The story of Swanwick
The idea of an annual writers' summer school was put forward in 1948 by Cecil Hunt, the then Chairman of the London Writer Circle, his original intention being a get-together of all the writers' circles countrywide. At a meeting at the Institute of Journalists Hall in London on 12 June 1948, it was decided to go ahead and organise a school of a week's duration the following year.
After a lot of hard committee work, the first Writer Circles' Summer School was arranged for August, 1949 at the The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire, and has taken place every year since then. In 1952 the name was changed to the Writers' Summer School, but to the writing fraternity it's Swanwick.
Clearly the programme required to keep over 300 writers interested for over a week needs to be wide-ranging and well-organised. The main speakers are perhaps the main focus of attention and those attending that first School in 1949 included A E Coppard talking about the short story, R C Sherriff on writing methods, Noel Streatfield on writing for children and Nigel Balchin on writing the novel. View the complete 1949 programme by clicking here.
It wasn't long before a pattern emerged: apart from the main speakers, members themselves ran courses, workshops, discussion groups and talks. Many members have gone from being unpublished to well-published and have acknowledged that they owe their success to being at Swanwick.
First comers wear white labels, which indicate that they might need some assistance in finding their way round the conference centre, not that they are inexperienced writers. Some people, quite understandably, can be overwhelmed by suddenly finding themselves in the midst of over 300 unusually eloquent strangers. The advice is to hang in there: once the Swanwick magic takes over, all will be well.
An important part of the week for many is taking part in the variety of social activities arranged in the evenings, such as dances, quizzes and entertainments.
For those wanting to get away from it all for a while there are 70 acres of grounds, including a lake, and it's easy to find somewhere to have a rest or a scribble. The facilities are now first class, but older members look back with nostalgia to the times when the Garden House was in existence - a relic from the war, when it housed German prisoners. Conditions were sparse and involved a lot of sharing, but the Dunkirk spirit prevailed.
Nowadays Swanwick is reminiscent of Shangri La. You spend almost a week without television and seldom look at a newspaper. A permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. Well, all right, you can access the internet, if you insist.
by Mike Brewer (Swanwick Archivist)
Did you know that the Hayes Conference Centre used to be a prisoner-of-war camp during World War 2? Find out more here