Diary of a Writer – In Retreat

Working in the sunshine

Working in the sunshine

Retreating has become very popular among writers and I’m no exception. Being cut loose from domestic and other responsibility opens up endless possibilities for the creative mind.

The late, Hugh Rae, aka Jessica Stirling, used to set up speakers for a small writers’ conference held in Pitlochry at the beginning of October. A number of people would do the paperwork, but Hugh had the contacts. This was my first taste of writing space in the day. The two hours between arrival and dressing for pre-dinner chat in the bar seemed endless to a busy wife and mum. No telephone calls, no car runs, no hunting for the elusive football boot – just a quiet room and a notebook and pencil.

Hugh was a lovely man and spotting that I was a newbie, he came over and said, “The first coffee is always on me.” So typical of his concern.

My first taste of retreating for the purpose of writing rather than conferring, was signing up for a radio writing course run by The Arvon Foundation in deepest Devon. Totleigh Barton in Sheepwash was straight out of the Girls’ Own Book of writers’ retreats. I slept in the pigsty. It’s a sixteenth century manor house with barn.

But the crème de la crème has to be a friend’s cottage near Stonehaven.

A secret garden

A secret garden

I’ve been several times to this magical place where the eye is on a level with the local murder of crows and where I once arrived to an aerobatic display by a pair of buzzards. I finished my second novel here and I know many others who wrote reams and reams in its welcoming embrace.

Alas, all good things will end.

So, this year’s retreat is home based. That isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. I’ve got the space, but I’ve also got regularity around. So how’s it going…

Well, there’s been a bit of spring cleaning of my writing chores’ backlog. So far, I’ve edited a novel and sent out an enquiry concerning a possible contract for it. I’ve completed another paid editing job. I’ve signed a contract (news about that to come) and I’ve started a short story.

I’m avoiding the elephant in this particular room. That’s the 1950s novel I’m having a lot of trouble structuring. Maybe that points up the real drawback of retreating in-house: there’s no other writer to bounce ideas off in the evening. Maybe the next time I have the house to myself, I’ll invite a friend to make a retreat in the spare room. Bet they get lots written as the Wi-Fi doesn’t reach there!

Where’s your favourite retreat? Is it solitary and miles from anywhere? Is it in plain view in a café?

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13 thoughts on “Diary of a Writer – In Retreat

  1. I agree with Stonehaven, I also finished a book there. Strangely though, my other favourite retreat (if you can call it that) is on a long haul flight. I get so much done, with few interruptions.


    • Hi Raven, I get lots of reading done on long hauls. Have also discovered the joy of films on planes. I’m not much of a film person despite being very much a theatre one. Thanks for dropping by, Anne


  2. Interesting post, Anne, and I can imagine how the retreats were at different stages in your life. I’ve only been to conferences rather than actual retreats but I seem to get more writing done when in a cafe or on a train – but it must be with pen and paper!


    • Hi Ros, I do admire people who can write on trains or buses. I have motion sickness which is one drawback and also I can’t seem to cope with the shoogle. I did once write a short script that made it into a Traverse evening in a café. Anne


  3. Great post, Anne. Given I’m still playing the ‘hunt the rugby boot’ game, I agree there’s something wonderfully decadent about being somewhere with no responsibilities other than to your creative work! Stonehaven was so calming and I’ve also enjoyed evening camaraderie, surrounded by other writers, during the times I’ve spent at Moniack Mohr. (Might have had something to do with wine being quaffed!) I look forward to hearing more of your exciting contract news and ‘good speed’ with all your other projects too. : )


    • Hi Rae, I once had to drive to a neighbour’s house to get my daughter’s shoe as she and her pal were wearing the same style and colour. After the Saturday evening ‘sleep-over’ each had two shoes in different sizes! It may be funny later, but it definitely reduces the zoning-out chances at the time. I’ve never been to Moniack Mhor, but I do fancy giving it a go. Contract reveal quite soon. Calmly now, Anne


  4. Lovely post, Anne.
    I enjoyed Moniack Mhor and I’ve enjoyed writing at home when the house is quiet for a few days or even a week on my own, but I agree with you that it’s more productive somehow when there are other writers around to bounce ideas off. My very best writers’ retreat is with a couple of friends who are also writers. We hire a cottage for a week twice a year and head off there to write and it is terrific. We eat simple, but delicious food, we drink wine in the evenings and we talk a lot about writing, and I always write heaps. Love it.


    • Hi Christine, that sounds like a really good idea. I’ve also noticed at conferences how the speakers emerge from their rooms saying they’ve managed another xxxx thousand words. It’s partly the absence of regular responsibilities, I think. Anne


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