I’ve been reflecting on the people involved with the Surrey Conference. So many people! They all had an impact on how I experienced the conference and yet many of them I didn’t directly encounter. For every visible contribution there were at least ten more from behind the scenes, and every one was important to the success of the whole. I’m thankful for all of them. This conference is always the highlight of my writing year.
From its small beginnings, instigated in 1993 by Ed Griffin, the conference has mushroomed in both numbers and impact. It has a reputation for drawing people well known throughout the writing community. The 1994 conference featured the late best-selling author Maeve Binchey as a keynote speaker. Since then, author Jack Whyte has been coming for nineteen years; Diana Gabaldon for eighteen. Anne Perry arrives annually from England. Michael Slade and Robert J. Sawyer have become regulars. Top NY agent and author Donald Maass figured this was his sixteenth or seventeenth year. Why do they keep returning? Why do so many others — authors, agents, editors, publishers and screenwriters — willingly join the panel of over sixty presenters every year?
Yes, they probably enjoy the camaraderie, and perhaps they benefit in ways beyond selling additional books, but I suspect it’s more about the giving back. One thing I’m learning in my journey is that every successful writer was once a newbie, and those memories prod many of them to reach out a helping hand and an understanding heart to those who are still en route.
Not one of them keeps the ‘secrets of their success’ to themselves. They’re always more than generous about sharing their wisdom and experience. Donald Maass was wrung out with the last of a cold when he arrived at the hotel, but he still gave us a dynamic three-and-a-half hour workshop Thursday evening, and then offered to carry on the conversation over his meal and a glass of wine in the lounge afterwards. (That last bite of burger must have been very cold, Don!)
Jack Whyte didn’t disappoint with his memorable annual rendition of the Hippopotamus Song, “Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud” on Saturday evening, despite lapsing into total laryngitis afterwards. When he had no voice for his final workshop Sunday morning, he didn’t just send his regrets… he brought them to us in person. (Sure hope he’s feeling okay now.)
From morning’s first light to the latest hours of the night, conference coordinator Kathy Chung, her sidekick kc dyer, and their fellow Board and Committee members were everywhere, sometimes white with exhaustion, but still smiling and making sure everyone was having a good conference experience. I don’t know how they did it all, but I know why. Because they believe in the goal that has been the conference mandate for all twenty years: “To inspire, educate and motivate aspiring and experienced writers alike.”
I know I came away, inspired, educated and motivated thanks to their dedication and efforts, and that of all the others who were there working for my benefit. It was another awesome conference weekend, and a simple ‘thank you’ hardly seems adequate.
[There are a couple flashes of static in this video, but for those who'd like to hear Jack sing it, here's a 2007 YouTube version of his "Glorious Mud".]
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