I returned to my favourite week of the year; Swanwick.
The trepidation never dissipates and the fear still accompanied me up the long driveway. Was I good enough? Who would remember me? Why was I pretending to be a writer? Despite doubts vying for my attention, this year was different, it felt different, and I was different. The butterfly was emerging. Maybe no longer deceiving myself and them this year; I felt like a writer.
It was going to be another adventure that much was sure. Adventures don’t always need to be the unknown as I knew the drill, I knew where I was going and I knew some of those who would be there but I also know there would be new friends to make, new experiences and learning to do.
The journey up was clear and smooth and so much easier with friend and fellow writer Marianne doing the navigating.
No matter how many times I drive up the majestic curve of the drive to the house at the top, the tummy flutters, the tangible taste of fear teases the taste buds and the worry that no-one will remember me, ride roughshod over my consciousness. Every inch of that drive is filled with an amalgam of conflicting emotions competing for attention.
Stepping out of the car to receive my key was long enough to allay the worst fears. As I re-entered my bubble of inspiration, already I was buzzing, someone hugged me and said welcome back we must catch up later. I was home; home in my community of like-minded friends, in my step out of reality and in the one place I could be me – a writer.
A brilliant first night that involved meeting up with old friends spanning the last four years, some who I have seen every year others that have returned just this time.
The inspirational speaker John Lamont sowed the first seeds of my belief.
“Visualise what you want, see that book cover, smell it, lick it, taste it. How do you feel as you hold it in your hand? How do you feel watching someone turn the pages of your book and smile or wipe a tear from their eyes as they immerse themselves in the story?
Come back to the now and go and achieve your goals”
I felt good, I felt so excited. The week could only get better.
I awoke with a great hunger on Sunday morning that could not be satiated with a cup of tea and biscuit. This hunger went deeper into the psyche and needed more than food to fill the senses.
I set off to explore journalism with the enthusiastic, energetic and engaging Simon Hall, BBC News correspondent for the South West, so his credentials seemed certain. I was not looking for a career path change but the immediacy and tight deadlines could only enhance my writing. The same disciplines and of course the techniques would serve me well in my day job where press releases and magazine editing are monthly tasks. Seeing opportunities and running towards the danger could not only be lucrative (if I remember my camera phone) but augment my descriptive narrative.
Not a conventional teacher Simon soon had the group in the palm of his hand determined to impress and when he threw out the first challenge I was compelled to not only complete the task but in the quiet intimacy of the Vinery where he had moved the class I read my first piece out. Shaking scared and stuttering my way through the piece I was overawed by the response. They liked it, for the life of me now I cannot remember what I had read out but it was liked not just by Simon but others in the class made an effort to congratulate me and comment after the class. There was just one more challenge laid down that first day.
“We will be producing a newspaper at the end of the week so go out and find stories”
My week could only get better as I joined Fiona Samuel for her Eats, Shoots and Leaves course. A title that explained exactly the topic. I admit that my writing is not perfect but I do try to get the basics right although the modern use of the Oxford comma may take a little while for me to get my head round. It was also Fiona who led me to my first story for the Swanwick Standard.
My next hurdle was the flash fiction, a fast hour of ideas and stimulus that left me determined I could do this. The idea inbued, infused and implanted my mind over the next few days; probably not the fast immediacy of journalism but the story developed until I felt able to pen it and pop it into the competition box. Never before has my adage “its not the winning its the taking part” been so relevant, as I entered against a stunning array of other worthy writers. The competitiveness within me obviously could not remain dormant for long and a flutter of disappointment rippled through me as another name was called for a deservedly first prize. I was, however more than content to have been in the competition with some quality writers.
The week progressed with the wonderful speaker Kathryn Aalto, who I am so inspired by, talking about her book. Normally I buy so many books at Swanwick from the speakers and tutors but this is one of the rare occasions when I already had her book The Natural World of Winnie the Pooh treasured in the bookcase at home so declined yet another copy. But it was her words Persistence and Positive Mental Attitude that took my week forward. “I really can do this!”
Building my confidence, I later joined Bridget Holding to learn how to eat an elephant. She had been my tutor earlier this year on my Historical Fiction course. Her words endorsed my learning from the earlier course and reminded me she had been impressed enough with my writing to feature me on her own website Wild Words. I remembered how the course had built my confidence when my fellow students commented on my words and when Bridget had been so complimentary.
Further challenges and obstacles leapt across my path but the underlying message “I can” was the theme of my week and as the week drew to a close and the chrysalis of Swanwick magic began to break open around me I found myself reading more work out and submitting not just my first item but 3 articles for the Swanwick Standard which was published on the last day.
The reaction to 3 simple stories and not even fiction was the icing on my tea-time Swanwick cake. “Was that your story? I loved the stories in the Standard! Well done great work.” Does it matter if the platitudes were truthful or not, not in the least; the fact that people sort me out, the quiet dull moth in the corner to allow my wings to unfold into a blaze of colour and confidence was what mattered.
The last night pantomime crystallised my own journey of doubt vs success. I know it will not be easy and doubt will still be omnipresent but have I launched my fluttering flight into the future? I am on my way to overcoming doubt, I may not quite be ready to run away with success but I know she is “just behind me” with a helping hand to guide me on my way.
Suddenly the bubble was burst and the butterfly departed but not before a fresh round of farewells and promises to keep in touch, to continue what was learned on the courses and a promise to send Memories out.
The week had been full of firsts particularly overcoming the biggest hurdle of my writing career so far; reading my work aloud. I had never been able to do that; so what gave me the confidence to open my mouth in a room full of some very professional writers and read my humble offerings out. It had seemed so easy, surrounded by passionate, persuasive and persistent writers but back out of my larva of literacy and learning and in the real world can I sustain that determination and enthusiasm.
I have taken the plunge and following a wonderful breakfast discussion sent Memories out again to a beta reader from Swanwick. A real test of my faith in my story, although it has been read by a few people this lovely lady is a writer and someone I look up to so I hope her critique is not too harsh.
Simon Hall has now published the Swanwick Standard online, check out the three Tiggy Hayes articles and not forgetting the fabulous ones others have written. Shall I stick to the day job?
I finish with the twitter exchange as his words are at the heart of my determination that this Swanwick was different…
And in answer to Simon’s comment I did send off an article using all I had learned from his course to our local weekly news magazine and I had a reply.
Previous posts about my emergence from anonymity to today through Swanwick.
Whats in a Name Aug