Thursday, 23 August 2012

Emergency Dash to Wales!

Well, this week was supposed to be a quiet one at home. On Monday, though, I got a phone call from Ty Newydd, which is a lovely Writers' Centre in North Wales. One of the tutors on this week's Short Story course had cancelled at the very last minute - and could I travel down on the train and replace her for a couple of days?

I love being at Ty Newydd. I've taught a couple of courses there over the years - with Menna Elfyn and Jenny Newman. They've been great experiences. Btw - have a look at the website and fix yourself up a course to go on! - here

So I had a couple of days teaching with Patrick Gale, who i haven't seen in ages. That was nice, too - catching up with Patrick - and getting to know sixteen brand new students of all ages, all very interested in the short story - and all very hard-working, as it turned out, as I put them through a number of my very gruelling workshops. We worked on my 'first page' workshop - and another of mine about constructing points of view and subtext in a tense fictional scene.

And then, on Tuesday evening, Patrick and I read to everyone - a story each, and both of which, it turned out, had been written as Radio 4 Afternoon Story commissions. I gave them my original 'Never the Bride' story, and talked a bit about Brenda, which was great fun. Sometimes there's nothing I like better than reading to a whole roomful of people like that. Just like at Lees Library near Oldham, last Saturday, when they put on afternoon tea for everyone. It really helps to have a great audience, of course, which I did on both occasions.

North Wales is really beautiful, this time of year. I remembered having a holiday there, back in 1996, with a whole group of friends, on the Nefyn peninsula. One of those holidays when everything goes perfectly. The softness of the green and gold of the landscape and the sunset over the sea all put me back in mind of that trip.

I made my way back home by train yesterday - and it was then that I heard about the death of Nina Bawden. Strange to be leaving Wales as I did so - since Wales is such a central part of 'Carrie's War', my favourite of her novels - and one of my top five novels ever, I would say.

In fact, during breakfast one morning at Ty Newydd, there was talk about books we read as kids, and I was talking about Bawden. About how she was a saving grace during my first, really horrible day at Woodham Comp in 1981. I've told the story many times before - but perhaps not here on my blog. On our first day we had a lesson in Metalwork - in which we were told that we mustn't be scared of heavy machinery since, if we were lucky, when we grew up, we would probably be working in factories, where we would spend our lives operating machines like this. And then we had PE and a really nasty, brutish PE teacher screamed at us as we trogged about a filthy cross country course in brand new tracksuits.

But then it was English and our new English teacher went round the class, dishing out well-read Puffins from a cardboard box. 'Carrie's War' was all about being propelled into a new and scary place, and having to make sense of it. It was a perfect book to read at eleven.

I've read it many times since. Almost every Christmas I read it again. I've read many other Bawden books - for kids, adults, and teens. I've loved them all but this one is special to me. I wish I could have got the chance to tell its author how much I've loved her work for all that time.


  1. Do you know, I've never read it? Astonishing, considering what a huge advocate of children's literature I am. I shal rectify the ommission immediately.

  2. I think you will love it, Lesley. For me, it's got everything.

  3. Thanks for a lovely post about North Wales. I think the coast photo is near where my secondary school was! Are the writing courses only for writers as such or for people who would like to improve their writing?? I'd love to go on one taught by you. Next time Nick visits, we should all go searching for magic in the North Wales hills...

  4. Thanks, Joan and Rosie! Rosie - the courses are for absolutely anyone. There are ones in different genres and forms, and ones pitched at all kinds of levels from beginners to advanced. You'd love it!

  5. Ooh, I think I would love it. I checked out the website and there is a specific botanical writing one taught by my old tutor Nigel Brown (I mentioned him in a blog back in Spring about being my inspiration). I would love to go. Maybe next year when I can save some money!