Yesterday, I returned home from my first Writers’ Holiday at Caerleon, South Wales and I have to say I’m still in a bit of a daze. I had conveniently forgotten all about the Olympics as well (not much of a sports fan!), so navigating my way through the packed, hot London tube with a suitcase jam packed full of new books was an experience I’d rather forget….was it worth it though?! Absolutely!
New experiences can be tough and it’s a long time since I really challenged myself with doing something waaaay out of my comfort zone, but I’m honestly so so so glad I did. I loved it! The time raced by, the sun shone, I made friends, felt inspired, drank wine and generally enjoyed myself 🙂
There was so much going on at Caerleon – I could write reams and reams, so I’ll try and give you a condensed version and pick out some of the highlights.
On Sunday, the first evening, we kicked off with a brilliant talk by Simon Whaley who even threw chocolate at us! I was pleased to hear that Alan Ayckbourn had responded to a teenage Simon with a two page letter about getting into writing. I’ve always loved Alan’s plays and felt sure he was a nice person – this confirms it!
Then, there was the first night quiz, which I believe is a Caerleon tradition. This struck me as a really good way of breaking the ice and getting people talking. It was also lovely to meet my blogger friend Helen Yendall, one of the quiz organisers 🙂 I was delighted that I remembered that the pig in Charlotte’s Web is called Wilbur, goodness knows where that was hiding in my brain! But I was also pretty peeved off that I got the city where Miss Garnet’s Angel is set wrong (It’s in Venice and I thought it was Florence) as I really loved that book!
My first set of workshops were about moving from writing short stories to novels and were taught by the very wonderful Della Galton. Having read and enjoyed so many of her short stories in women’s magazines, I was already a huge fan and it was just fantastic to be taught by someone you admire so much. Della was helpful, friendly, down to earth and extremely encouraging. I didn’t want the classes to end!
Over the week, I also met other writing ‘heroines’ who I’ve always admired from a distance; Sue Moorcroft, Jane Wenham- Jones and Irene Yates, who, unsurprisingly, are all lovely, helpful people and again, very down to earth.
My second set of workshops were all about stretching your writing muscles and were taught by Elizabeth Hawksley, a very successful novelist and creative writing tutor. Her classes certainly did what they said on the tin, and I came away feeling very stretched indeed! I went back into my childhood and wrote about a favourite doll, I wrote a haiku (and I never write poetry!) and found magical caves as my character was chased by wolves on a lonely forest path….all pretty different from my usual work (well maybe not the caves…I like magic!) and really got me thinking, and stretching!!
What else? There’s heaps! I went to a really brilliant ‘after tea’ session about children’s writing which was run by Anita Loughrey. This is an area I want to get into and I was so chuffed to hear that Anita had started out writing short stories for women’s magazines – YAY!
I also attended ‘after tea’ sessions with Elaine Everest and Helen Yendall, which were both fab too. Elaine showed us how to make a start with writing articles and fillers and in Helen’s session on creating characters, I managed to think up a person I really want to develop (not sure where and how yet)…it’s amazing what choosing a button can do!!
Wednesday afternoon brought a choice of three excursions; Cardiff, mines in the Brecon Beacons or Hay on Wye. Having always wanted to visit Hay, I chose to go there and whilst I didn’t have as long as I would have liked, it was so good to see the place. Actually the time constraints probably weren’t such a bad thing for my purse and subsequently bank account, because, of course, I went into all the book shops I had time for and came out again with my hands full! I feel this photo quite aptly somes up my time in Hay:
It’s such an attractive and atmospheric place too – I want to go back, hopefully for the festival one day!
There’s so much more to say – I could talk about how lovely it was to hear from lots of people that I don’t look my age (the big 3-0!), the fab pub crawl where some mozzies kindly bit me to shreds, getting all teary when the Cwmbach Male Voice Choir sang ‘Bright Eyes’ on the last night, and how I now have a writing ‘to do list’ that spans several pages, but I won’t because it would just take too long!
I was stunned and amazed by the two organisers of the holiday, Anne and Gerry Hobbs, who welcomed me to Caerleon like an old friend and clearly do so much to ensure the safe and happy running of a such a wonderful event. Thank you so much and I’m already looking forward to returning 🙂