Swanwick Writers’ Summer School 2021

Several RWG members have attended ‘Swanwick’ over the years, some of us on free places won in the various competitions. (Always worth a shot!)

Our former Treasurer, Cathy Grimmer, (in the centre of the photo above) first attended in 2008, joined the Swanwick Committee and continues to serve as Chairman.

After the disappointing cancellation of the 2020 School due to Covid19, Lindsay and Maggie attended this year and their personal accounts are below.

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School 7 – 13 August 2021 Lindsay Trenholme

After 18 months of lockdown and isolation, it was a joy to be at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School amongst real people and the stimulation of an endless variety of writing genres in a packed programme – and all in the peaceful surroundings of the Hayes Conference Centre.

It was hard to choose which of the many workshops to attend, but for my 4-part specialist course I opted for“Eliciting the Past, Present and Future Through Poetry” with former Birmingham Poet Laureate, Roy McFarlane. He explained that his inspiration for the theme had come about through his love of Dr Who! His passion for poetry shone through each workshop and inspired all of us, as did his original approach, his encouragement (“everyone’s a poet”) and infectious sense of fun.

There were also different 2-part courses every day and among these I chose:
“Show Stopping Story Telling” by author Bettina von Cosselwith lots of useful tips about how to bring a story to life through showing characters’ behaviours and emotions (I noticed Maggie was on that course too).
“Poetry, Landscapes and Environment” by published poet and climber, Helen Mort – with some beautiful poems illustrating the theme and a thoughtful discussion about reflecting climate change in poetry.
“Honing Your HistFic” by Jennifer Wilson – another workshop with useful tips about how and where to find and check the facts when writing historical fiction.
and “Life-Changing Memoir – A Guide to Getting Started” by Samantha Houghton whose experience and knowledge of her subject was invaluable for any would-be memoir writer.

I also attended 4 fascinating evening talks by guest speakers. Toby Faber on the publishing company Faber and Faber founded by his grandfather, screenwriter Julian Unthank on his career in the capricious world of television, poet Helen Mort,and prolific crime/supernatural novelist Sarah Ward.

It wasn’t of course all work and no play! During free time we could take advantage of the well-stocked bar and either participate in or watch the many evening entertainments on offer.

Chairman and former RWG member, Cathy Grimmer, deserves a huge pat on the back for organising such a successful week, as does our own Maggie Cobbett for being a dedicated Swanwick mentor, guideand adviser forany delegate old or new who needed it.

Maggie Cobbett

‘Swanwick’ was a little muted this year due to the various restrictions imposed by the virus, but they didn’t spoil my enjoyment. One plus was always being able to find a seat in the bar, which is where many of the most interesting discussions take place. Where else would you find a huddle of respectable ladies discussing foolproof ways of committing murder – on paper, of course – and getting away with it? As an ‘old hand’, having attended regularly since 2006, I once again had the honour of helping new Swanwickers to find their feet. Seeing my wares on display in the Book Room is something to which I also always look forward and I’m pleased to report that sales were brisk.

Each year I try to ring the changes with the courses I choose and this time around I went to ‘The Complete Article Writer’ with Simon Whaley and ‘LGBTQ+ Characters’ with Spencer Meakin. At the Prose Open Mic I was handed the job of sanitising the microphone between readers. The Poetry Open Mic, however, saw me reading out a newly written pantoum (inspired by the one included by Philip Barclay in his tribute to his mother Janet.)

Buskers’ Night is always a joy, although I neither sing nor play. Instead, each year the organiser has me seated close to the front with his camera. (Fortunately other keen photographers are on hand to make up for any shortfall in my shots of the proceedings!)

The fancy dress theme for 2021 was The Roaring Twenties and there was even a free Charleston lesson on offer during the disco held at the end of the evening.

In conclusion, ‘Swanwick’ is a great place to meet up with old friends and make new ones. I can’t recommend it highly enough and am counting down the weeks to 13th August 2022 when, all being well, I shall be there again.

Newsflash. Better late than never!

At our still socially distanced meeting last night, Competitions Secretary Susan was finally able to present Sheila with the trophy she won last autumn for the Article competition. Well done, Sheila!

Back together again at last!


Not everyone was able to make the first face-t0-face (or rather mask-to-mask) meeting at our new venue, but we managed to do a lot of catching up on everyone’s news and to welcome our newest members, Miranda Hargrave and Solvig Choi. It is Solvig, almost in the photo above, that we have to thank for recording this unique moment in RWG’s long history.

Audrey Blackburn was presented by our Chairman, Maggie Cobbett, with her honorary life membership and a similar certificate is on its way to Kathleen Atkinson who will, we hope, be able to join us at a later date.

Members who won trophies during lockdown were finally presented with them. These were:

Lindsay Trenholme for the President’s Cup – presented by Maggie in the absence of Peter Hicks.

Peter Page for the Short Story competition – presented by our Competitions Secretary Susan Perkins.

Solvig Choi for the Artistic Licence competition, the very first she had entered since joining RWG.


In the time left over, a few members read out pieces they’d written recently and Christine treated us to a performance of her latest song.

R.I.P. Janet Barclay

We were very sad to lose Janet, whose generosity of spirit and gentle humour had enhanced many a meeting. Others will wish to add their thoughts, I’m sure, but here in the meantime is a tribute just received from her son Philip, no mean writer himself. It includes one of Janet’s cleverly crafted poems, a pantoum in this case.

Janet Barclay, my mother and an enthusiastic member of the Ripon Writers’ Group, has sadly died. I wanted to thank the Group for the friendship and literary support you offered Janet since she moved to Ripon. She often mentioned how much she had enjoyed writing with you. She became much more focused and prolific when she had the stimulus of a deadline or a competition. She also enjoyed reading works by other members of the Group. It was a pleasure to meet Group members’ at Mum’s funeral and to hear that her comments were well-received and useful.

Even before she became a creative writer, Janet was proud of her beautiful handwriting, her correct grammar and her long elegant sentences, modeled on the 19th century female novelists she so loved: particularly, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot and Jane Austen. I discovered from an early age how much impact good writing can have.  Mum once sent me to school with a letter of mild complaint. I handed it to the Headmaster who read it and said, “Thank you, Barclay, please tell your Mother that was very well put.” Mum was delighted with that praise and forgot all about her complaint.

After retiring from teaching and once her four children had moved out, Mum had the time to really apply herself to her own writing. She was adept at every genre. She produced some fascinating life writing, particularly describing her experiences of basic family summers in Norfolk in the 1940s. She wrote a novel about a woman trying to deal with a controlling husband; she enjoyed pastiches and parodies and loved the challenge of poetry.

One of the most enjoyable phases in my own development as a writer was studying Creative Writing with Janet through the Open University ten years ago. We faced all the same assignments and used to swap our efforts. Mum always scored better than me and ended up with a diploma with distinction. But she was more modest about her work than I was, which meant she gained even more pleasure from good marks and praise from the assessors. She loved working with different poetic forms. This is an example of a Pantoum, which the OU assessors particularly liked:


The vicar came and talked with me
When George, my husband, ran away.
We talked, I cried, we drank some tea,
He helped me through that dreadful day

When George, my husband, ran away.
I did not ask for sympathy;
He helped me through that dreadful day.
My sobs a tuneless litany.

I did not ask for sympathy
But just a friendly smile and touch.
My sobs a tuneless litany,
I wasn’t asking very much

But just a friendly smile and touch.
He held my hand to comfort me –
I wasn’t asking very much –
We sat together, knee to knee.

He held my hand to comfort me;
I stroked his fingers, kissed his ring.
We sat together, knee to knee;
I didn’t ask for anything.

I stroked his fingers, kissed his ring,
His hands caressed my tear-stained face.
I didn’t ask for anything
When, sitting in that holy place

His hands caressed my tear-stained face.
But this we knew could not be right
When sitting in that holy place
As darkness fell. Lead, kindly light!

For this we knew could not be right
Within the church. We knelt to pray
As darkness fell. Lead, kindly light!
We broke apart at break of day.

Within the church we knelt to pray
To lose the memory of our love.
We broke apart at break of day
As guilt poured down from heaven above.

To lose the memory of our love
The vicar left; his wife went too
As guilt poured down from heaven above,
And all the congregation knew.

The vicar left; his wife went too.
The bishop came, and talked with me,
And all the congregation knew.
I do not ask for sympathy.

– Janet Barclay, 2011

Interestingly in her comments on this piece for the assessor, Janet faulted the woman who it voices for “absorption in her own personal misfortune” and a “parade of self-justifying excuses.” Most of us – particularly in the ‘Me-too’ era – would place most of the blame on the vicar! But Mum had no time for self-pity even during her last two years, which were pretty tough for her. Mum’s unwillingness to make a fuss even when she was suffering with grief and poor health makes me – and all of Janet’s family – all the more grateful for the stimulation and friendship the Ripon Writers’ Group offered her. We all wish you the very best with your future writing.

Philip Barclay

I am sure that many of you will be aware that Janet was a folk dancer as well as a writer. She was still an active dancer when she arrived in Ripon, although she admitted to me that by then  age prevented her and her folk dance club colleagues from dancing the more vigorous dances like a Cumberland Square Eight. What you may not have been aware of is that she was also a folk dance caller. It was in that role that she was able to remind me of the correct calls for ‘Red River Valley’ at the time I was writing new words to that tune She also told me that at a ceilidh ‘Newcastle’ (which is one of the more complicated folk dances) would be introduced as ‘Newcastle, for those who know it’ rather than being called in the usual way. These memories and the feeling that she and I were often on much the same wavelength as writers will be my principal memories of Janet.

Peter Page

We were very fortunate to have Janet as a member of Ripon Writers. Whatever form she chose to write in, her work always seemed clear and measured, with undertones of the calm and perceptive way she appeared to view life. I was in touch with Janet by phone during lockdown, and despite her life having become very restricted by that time, she only focused on the positive aspects, which has become my lasting memory of her.

Sheila Whitfield

Artistic Licence 2021

This competition, one of our rolling programme of six, invites entries on any aspect of the arts and alternates between fiction and non-fiction. This time around it was fiction and our adjudicator was Oz Hardwick.

Once face-to-face meetings resume, we shall present the trophy to Solvig Choi and, with her permission, add a photograph to this post. Maggie Cobbett and Susan Perkins were in second and third place.

In the meantime, Oz’s adjudication can be seen below. He was also kind enough to furnish all the entrants with individual comments on their pieces.

Ripon Writers’ Group Adjudication – Oz Hardwick

Though primarily a poet, back when I left school I initially went straight into Art College. Many years later, I studied English and Art History at university, and have written a book and a fair number of articles on (mainly medieval) art. Apart from every other awful aspect of the past eighteen months, what I have particularly missed is visiting art galleries and museums, so it was an absolute delight to view this diverse and intriguing gallery of the real and imagined through the power of your words.

I’m happy to be able to say with complete honesty that I enjoyed reading all of the submissions and, as there was just a small number, I had leisure to enjoy each one several times. What particularly impressed me was the grasp of structure in each piece. Short forms can be very unforgiving, but something each piece did was lead me from a starting point to somewhere substantially different, via a discernible route. This may sound obvious, but it’s far from always being the case. The other thing that impressed me was the range of voices, from third-person omniscient narration to first-person limited in the voice of the central artwork, one of the figures depicted, or, indeed, an authoritative and lively expert. And each one of these had a distinct authorial style.

My day job, of course, is as an English Professor, so I am obliged to note that one can never over-proofread one’s work, and that very little can bring more joy to the heart of an editor/judge/pedant than properly laid-out paragraphs. However, moving on …

If it wasn’t for my strict remit, I would probably leave it at that, and adopt Carroll’s Dodo’s “Everybody has won and all must have prizes” approach. However, needs must and I am tasked with selecting a winner and two joint runners-up. So, unfortunately, there are no laurels for The Picture’s mysterious inheritance (of which I would like to read a longer version), Molly’s decades-spanning tale of innocence and experience (which again could be longer), or the absolutely fascinating Talking the Blues (which has been banished to the naughty step now for not being fiction, but which I’d love to listen to as an illustrated talk).

Drum roll here …

In third place, Petrified mixes history and myth to tell a story of the fragments of a marble statue from the Acropolis. What I like particularly about this is that, while it is packed with reference to events and stories, a framing narrative in which the reader is addressed provides a reason for this, in consequence keeping it convincing as a story being told, rather than – as can all too frequently happen with less well-handled research – a bit of showing off by the author. It’s an imaginative story, well told within the word count.

In second place is another voice from the past: this time that of VictorineMeurent, who is best known – if at all – these days as Manet’s most frequently-used model, most famously his scandalous Le déjeuner sur l’herbe and Olympia. Apart from being a celebrated model, she was also an artist in her own right, and this story, while focusing on Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, reasserts this status while nicely applying the connoisseur’s eye to some of the odder aspects of the famous painting.

Which leaves, in first place, The Thinker, a slightly satirical slice of absurdism in the tastelessly extravagant world of big business. What really enlivened this was dialogue. There are a lot of characters for a short story, but their convincing exchanges, interspersed with third-person narration to vary the pace, gives a sense of every one of them. The story itself is slight but full of incident, and left me with a sense of narrative satisfaction, but also the feeling that I would like to follow these characters into further bizarre situations, getting to know them better. Well done.

Indeed, thank you to all of you for inviting me to read your work. I’m so sorry that I can’t come and say hello in person (and of course try to flog you my dodgy books).



Edging back towards normality

There was much to discuss at our first face-to-face committee meeting since lockdown.

We look forward, if all goes well, to welcoming old and new members to our new venue, St Wilfrid’s Community Centre, on 20th July.

Watch this space for further details!

A Tribute to John Lythgoe

Memories of the late John Lythgoe

Written by Joe Peters 

It was with great sadness that I learnt of the death on May 31st 2021 of one of our long-standing former members, John Lythgoe. When his wife Marion gave me this news all the memories of John’s long and faithful membership of RWG came flooding back. John held various offices over the years, including that of President in our celebratory year in 2003. John was a master of many skills. Fortunately for RWG one of those was that of master printer. Without John’s knowledge and guidance and sheer hard work those annual anthologies of RWG members’ writing work would not have appeared at that time.

Everything John did he seemed to undertake with great thoroughness. I never actually saw the model railway he established in his garden – but I know it would be accurate and immaculate in every detail. His encyclopaedic knowledge of all kinds of public transport, from technical features to the various liveries was spellbinding. Soon left behind by the complexity of those wonderful articles he wrote for various magazines I could only listen in awe.

Perhaps above all, John had a dry infectious sense of humour which often caused much merriment. And yet John was equally skilled as a sensitive observer of nature and the countryside, especially of his much-loved North Lincolnshire where he spent two happy years operating the mobile library service.

I’m sure those reading this who actually had the privilege of knowing John will have their own memories.

Marion too was an ‘adopted’ member of RWG. Although not attending actual meetings she always joined John for special occasions like those annual dinners, parties and days out. I’m sure you will all want to join me in offering condolences and love to Marion, our ‘adoptive’ Northumbrian.

PS: I know RWG’s founder will be casting a critical eye over this piece. I know she could have done it much better than I.

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Our friendly group meets once a fortnight in St Wilfrid’s Community Centre and is always open to new members from the Ripon area and beyond. Whether your interest is in poetry or prose, novels, short stories, plays, wacky humour, a more analytical style of writing, or just listening for the time being, you're very welcome.

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