Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. Book cover images from Chapeltown Books/Bridge House Publishing. Photos from the Scottish Association of Writers Conference taken by me, Allison Symes.
I’ve recently returned from the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) conference, which was held at the Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld from 18th to 20th March 2022.
How come a Hampshire based lass ended up here? Two reasons really:-
1. I am a member of History Writers, an online group only meeting once a month on Zoom. This group is affiliated to SAW. I gave a talk to them this month on historical flash fiction. I have written some historically based pieces, hope to do more, and have a general interest in history anyway.
2. Wendy H Jones! I know Wendy thanks to the Association of Christian Writers and she is president of SAW. She also set up the History Writers group. Now I’ve mentioned the importance of networking as you make wonderful writing friends and opportunities can arise too. Let nobody say I don’t take my own advice!
Wendy invited me to judge one of SAW’S competitions – the Margaret McConnell Woman’s Short Story – and to run a flash fiction workshop. I was only too pleased to accept.
The Westerwood Hotel Is easily the poshest place I’ve ever stayed. See the pics for proof! The accommodation was wonderful and the hotel staff looked after us all very well. (If my Slimming World consultant is reading this, may I just say…oops!).
The main conference events were held in the Carrick Suite, which was then split into three different rooms for the various workshops including mine.
My one regret? Not packing my swimsuit as there is a leisure complex here too. I travelled up by train on 17th March and went home on the 21st as that made sense for me given the distance. It also meant I didn’t miss anything – when I am at conferences I want to make the most of them. So I would’ve had time for a swim or two. The train journey was fine. Southampton Airport Parkway to Waterloo to Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverley to Croy. I had a lift from there to the hotel and booked a cab for the return leg.
I did manage to get in some walking. The hotel is dog friendly and Lady would’ve loved the walks here.
The Conference and The Art of Judging
SAW run a number of writing competitions ranging from poetry to best self-published book. The trophies are magnificent. See pics again.
I would’ve been very proud to have won the Margaret McConnell Woman’s Short Story one myself. So a major part of the conference is in announcing the winners and giving them their prizes. Everyone holds their trophy for one year. The adjudicators of each competitions give a short speech on “their” competition and announce the winners in reverse order.
In my case, I had thirty-three stories to judge and I had to place a Commended, Highly Commended, Third, Second, and First. My “spiel” talked about the range of ideas and the characterisation. No story works without characters who hook the readers in to finding out what happens. The idea range and characterisation were impressive and it was hard to pick the places from my initial shortlist. That means the writers did their work well!
I can see many of the pieces I judged going on to be published and those not quite there yet have potential, with work, to get there. I find that encouraging because I have been on the receiving end here and know professional feedback has helped me develop.
From taking on board advice I received, I went on to have near misses and then acceptances.
Near misses are a very good sign though they may not appear that way at first. They mean you are on the right lines and keep going.
Judging anything is necessarily subjective and I’ve gone on to place stories which didn’t make it with the first place I sent them.
Everybody but everybody goes through this and, over time, you get used to it. A story I submitted late last year didn’t make the cut so I will look at it again at some point and send it out somewhere else. Waste not, want not!
Ahead of the conference, I sent in critiques based on what I have received in my time and which I found so useful. I gave a verdict, ideas for markets where it was possible to suggest these, matters to work on, and a conclusion. I hope the writers whose work I judged find this set-up useful as it is designed to make it simple for them to work through with their stories in hand.
It was lovely reading out the titles of my selections, finding out who the writers are (all judging is done anonymously – I only had pen names), applauding them and then saying what I specifically liked about their work. A special moment for them but it is for the judge too.
The Conference – and the usual writing dilemma of which workshop to attend!
There were a range of workshops on the Saturday and Sunday. The dilemma is a good sign of a great conference – there should be a wealth of things you want to go to! I went to Ruth Leigh’s one on Romance and Wendy H Jones’ one on Making Historical Research Fun.
I’ve been to enough conferences to know the wise writer explores workshops of obvious interest but also those which may not be of immediate use to you. I learn new things at every workshop I go to and sometimes it can be a while before something I picked up at the “not obvious to me at the time” workshop pays dividends. So keep an open mind at these things, folks. It will pay off at some point.
I didn’t have a dilemma on the Sunday – I went to the workshop I was running! I called mine Flash Fiction and Why Every Writer Should Try It. It was lovely to have a group of fourteen in my workshop. I look at what flash is, its benefits to all writers, and share a couple if my published works which I then break down and analyse how I wrote them amongst other useful information. I then take questions.
I know now why speakers often take their watches off and put them on their desk. It is a surefire way to not over-run!
The Conference – The Bonus Bits!
1. Sitting at the top table on the Saturday night gala dinner as one of the adjudicators. I told Wendy I thought I had bragging rights on this for a year! Seriously, it is an honour and a way of thanking the judges for sharing their time and expertise.
2. The book shop was brilliantly stocked. It was run by Andrew and Alison Rome of The Bookhouse, Broughty Ferry.
3. Getting to sign my flash collections for people. That always feels good! Thank you to all who bought them and I hope you enjoy the stories.
4. Meeting in person those who I’ve only met previously on Zoom and having fabulous conversations!
5. Catching up with friends from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. We get everywhere!
I had a wonderful time as you can no doubt tell. There is something about being with creative people that inspires you. This is important given we spend so much time alone at our desks.
Back to the In Fiction series next week but it has been so lovely getting out and about again.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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