Friday, August 02, 2013

A Date With Kate - Residential Writing Courses

I’m writing this from Wales. From Writers’ Holiday at Caerleon to be precise. We’re just coming to the end
of another wonderful, happy, relaxed (half the time) busy (the other half)  - and productive week, in the company of fellow writers and tutors. All of it organised with brilliant efficiency and genuine warmth and friendliness by Anne & Gerry Hobbs who run this very special event.

This will be the 28th Writers’ Holiday, and it’s probably the 14th – 15th?  (I forget) that the Babe Magnet and I have attended, either as tutors, main speakers, or even occasionally just as delegates. This year, I’m teaching the Complete Introduction to Writing Romance, and the Magnet has done a couple of ‘main’ lectures together with one After Tea session. (There’s always a lot go
ing on here!)  It’s part of our summer. A great part that we wouldn’t want to miss. We love it here and we love making new friends and meeting up with older ones.

So naturally, the subject of residential courses, holidays, retreats is on my mind. What makes a successful event like Writers’ Holiday?  What do students take away with them? I asked  as many of this week’s students and got answers like the following (some of them exactly what I expected – some not so expected.)
1. Confidence. All of them felt that they ended the week with more confidence in themselves and their writing than when  they arrived. This came from talking to other writers, having their work critiqued by professional authors – and just plain being understood.
Which leads me to :

2. ‘Realising that you’re not mad.’! Being with other writers, other people who understand the ‘voices inside your head’ that tell you to write their story – people who get what that is all about – is so relaxing, so enjoyable. And that goes for the professionals, the tutors too.

3. Encouragement and a sense of proportion. Everyone has been through tough times. Everyone has had rejections,  Everyone is still trying. You get to see the wider picture, not just your own isolated view of things  - and you get a greater sense of proportion as a result.

4. You also get a sense of perseverance – to pick yourself up, dust yourselves off – and start all over again. And you get ideas as to how to do just that.

4, You learn so much – from the classes, the talks – and the conversations with other writers. The buzz of conversation is incredible - at breakfast, lunch, dinner - and every coffee or tea break,  people are discussing writing, books,ideas, plots, stories . . . .

5. Concentration - on the courses and the concentrated amount of great information you're given. Whether you want to write poetry or short stories, crime or romance, there is a huge amount of advice and instruction passed on in  a much shorter time than it would take you to read all about it - and the best thing is that the tutor is staying around for some time so that you can discuss things with him or her, ask more questions, clear up points you can't quite understand. You can't beat the face to face explanations and discussions.You don't get much time for this after a day workshop.

6. And the face to face one-to-one discussion of your manuscript, the analysis of your writing, the story, where it works and where it goes wrong.

And what about the tutors? What do they get out of it? Is it just work, repeating talks/workshops they've done before? I talked to some of my fellow tutors  about this. Crime novelist Janet Laurence pointed out that preparing a course makes even the most experienced and multi-published author look hard at the basics of their craft, analysing how they do things and what techniques are really useful.  Everyone can benefit from going back over what they always done and how they've always done it to discover if there might be a better, or just a different way of doing it.

And poet Alison Chisolm said she enjoyed and benefited from the concentrated day to day interaction with the students. They might start as complete stranger on the first day, but sharing the breakfast table, a coffee or perhaps a glass of wine in the bar soon turns people into friends. The life of the course or the conference become a bubble all of its own, one you emerge from, blinking at the end of the week.  I know I've never gone home at the end of the Caerleon week without feeling invigorated, enthused, often inspired. Sometimes I've written thousands of word in my free time - others, I've talked thousands of words instead. But whatever happens, I've always had a wonderful time.

There are other writing conferences, residential course all over the country -  Winchester, Swanwick, National Association of Writers' Groups. Writers' Holiday and its 'sister' event - the Winter Writing Weekend at Fishguard in February are the ones I know best. And the ones I enjoy so much I'll travel miles to attend, to teach at, and enjoy.

Sadly this is the last Writers' Holiday at Caerleon. Next year the whole event will move further north up the
Pembroke coast to Fishguard too where the new summer Writers' Holiday will now take place. But wherever it is, whatever form the event takes, I'll be there. It's become too much of a fun  - and learning - part of my life to miss.

Kate Walker has been teaching the Complete Introduction to Writing Romance at Writers' Holiday in Caerleon. By the time you read this she will probably be on her way home, back to her desk, to put all that new enthusiasm and ideas into practice. And she's looking forward to doing it all again next year.

You can read about the courses and events she teaches at on the Events Page on her web site.

The rest of her up to date news can be found on her blog  where she is still celebrating the 40 for 40 guests for her 40th Wedding Anniversary.

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