the genre and listened to them speak, not to mention sit in the bar chatting with them in the evenings. So, if I were to pick a speaker, it would have to be Sir Terry Pratchett, or Stephen King. I would love to know what they made of Swanwick and its magical surroundings.

Well, if you check out today’s programme, Mark, you’ll see anything’s possible at Virtual Swanwick. But before that, give us a picture that represents VS2021 to you, and tell us why. 

This represents my virtual Swanwick. It’s the sign I pass every time I visit my parents. I cannot drive past it and not think about you all, no matter what time of year it is.

Great chatting to you, Mark. Enjoy the rest of the week.

Folks, a reminder of today’s programme at Virtual Swanwick: Lift Up Your Pens (Facebook from 9am); Random Dice Roll Writing Game with Helen (Facebook 11am); Worldbuilding with Mark (Facebook sometime during the day); Evening speaker: Stephen King (YouTube whenever you like).

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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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