Viv Hampshire looks back at the Writers’ Holiday experience
As another summer approaches, there is one thing I am really going to miss this year: my five days at the wonderful Writers’ Holiday, based at the university campus in Caerleon, South Wales (right).
Anne and Gerry Hobbs, who have not only been running the holiday since 1986 but are undoubtedly the heart and soul of this inspirational annual writing event, have decided to move the whole thing – lock, stock and barrel – to its new permanent home in Fishguard and, sadly for me, it’s just a bit too far to travel. But I will always have my memories…
I first went to Caerleon on the recommendation of my friend Linda, who was so excited after her first visit that she stopped her car on the drive home to phone and tell me all about it. A variety of courses, late-night parties, a coach trip, a choir, a lively bar, and food to die for… Well, who could resist a description like that? Come the following July, in 2001, five of us, all from the same writers’ group, and with Linda at the helm, set off to find out for ourselves. The weather was good, the drive over the Severn Bridge with the sun glinting on the water was a joy, and when we arrived everything was just as she’d promised.
Writers’ Holiday, we soon discovered, was exactly what it said on the tin – a holiday. Not a conference or a high-pressured training course, but a relaxing holiday with a difference, where all the participants, established authors and beginners alike, had one thing in common – their love of writing. Nothing was compulsory; nothing was expected of us other than to have a good time. We could dip in and out of the courses and talks, stroll down to visit the Roman museum and baths in the village (below), buy a bargain in the book room, or just find a sunny spot on the terrace to sit down, scribble a poem and enjoy spectacular views over the countryside.
The accommodation was in student rooms (right)- small and basic, but perfectly adequate, and only really needed to freshen up and sleep in anyway, as there was so much going on elsewhere! The courses were all led by friendly and experienced writers, and the afternoon and evening speakers included authors, scriptwriters, agents and publishers, many of them well-known but more than willing to mix just like everyone else.
The visiting Cwmbach male choir gave us a fantastic full-length concert, and our mid-week coach trip took us to a choice of local venues, varied from year to year – everything from a folk museum (right) to the beach, a coal mine, city shopping, or just a drive through the countryside – providing the chance to recharge our batteries and enjoy a little more of Wales at the same time. And Linda was certainly right about the food. Lots of choice, all beautifully cooked, and no bar on quantity (one person was rumoured to have eaten five puddings in a row). I defy anyone to say they spent five days there without piling on the pounds!
I’ve been to Caerleon eleven times now, and I’ve never been bored. I’ve picked up so many useful tips and ideas, discovered new markets, delivered short courses as a volunteer tutor and read my work aloud to an audience, made lots of friends, and (perhaps most of all) gained so much confidence as a writer, speaker and performer. I have always gone home invigorated and inspired, eager to put everything I’ve learned into practice. I know that, this July, the Writers’ Holiday at Fishguard will continue to offer all of that and more, but in a more comfortable hotel setting, and with new views to enjoy, right by the sea. I wish I could be there.
Find out more at www.writersholiday.net