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.
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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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
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
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
Great post Anne. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a retreat – would love to try it one day.
Hi Jo, I think you’d enjoy it. Anne
I think I read the beginning of that 50s book – keep going!
Aw, thank you, Kate. The passage you heard is partly responsible for the structuring issue. I think I prefer that older character to the younger one. we’ll see. Anne
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
Yes, the absence of other responsibilities and other distractions, plus the fact that writing is why you are there.