Monday, 22 August 2011

Monday at Swanwick

Monday at Swanwick

Monday was mad. I started off with Stella Whitelaw’s short story dialogue course. She’d arranged lots of pictures of people round the room to act as starting points for conversations. The best exercise she set us was to work in pairs and make up a dialogue comprising ten exchanges, with just one word in each.
I worked with the lovely Fay Wentworth. Ours came out like this.

Daft but very useful. So many writers have trouble with dialogue and paring things down to the bone is a great exercise in short snappy speech.

After that came part two of the crime writing course where we were looking at people. The lesson was a good mix of exercises, discussion and teaching concentrating on making characters memorable and distinctive. We talked about quirks, personality traits, and walking in somebody else’s shoes.
Simon (Hall) also revealed something about his own life which resonated with me and brought the lesson to life. As ‘homework’ he set us a conundrum to puzzle over. He’d done that on Monday too, but I’d solved it straightaway. I won’t say what they were in case he wants to use them for other classes.
After lunch it was time for part two of the dialogue course which again was great, then it was time to prepare for my workshop on fillers. When I agreed to do it, I had no idea what Swanwick was like. I was expecting classrooms with up to 30 people at the most. Instead I was faced with a large hall complete with stage and microphones.
As people began to file in, I kept count but gave up when I reached fifty!
I’ve been having therapy and trying various ways to boost my confidence. One of the things I’ve been taught to do is not to over prepare. The thinking behind this is simple. If I prepare too much and it goes well, the credit might go to the preparation. I’d be left thinking I have to plan plan and plan again before I can do anything BUT if I plan loosely, and it goes well, then the success of the workshop is down to me.
I began to regret choosing the second option after about twenty minutes. I began to wonder if I had enough material to cover the full hour. Panic rose, but I fought it down and, luckily, it disappeared. After that, it became easier as I was able to relax. And just talk to the class full of people as though they were my friends. There was a lot of laughter which was great. I wasn’t trying to be funny, but I’ve found out before that when I relax, the humour just spills out on its own.
The reaction to the workshop was really good with lots of people coming up afterwards, complimenting me and asking questions. I’d asked at the beginning for people to gibe me feedback as I’d never done a workshop with so many people before, and give me feedback they did. For the rest of the week, people kept stopping me and saying how much they enjoyed the workshop. It felt really good.
After dinner, Peter James was the guest speaker. Although I enjoyed listening to him – he was very professional and often very funny – I didn’t feel much of a connection. His talk felt more like a well honed act that he’d delivered many times before. We didn’t really find out much about him as a man.
At ten, it was the quiz. Madness! The questions were either ridiculously easy or impossibly hard, but none of that mattered because the woman in charge of proceedings was such a character. That went on until eleven when it was time for the Karaoke night. I’d been hoping to have a go, but it wasn’t proper karaoke, just the Wii game. Just as well as I don’t think I could have stayed up much longer. Finally collapsed into bed at half past eleven.

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