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!