So. My first writing retreat. A weekend of doing nothing except writing, mingling with other writers, and pausing simply to attend a lecture here and there and be injected and inspired with words of wisdom from other, more experienced (published) writers.
How could I possibly not return bursting with creative energy and full of essential know-how to turn my scratchings into a massive international bestseller ?? (Watch this space.)
Kate Harrison threw down the first challenge with suggestions of how to toss aside your own rule book with a bravura list of ways to kick-start your creativity.
Ever tried challenging yourself as to how quickly you can write 500 words? She urged us all to try something different that weekend – the night owls to get up early and the early starters to stay up late and there were lots of notes to self and resolutions to try out all her ideas. Scribble scribble.
And she had a great list of downloadable gadgets to help you time your word counts if you like that kind of thing. Scary.
I think quite a few people staying at Dunford House carried out their resolutions as there were certainly a few folk around who looked a little sleep deprived. But that could just have been the all-night singing in the bar.
There was certainly a bit of experimenting with trying out different writing rooms in a bid for creative enhancement. One minute out in the sunshine with the view of the bluebell wood. Next, over here for a stint in the cool of the library. Which was better for getting those creative juices flowing?
Or was this constant movement less to do with following Kate’s advice than the quest for the holy grail, ie a place that had both an internet connection and somewhere to plug in your laptop? Every time someone’s battery went critical there was an unseemly scramble for an electricity socket.
Marcus Sedgwick, author of cool, dark gothic thrillers, such as ‘Revolver’ tried really hard to give us lots of rules about how to plot, and mesmerised us with details of his meticulous research and photos of his various research trips.
In all of the photos there was snow. Big drifts of snow, or small coverings of snow. What would have happened if the research for his first novel had taken him to somewhere warmer? Without the urge to return to a cup of cocoa and snuggle a rug over his knees, would he have bothered to get writing? Would have have stayed in The Maldives and become a cocktail waiter?
But despite all this impressive advice, even Marcus admitted that he tends to use his own rules for support and doesn’t actually stick to them. Even though he likes the comfort of having a plot first, occasionally a character will show up and demand to be written about. And he suffered from writers block for two years and has anxiety attacks whenever he delivers a manuscript to his editor. Where was all the confident advice on how to do this properly?
The effervescent bestselling Lee Wetherley took us down another dark, gut-wrenching journey into ‘Second Novel Syndrome’, which did its job and filled me with dread, even though I am still busy getting therapy to see me through ‘First Novel Syndrome’.
And Helen Boyle, editor of fiction at Templar, managed to be complimentary and uplifting as she had read a good deal of submission letters, synopses and first chapters of the delegates, she was kind enough to say that she felt the future of children’s writing was in good hands. (Luckily she hadn’t seen mine.)
Of course Dunford House itself provided the perfect setting for making you feel like a real writer. If I’d thought about it and taken my camera I could have had someone take one of those author photos you see in colour supplements and ‘Writing Made Easy’ magazines. Could there be a studio somewhere that has set up the perfect desk, in a bay window framed with sumptuous curtains and a view out into a colourful garden, ready for those ‘isn’t being a writer a perfect life’ shots.
When a press photographer visited my house when I’d won a writing competition I showed him Where I Write (between the archaic fridge and the toppling pile of on-its-way-to-the-wardrobe laundry and my enormous collection of PG Wodehouse, Jilly Cooper and Reginald Hill books). To which he took one look and said ‘Shall we take it outside then love?’
Of course the disadvantage of a rural retreat I discovered was when you suddenly go down with a head cold and you feel the need to venture into the nearest town in search of a chemist. A 45 minute walk later through some challenging countryside (it has rained a lot recently, hasn’t it), it was slightly dispiriting to discover that Midhurst doesn’t actually have a chemist.
It does, however, have a bookshop (joy), always a balm in troubled times. And a cafe serving a very refreshing cup of tea before I descended on Budgens to do a raid on their cold remedy department. And back to base in slightly less than three hours. I felt a bit like Marcus doing one of his dark research expeditions.
But I seemed to be finding it quite easy to get my brain to an ‘Alpha state’ (half-way between being awake and asleep, apparently) that Marcus and Kate were recommending. If in doubt you’ll find it’s quite easily achieved by a combination of a bad night and an overdose of Vick’s nasal spray.
Anyway. A fantastic weekend. Huge thanks to SCBWI, all the speakers, organisers and staff, as well as all the other delegates, who made the whole experience both fun and rewarding.
The best thing about the weekend wasn’t only about time to indulge yourself by writing loads and not thinking you should be cleaning out the hamster, but meeting all the other writers, all at different stages of their writing journeys.
Published, agented . . . everyone seemed to be a lot further along their writing journey than me. A humbling experience, but I think I got away with it.
Kate Harrison is on a mission to do some market research into what makes readers want to read and enjoy books. We both agree that tastes are subtly changing all the time, but she is keen to find out more and has put together a survey.
If you are interested in what people read and why, please see if you can find a few minutes to go and complete her survey http://kate-harrison.com/news/reader-survey-2012-what-do-you-think-of-uk-fiction.