AUTHOR ANNALS #2 – WRITING RETREAT #Brainfluffauthorannals


I was fortunate enough to be invited to go on a writing retreat with some of my writing group members. I’ve been part of this group now for nearly ten years and we try to meet up twice a month over tea and cake every other Wednesday evening to share each other’s work and provide constructive, but honest criticism.

This retreat was at a converted barn with 8 double bedrooms, all with ensuite bathrooms. Six of us were there for most of the week, while three others joined us for part of the week. The barn was tucked away down winding single-track roads etched into the red West Country earth at a farm on Exmoor near the hamlet of Roadwater. The weather was fabulous, so we’d aim to write from 9.30 am, stop for lunch at 1 pm and go for a walk at between 4-4.30 pm, though I only broke off a couple of days for the walk. And then we generally stopped writing at about 6 pm and took turns to prepare the wonderful meals organised and provisioned by Sarah Palmer, who not only organised the whole thing, but happens to be a fabulous cook. After clearing up, we sat around the table and read our work aloud to each other and gained valuable feedback. We then played quizzes or chatted until going to bed, before repeating the whole process again the next day. Bliss…

My bedroom view was across the lawns to the main farmhouse, with a large lavender bush right outside the door opening onto the gardens, which was open most afternoons because otherwise it was too hot. It was so lovely – this was where I chose to write

The internet connection was practically non-existent in the barn, apart from the occasional text and if we wanted to make a phone call we had to climb the hill at the back of the property. I found this a huge advantage, though others weren’t so impressed, but it meant that there was no question of messing around on the internet in displacement activities – it was all about the writing.

It’s been such a treat to have spent that amount of time as a writer – the part that often gets tucked away until the end of a busy day, or squeezed between other chores – that I’m very aware just how very lucky I’ve been to have such a wonderful opportunity. But did I make the most of it? Nope. I made some fundamental mistakes that meant I didn’t make as much progress as I should have.

The biggest problem was my lack of preparation. During the last year, I’ve published a space opera adventure The Sunblinded trilogy, which meant I spent hours in the head of my main protagonist, Lizzy and immersed in the world. I don’t know what made me think that I’d be able to seamlessly switch into Kyrillia’s viewpoint in Mantivore Preys and absorb all the details, backstories and most importantly of all – the speech rhythms and dialect differences of Arcadia without at least rereading the first book, Mantivore Dreams. But I didn’t and I paid the price. While Felina, the protagonist who made a takeover bid for the book during my last retreat, had poured from my fingertips, Kyrillia didn’t. The going was slow and I kept having to break off to check up on various details.

That said, having read several scenes to the group, who gave me suitable feedback, I’ve returned from Somerset with a stronger start to the book. And while I was there, I also had an epiphany regarding Miranda’s Tempest which is currently on the backburner, until the Arcadian trilogy is finished.

But the biggest advantage was to get a break from my everyday life in a setting that made me feel happy and peaceful, with the mental space to realise that my current work rate simply isn’t sustainable. I need more sleep and fewer hours in front of the computer – I suspect my raised blood pressure is part of that problem, too. So now I’m back home, I hoping to put in place some major changes… watch this space!

34 responses »

    • It really was idyllic – especially with the addition of the glorious weather… This country is one of the most beautiful places on the planet when it isn’t pouring with rain – and it’s something you cannot order up.

  1. Well, you might not feel like you made the most of it but even that is a life lesson in itself so strictly speaking you’re taking something very useful away from the experience.
    Lovely pictures.
    Lynn 😀

  2. What a wonderful place! It’s certainly far from many kinds of distractions, but I wonder if I would not be distracted by the amazing view surrounding the retreat: I would probably spend a lot of time resting my eyes on those green hills… 😀

    • Yes… I did, too. But I would also claim that I was thinking a lot while I was gazing at them. It might also have been a factor as to why I didn’t get on quite as fast with my writing as I’d intended!

  3. What a beautiful place for a retreat, Sarah. I’m sorry the writing didn’t flow, but it’s good you can see some of the problems. I hope you can get more rest and time away from the computer.

    • Yes, I’m hoping to get my work/life balance sorted out… I have to say it’s not going too well right now, but then I had to catch up after being away for a week!

  4. What a beautiful place to write, relax, and enjoy the company of friends and fellow writers. 🙂 And though you didn’t make as much progress on Mantivore Preys as you’d hoped, you now understand why you were struggling with it and (like you said) came away with a stronger beginning to the story thanks to the feedback you received. And yay for the breakthrough on Miranda’s Tempest!

    Sleep and time to recharge and take care of yourself are so, SO important, Sarah. I worked from home today and had planned to run errands and work on what I’m calling My Big Secret Project after my shift ended. But I stayed up late to watch my local baseball team win a very important playoff game… and while I was doing well most of the day, I think I’m going to take a nap before it’s time to tidy up for friends who are coming for dinner. 😉

    • Yes… and I’m not doing so well right now. I started catching up on my sleep and then fell into my old patterns and am now paying the price! I’ve been unwell the last couple of days, so I must get on top this issue…

      Very sensible to have that nap and I hope you have a lovely meal with your friends:))

  5. That sounds like a great place for a writing retreat and although the internet connection sounds a bit annoying, it does mean you can focus all on the writing. Sounds nice how you were able to get some great feedback too!

    • Thank you Lola! I, for one, was very grateful there was no internet connection as it meant I was able to really focus on the writing. And the feedback is always helpful:)

  6. Oh man, major changes! Sounds frightening, but important, too. We can’t have you burning out! I’m still jealous for your retreat, but of course it was well-earned. I’m determined to do a retreat too–in a few years, when kids are a little less wild. Ideally. Maybe. I can dream. 🙂

    • Yes… it was a fabulous experience, but it set off a process that it seems won’t be stopped. My body seems to have gone into fullscale rebellion. It looks as though my sleep shortfall is massively catching up with me:(.

      And yes – doing something like is wonderful. But while I’ve done 2 this year, they are the first time I’ve ever managed anything like this. And you’ll turn around twice and the children will be off to college – I know everyone says that, but that’s because it’s true…

  7. Having just read the mention of the retreat in your Sunday post, I’m really happy that you wrote more about it.
    It seems like it’s been a great opportunity even if the writing progress was slower than you thought. I can totally relate to not being prepared to write – as I’m rewriting a novel, I stumble across scenes that needs adjustment (because of small changes in the earlier chapters) or rethinking (for various reasons), and often times I need time to figure them out, slowing the progress down.

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