Tales from the Hidden Grove

Tales from the Hidden Grove
"Amongst the finest short story writers in the UK right now" ~ Black Pear Press

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Magic of Swanwick

Well, here I am on the last day of Swanwick Writers' Summer School.  If you know nothing about it, look it up.  [http://swanwickwritersschool.co.uk/index.asp]  It's the most brilliant week of courses, speakers, food, mad discos, meditative moments, networking, food, sleep deprivation...   Oh, and did I mention food?  I think this is my eighth year at the school, so by this stage I've been roped into doing all sorts of stuff to contribute to, as well as receive from, the week.  Maybe a bit too much this year...  But I have really enjoyed leading two chapel devotions and running a one-hour workshop on Scandinavian folk tale, Prince Lindworm.  It was amazing what wonderful re-tellings could be produced by people in two 10-minute slots.  

As well as giving out, I have managed to take some things in!  I've especially enjoyed a talk by James Moran (who's written for Dr Who and Torchwood), a 4-part poetry course from Debjani Chatterjee, agent Meg Davis talking about how to edit your manuscript, and last night and today the brilliant Curtis Jobling, creator of Bob the Builder and the teen fantasy series Wereworld.  I was so inspired by his description of his fantasy world in Wereworld that I raced to the queue to buy the book!

(delegates'/speakers' books on the iconic "Swanwick lawn")

I've come to think of Swanwick as the new year of my writing year.  What happens at Swanwick usually sets up what happens in my next year of writing.  This year (aside from learning how to write very short forms of poetry for my own personal satisfaction) it's been all about my almost-finished manuscript for Cage of Nightingales.  Lots to think about on that front...  And it was a special highlight to meet up with a beta-reader to discuss the story, especially when we were both going, "Carlo is so sweet!"  I've also sold and signed copies of Silver Hands and some flash fiction postcards.  And I was very impressed (or scared!) by one Swanwicker who was already on chapter 5 of Silver Hands last night!

And it wouldn't be Swanwick without all the fun and (sometimes) crazy entertainment every night.  My personal highlight of that had to be the fancy dress disco.  The theme was, "characters from fiction of the last 65 years".  (It's Swanwick's 65th anniversary).  So I loved expressing myself as Robin Hobb's Fool, even though I don't think anyone else there had read the (hugely bestselling) books.  Tonight's piano singalong with me at the piano may well be the lowlight in terms of utter chaos, but I can always recover on the train tomorrow!



                           (me playing the Fool)

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Sailing of the Hopewell

   
                                  

5th August is an important date for Gulliver's Travels fans.  It is the date on which Gulliver embarks on his third voyage, aboard the good ship Hopewell.  This journey will take him to the flying island of Laputa, the Academy of Lagado, Luggnagg (home of the Struldbrugs), the necromancer's island of Glubbdubdrib, and the only real-life place Gulliver ever visits: Japan.

I made use of this in Silver Hands, having Margaret embark on the same ship on the same day in chapter four, "The Sailing of the Hopewell".  The name of the ship, Captain William Robinson and any dates I mention are all straight from Swift.  He was having a laugh at the expense of travellers's tales (and making some satirical points about matters closer to home) but I tried to re-imagine the Hopewell as a real ship in the context of the times, a context of the East India Company, the golden age of pirates, and scientific discovery.

In common with many fantasy and sci-fi writers, the Third Voyage is my favourite.  It's the most crazily fantastic and, in my opinion, the funniest.  It has mad, pointless diagrams, almost steampunk inventions and - well - what can beat a flying island?  From the man who "had been Eight years upon a Project for extracting Sun-Beams out of Cucumbers, to the king who grants Gulliver "the Honour to lick the Dust before his Footstool", the whole thing fizzes with glorious eccentricity.

And possibly the most eccentric thing about it is the devision to include Japan in the line-up of island nations Gulliver visits.  My theory (as I mentioned in the author's notes to Silver Hands) is that Japan was so far away from Britain, and so mysterious due to the Sakoku (closed country) Edict, that it may have seemed almost fictitious to Swift's readers.

If you have never read Guliver's Travels - and thought it was only about tiny little people - embark on the Hopewell and start reading Book Three today.  Just don't forget to strike your forehead seven times against the ground before you speak!