Gone but not forgotten

Anne Brontë’s grave

I visited Anne Brontë’s grave. She is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, high above Scarborough. The sea air has weathered the stone; soon it will be completely illegible. A plaque has since been installed which marks the place and repeats the words of the original inscription.

View of Scarborough South Bay from St Mary’s churchyard

Her grave was marked with flowers, whereas others nearby were barren. Those well-meant sentiments – forever in our thoughts – last only as long as the family who make the promise. But Anne’s writing has awarded her a form of immortality: as long as there are readers she will never be forgotten.

Cliff railway

Throughout the rest of the day I enjoyed the classic British seaside experience: watched the donkeys plod their sandy path; rode the funicular railway as it rattled its way upward and down the cliff; in the arcade the ‘penny falls’ machine (now 2p coins) still takes more than it gives; two lasses convulsed with laughter at the indignation of their friend whose hot sugared doughnut was snatched by a seagull; people ate ice cream; drank cups of tea and pints of beer; fish and chips were eaten with fingers. I even got a little bit sunburned.

Brontë Bramble cocktail

I finished my grand day out with an elegant cocktail: the Brontë Bramble.

Finding Freddie

Freddie Gilroy and the Belsen Stragglers, sculpture in steel by Ray Lonsdale

I’m in Scarborough, enjoying a couple of days unexpected holiday.

I may write.

Or I may spend my time paddling in the sea. Or looking at the view. Or eating fish and chips and ice cream and hot doughnuts. Or playing in the penny arcades. Or travelling up and down, and down and up, the cliff railway.

I should write.

But if I’m not writing I’m researching, and that is almost as good.

Scarborough Castle from North Bay

Eccentricities

Sanctuary Knocker, Durham Cathedral

Eccentric (n) (of a person or their behaviour) unconventional or slightly strange

I am trying to motivate myself to write more often, and to submit more frequently. I have made a long list of possible submission opportunities. Now all I need are ideas with which to create stories worth telling.

Don’t let a castle stand in the way of progress!

Some time ago I was advised that a useful way to bring a character to life, particularly in a short story where there isn’t much space for development, is to assign them a particular quirk. It also adds to the tale, because there is nothing of interest in a story about a normal, well-balanced but quite frankly boring person. And so I find myself people watching, looking for individual traits, then creating a scenario in which to place them.

Durham Castle, a source of inspiration

Today I had plenty of opportunity to exercise my skills of observation during a visit to Durham, another spot on the tourist trail all too often overlooked by me because I live nearby. I visited the Castle and the Cathedral, speaking to students and staff and guides and visitors and fellow train passengers, stopping at various points along the way to record my thoughts and observations.

And I am excited to discover the germ of an idea for a story is nibbling around the edges of my subconscious.

Derbyshire and beyond

My normal post-Swanwick tour of the country hasn’t happened. In previous years I have travelled on from the Writers’ Summer School. There have been visits to family and friends throughout the UK: Essex, Surrey, Devon, Cornwall, Worcestershire. There was also travel without a plan, going where the road has taken me, enjoying time alone.

But not this year. I have had to return home earlier than anticipated.

But I refuse to believe my holiday is over!

And why should I when I live in such a wonderful part of the country.

So today I went to the seaside.

Celebration Time!

Swannie!

Although it feels as though we have only just arrived, it is the final night of Swanwick 2022.

It has been another busy day, but when aren’t they? A final flex of the Muse with Rob Gee and a two part competition workshop with Viv Brown concluded the academic input for me this year. I have a very full notebook, plenty of ideas – now all I need is the application to make it happen.

On the red carpet

The AGM this afternoon saw the appointment of a new Chair (Gerald Hornsby) and Secretary (Sharon Payne). Then with all business concluded, we were able to enjoy pre-dinner drinks (‘prinks’ – is that even a thing?) on the lawn before dinner.

The Prizegiving and Farewell saw the drawing of the raffle and the presentation of awards for various competitions and challenges this week, including honourable mentions x2 for Penny Blackburn, and a Humour and Chair’s Challenge prizes to Jen Wilson. Always lovely when friends win.

The winning team: Mags, me, Liz and Dave

Then, joy of joys: I won a Swannie for best performance in a comedy at Swanwick 2022 as voted for by the audience! ‘Miss Prim’s Secret’ also won a Swannie, the audience vote for best comedy, and it was also given the Judges’ award for best overall script. So very well done to our playwright Dave Bromley, but also to the director Liz Horrocks and my fellow thespian Mags Hutt.

Battling Time

Time never conforms to normal rules at Swanwick which is speeding to an end.

I am writing to the accompaniment of music coming from the Vinery where the Fancy Dress disco is in full swing. It is a lively end to what has been another very busy day. As you’ll have gathered I left the party early, and am now relaxing with a mug of hot chocolate.

The third part of Rob Gee’s specialist course ‘Flex Your Muse’ this morning was great fun as always. It included practical exercises for ‘writing for the bin’, just allowing words to spill out in the hope that amongst the dross there will be some nuggets of value.

Jennifer C. Wilson ‘Historical Fiction’

Either side of lunch I attended Jennifer C. Wilson’s two part short course on ‘Historical Fiction’ which proved very valuable, giving me several pages of notes to work with. Vivien Brown’s workshop on ‘Cracking the Cryptic Crossword’ was an intellectual challenge. After so much brain stimulation, I was glad I accepted Katherine Bolton’s invitation to ‘Unwind Your Mind’.

Time flies by so fast, with so much to do and so many people to speak to. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be our last day.

Acting up!

Tonight was Page to Stage at Swanwick. Seven short scripts submitted by Swanwick delegates were selected for performance, then the directors and cast chosen from amongst willing volunteers.

I was fortunate to be given a role in Dave Bromley’s play, ‘Miss Prim’s Secret’, directed by Liz Horrocks. I played the eponymous sweet old lady with a penchant for writing murder stories (and committing one too, as Mags Hutt playing a nosey journalist found out!).

Miss Prim pleading with Julia Trash

It’s a challenge trying to do justice to a script which we first saw only 24 hours earlier. Fortunately the plays are performed as ‘rehearsed readings’ so they are script in hand.

Four Swannies will be awarded on Thursday evening to the best drama and best comedy, and the best performer in each category, as voted for by the audience. If the applause and laughter this evening are any indication, the result is impossible to call.

But apart from being great fun, it is also an experience seeing how a script develops when viewed through a directorial eye, and interpreted by actors.

Zen

Although in its strictest meaning Zen is a proper noun and relates to the Buddhist practice of meditation and intuition, zen as an adjective has come to mean a state of peacefulness and calm.

Reading at the Prose Open Mic last night

I am feeling very zen at the moment. It is one of the curiosities of being at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Despite being busy and stimulating and full of people and chatter and inspiration, it also engenders a sense of calm and peace and reflection. The lake for example provides a contemplative space. Some of the activities are designed to help us refocus and relax, from morning meditation, to Yoga for writers and a daily invitation to ‘Unwind your mind’.

Beside still waters

This morning I was at Calvin Niles’ course where we were encouraged to use mindfulness to bring depth to our writing. These are definitely techniques I plan to use in the future.

Now I have achieved a zen state of relaxation, perhaps I should go write some poetry using one of the prompts given by Rob Gee at this morning’s Specialist course. I must go, my Muse calls.

Yesterday…

…all my troubles seemed so far away.

So goes the song before taking a melancholic turn. And there is a little sadness for me. Yesterday I returned to Swanwick Writers’ Summer School for what is my fifth year here. It is wonderful to be meeting up with old friends and making new friends.

But sadly there are some friends who are missing this year. Yet they, more than anyone, would urge us to carry on without them and enjoy all that Swanwick can offer. So with them held firmly in my thoughts that is exactly what I hope to do.

x– the unknown factor

Bude, ‘through the arched window’

There is something liberating in travelling without a plan. Much of ordinary life is dictated by a preset schedule and a timetable, so I have really enjoyed this last week when I have cut free from such restraints.

My journey these last few days has taken me from the south west to the south east by way of the Midlands.

Here are just a few images from my travels.

Tolkien’s two towers
Sarehole Mill
There are times when it pays to plan ahead…