Clarion West is a six-week writing workshop, primarily focusing on science fiction and fantasy. Each week has a new instructor who works as either a writer, an editor, or both. Every year eighteen lucky students are accepted for the programme.
In early 2012, I got a phone call late on a Saturday night with a number I didn’t recognise. I almost ignored it (as I was in the middle of something), when I saw that the number calling was an international one. Interesting. Someone said their name, then a company, then congratulations. I think I heard it, but I sat in silence for a few seconds, before the woman laughed and repeated what she’d said. It was someone from Clarion West, they’d accepted me for their 2012 session in Seattle. I managed a surprised ‘buuu?’ noise and she patiently explained herself in more detail. I guess she’d had a similar response from one or two other people.
I’d applied to the Clarion West 2012 writing workshop at the end of the year before, with little to no hope of succeeding. It’s a prestigious speculative fiction workshop, one I had looked into every now and then, that runs annually. I’d always been tempted to go, but this year really grabbed my attention and I applied. Then promptly forgot all about it.
That five-minute phone call brought it all back – six weeks in Seattle, doing nothing but writing, with seven experienced and talented instructors. I was in shock – trying to let it sink in. Away for six weeks! In Seattle! Writing non-stop!
I danced around with glee, knowing a huge amount of luck had fallen my way. I felt very honoured to be one of the eighteen but I also hoped some of the other fantastic applicants made it into one of the subsequent years.
June 17–July 27, 2012
The first week with Mary primarily consisted of writing exercises, or micro-fiction to get everyone prepared for the next five weeks. After that, we wrote a new story every week. Nobody skipped a class, nobody skipped a hand-in. Outside of the critiquing times, we’d often get to eat with our tutors or drink, or hang around talking. Some of them watched films with us, others read out fiction.
But even outside of our house, there were always things to do. Every Friday there were Clarion West parties held with past alumni, other writers, or even just those supporting the cause. The writing community in Seattle is huge and warm and inviting. They know how to ease introverted writers into the fun and how to help them relax.
One thing I hadn’t realised I’d get from attending Clarion West — a new
cult, er, family who understands all the joys and pain involved in writing. One who is there when you need a sympathetic ear, or to give you a good kick to finish that thing you just can’t finish.