If other people keep telling you that something’s gobsmackingly amazing, what’s your reaction? Me, I don’t respond well to hype and end to want to debunk whatever it is. However, last weekend I went to the Association of Christian Writers’ Weekend at Scargill House, Yorkshire, which all my ACW writer friends said was… er… gobsmackingly amazing… and I can report, Dear Reader, that it was everything everybody said it was.
Before I arrived, I didn’t know what to expect from the Scargill weekend. The theme was ‘Dodging the Gatekeepers’ and it was led by Adrian and Bridget Plass, well-known as inspirational speakers. Theologian and poet, Andrew Knowles, was also presenting, a lovely, funny, self-deprecating former canon theological of Chelmsford Cathedral, wearing shorts and t-shirt. The ‘Gatekeepers’, I learned, are people and things which discourage us from writing, the unacknowledged audience whom we are forever trying to please: for instance, parents, siblings, spouses, teachers, members of your writing group. To dodge these Gatekeepers, according to Adrian Plass, we have to acknowledge ‘the elephant in the living room’ and not allow them to set boundaries for us, particularly boundaries of respectability, whereby we feel safe and can deliver half-truths or half-solutions. We must be true to ourselves. We are asked if we would go to the pub with Jesus if he invited us and, tongue in cheek, told a story about a straitlaced lady from a strict church who refused because she didn’t drink alcohol. Everything had a Christian emphasis, so I suppose the weekend wouldn’t appeal to everyone.
It wasn’t just the presentations and writing exercises, of course, that made the weekend. Do want to know about the brooding Yorkshire Dales outside? About the friends I spent time with and the new friends I made? About the walk we took in the fells on Saturday afternoon? Nightly story-time with story-teller, Amy Robinson. Or how I knitted (part of) a square for the neo-natal unit at Bradford Infirmary (really addictive, Dear Reader)? Never have I spent so much time talking to writers about writers. They even made me feel like a proper writer.