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Remembering My First Impressions of the Writers' Summer School at Swanwick

I originally heard about The Writers' Summer School from fellow writers at The Largs Writers Group to which I was introduced by the late, great, Evelyn Hood. The Writers' Summer School has been held at The Hayes Conference Centre in Derbyshire for over 70 years, but these people were negative in their feed back. "Don't bother." I was told. "There's too much to do." "It's relentless." "It's exhausting." "You get no time to yourself." "They're all friendly, but I wouldn't go on my own."

With this ringing in my ears, I decided not to attend The Writers' Summer School that year. I forgot the wise advice my grandmother had given me decades before, consider the source.

The members of that writing group who had spoken to me were neither writers nor interested in other writers' endeavours. They attended as part of a clique within that club that was only interested gossip, coffee and biscuits. I should have known better than to listen. That was more than ten years ago now and there is no point in the decision I made then.

The following year, I spoke to my husband about going because my first crime fiction novel, Hunter's Chase, had been accepted for publication by Crooked Cat Books and I wanted an opportunity to meet other authors and to receive critical comments from experienced authors. I wanted to go to The Writers' Summer School at Swanwick.

He talked through the pros and cons with me. I would be going on my own and wouldn't know anybody. "You can meet new people with a similar interest," he said.

I need my own space sometimes and can't cope with no time to myself. "You have your own room, if you need space, go and relax there. If it gets too tiring - chill."

After much deliberation, I booked my place. The treasurer, Lesley Deschner, was patient with me as I filled out the application form and paid for my place in installments. I was travelling by public transport and my train arrived too late to join the coach provided from Derby Train Station to The Hayes Conference Centre, so Lesley put me in touch with two other first-time delegates so that we could share a taxi. I am still in touch with one of those lovely ladies, Holly Knowles.

The first evening, I went to dinner and sat at a table specifically for first time delegates. The 'host' from the committee was Fiona Samuel. What a dleightful woman! So talented and witty. I explained what I had heard and why I had delayed in applying to attend The Writers' Summer School. She laughed out loud. "Yes, there is a lot going on, but don't make the rooky error of trying to go to everything! Go to things you think you'll enjoy, but if you find they're not for you, you're not obliged to attend all parts of the course. Try something else that might appeal more."

Over the next few days, I had my work critiqued by crime writer Simon Hall, who was then a BBC Journalist and is now a lecturer at Cambruge University and by one of my favourite authors, the immensely talented Erin Kelly. Both these authors have continued to support me and take a genuine interest inmy writing career.

I attended lectures by the amazing historical crime fiction author. Michael Jecks, a course on the business of writing by the inimitable Elizabith Ducie and a workshop on how to win competitions by the remarkable Ingrid Jendrzejewski.

I attended meditiation classes at the beginning of each day run by the amazing Katherine Bolton, joined authors I had never met before for breakfast and discussed different types of writing. I got advice on the problems of getting poetry published from the talented poet, Alison Chisholm over coffee and cake in the morning and further tips on having a regular writing routine from the well-known women's fiction author, Sue Moorcroft. In the evenings I could choose to attend quizzes, a fancy dress evening, hear music at the buskers night or sit in the bar and chat with fellow writers who understood me. I met my tribe.

I have made friends at The Writers' Summer School that I know will last a lifetime and met other people I will never see again, but to whom I did not need to explain my love of the written word.

Was there too much to do? No! There is lots of choice, of activities but accept before you go that you will not be able to do everything.

Was it relentless? No! When I needed some space, I could retreat to my room, walk in the beautiful grounds of The Hayes Conference Centre or grab a coffee and sit in the bar.

Was it exhausting? Yes! But the best kind of exhaustion ever.

Did I get time to myrself? Yes! The grounds are glorious and it is lovely to take a walk or sit quietly for a while, or rest in my room when I need to.

Were they friendly? Yes! Yes! Yes! I had not expected The delegates at The Writers' Summer School to be as friendly and welcoming as they are held out to be, but I was wrong. They are a delight to spend time with. All of them.

Did I regret going on my own? No! Not for a moment. As soon as I got off the train and tracked down my fellow first-time delegates, I knew I would have a wonderful week in good company.

That was nearly ten years ago now and I am a regular delegate at the school now and have written seven novels and one non-fiction book. I have moved to London publishers, SpellBound Books Ltd., with whom I sponsor a competition for delegates of The Writers' Summer School. Every year I renew friendships with fellow writers and meet new ones who inspire me. Don't make the mistake that I did. Don't delay attending The Writers' Summer School. Book your place today before it's too late and find your tribe.

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