We arrived in the night: a yawning, stretching carload of tired family. Rain-splashed doors slammed. The kids spilled out, shrieking when the soaked grass kissed their bare toes.
The campsite was deserted – or so we thought.
Blackness walled us into a car-lit halo. We were invaders; though exactly what kind of planet we’d arrived on, we couldn’t see. The kids snatched torches and hurtled into the darkness like shooting stars, only to crash back to earth at their Dad’s ‘Come and help.’
Out came the equipment – tent, bicycle, sleeping bag, notebook – and my loved ones took off, destined for another galaxy.
I stood beside my folded home, my world diminished to a pinpoint of torchlight and the shapes of a silent unknown. There were no owls, no animal coughs, no thudding hoofs: just the heaviness of shadows bearing down on me. The silence was acute after the family noise, as if something were listening, sizing me up before making itself known.
I shone my torch towards a nearby tree, searching for a place to pitch my tent. Beside the tree I could see a motionless figure. A human? (mugger, rapist, murderer)
It’s just a tree stump, I reassured myself. I took a step towards it, tripped over a bag that had fallen from the car and fell. My torch rolled away.
It came to a stop at a pair of feet. There stood an American Indian, his arms folded, gazing into the night.
Hardly the warmest welcome to the Segora Presentation Weekend, but then I was the one who’d chosen to camp after a week of rain on a teepee campsite in the heart of the Deux-Sèvres. At least I wasn’t alone this time, unlike at Charroux – if you can count a full-size Red Indian statue as company.
Gordon and Jocelyn Simms had organised a series of workshops, plays and poetry readings around the writing competition winners’ presentation dinner. Their cheerful welcome the next morning made up for the Indian’s aloof reception.
After we’d explored the vignette writing form with Ed Briggs and Anne Woodford, poet John Hudson made us think about the ownership of our writing. His workshop – which included a knight’s helmet, incense and clothes pegs – had us cutting up and reforming our poetry: for better, for worse and for plenty of laughs.
Then came a rehearsed reading of the wonderful one-act play ‘What’s the Time, Virginia Woolf’, written by Segora winner Peter (Doc) Watson and performed with brio by Jocelyn, Gordon and Sally Pearson.
The Pearson family were represented in force: the guest speaker over dinner at Chez Didier was South Korea Reuters reporter James Pearson. He talked about daily life in North Korea and intrigued us with his insights into the role of the black market in North Koreans’ lives. You can read about his interesting experiences in his book.
The atmosphere Chez Didier was convivial, partly because everyone dabbled in both languages. It was a truly bilingual evening of vignette, poetry and short stories read by English and French actresses and authors. I particularly enjoyed Sally’s winning vignette.
Towards the end I read an extract from my commended story ‘Shingle and Sand’. The people who fell asleep must have been tired after their literary exertions, or perhaps it was the wine…no, seriously, I didn’t notice anyone snoring. It was the first time I’d read out my work (apart from an essay at the Highbridge Festival of the Arts when I was 10). Luckily, the audience was indulgent with my first-time errors. You can read the complete story here.
The weekend finished in the sun with John Hudson. He took a group of us around the bustling village of St.Clementin. Between the fanfare and the announcements on the loud speaker (it was the annual bric-a-brac), he read out hard-hitting poems from his ‘Shapeshifter’ collection.
His readings were dramatic performances and confirmed my belief that poems should be read out loud. When this happens at the site of inspiration, it makes for even stronger emotions. I can still hear his words about the German occupation and see the slate-roofed manor house the Nazis commandeered.
Perhaps John should check out the Red Indian at my campsite. (mugged, raped, murdered)