2018 Autumn conference – a personal view

David Gelipter

The cleansing Lakeland air is bright with promise to release twenty-odd (not, of course, twenty odd) medical writers who have again descended upon Keswick Town – to write, with and without prompts, therapeutically and emotionally, for a weekend of creativity, chatter and renewal. This is a brief tale of that time with, hopefully, not too much lost to post-prandial somnolence, or else my editor, who was there too, might take me to task for omissions.

First up on the Saturday morning was Dr Euan Lawson: an eclectic young man – as a GP, writer, deputy editor of the British Journal of General Practice, and university teacher, talking of his co-authorship of The Healthy Writer with Joanna Penn. (Check out her website – “The Creative Penn” – worthy of my bad pun predilection, but not guilty this time.) They wrote separately, and so in two different voices. He dictated the first draft using Dragon voice recognition, and then Scrivener word-processing software. His emphasis was on the self-publishing process and its speed: April to December 2017 from first draft to publication. This gave greater flexibility – but High Street bookshops do not stock such books. There is a 24-hour delay to delivery from ordering as they are printed on demand, but this has the advantage of allowing continual updates of errors and changes, and the choice of paperback or hardback. Ultimately, the royalties are greater. Euan discussed crossing the bridge between doctor and patient, and the curse of knowledge when writing medical non-fiction for a lay audience.

Any benefits from independent publishing?  Well, yes: better financial returns, with royalties of up to 70% from Amazon, and no agent/publisher lottery. Downsides? Might require financial investment up front; you are likely to need new skills, and there is non-writing work such as proof-reading to do, though this can be out-sourced.

He ended by advising how to get published in a journal: write for the market and the editor; know the publication; personalise a letter to whoever – usually the editor – receives submissions; and be aware of word counts (my editor is going to have kittens). And don’t be afraid to pitch your idea – but don’t hold your breath either.

I breathed again during coffee, and then came Dr Julie Carter, GP, Givens therapist, mountaineer, fell runner and erstwhile genetic scientist. She introduced her two books, both self-published in 2018,and was eloquent about personal limits and strengths, with her desire to live a full life, and an avowal that the key ingredient to make life work is being totally, creatively immersed in different experiences. She found writing made the world a different place and led to greater self-understanding. Julie has succeeded in finding a relationship with the land, but realised she would never make the same deep-rooted connections that, say, the indigenous people of Australia do. She pondered about a possibly unhealthy addiction to running, and found it difficult when injury prohibited her running for two years, though swimming and writing did help then. She urged us always to try to find something with which to engage completely, and finished by reading some beautifully constructed sections from her autobiographical book –Running the Red Line – and a few poems, written on Iona, from her other bookIs It Serious?

Carol Ross – who has had a circuitous and interesting route to her current work in NHS audit, as a therapeutic writing practitioner and editor and author of her book, Words for Wellbeing followed lunch with her presentation. Her career started with work in scientific publishing after a degree in biochemistry. She was then given NHS funding for a year of writing, and continued to produce her book, from which she read excerpts. Her therapeutic writing activities cover mindful expression and reflection, journaling, positive memories and unsent letters. Sadly, there was little time for the planned writing exercises, as she had to leave earlier than expected (for her first ever experience of opera – now that will have been a treat for her).

And then, and then – the AGM, which I’m sure you don’t want to hear about, except to say that it might be moved to the SOMW Spring meeting. Day end came with a sumptuous Conference Dinner, and an excellent evening of self-made entertainment organised, as always, by the indomitable Mary Anderson.

Sunday opened with competition results and presentation of awards by our old (oops, longstanding) friend Angela Locke, who had also performed most of the judging. She gave us all pertinent advice about how to present entries. The weekend ended with a creative writing workshop led by her, which was hugely enabling. In it we explored who we are and created our own Coats of Arms, followed by a beautiful meditation heralded by her famous Tibetan Singing Bowl and subsequent immersion in engendered writing.

The Skiddaw Hotel in the centre of Keswick was our lovely home for two days, with good food and service. Thanks to the wonderful Dorothy Crowther for coming back from illness to arrange this amazing conference.

PS. Another AGM item. Boring, boring. Appointment of Committee member to look to improve SOMW publicity. That’s me. So, for starters, if you haven’t been to a SOMW Autumn Conference before – and even if you have – please do consider coming to the next one, which will be in Manchester – with a medical and musical theme – from 25-27 October 2019. I have no doubt you will enjoy it immensely.

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