Retreating to the Seaside

Francesca reflects on the advantages and fun of writing retreats.

Hastings Old Town would make a good setting for a novel.

Hastings Old Town would make a good setting for a novel.

Do you ever go on writing retreats? I’ve been going on at least one a year since 2010 and I thoroughly recommend them. They’re an enjoyable way to achieve a good number of words, with no household or family day to day incidents to distract you.

That’s not to say that it’s all work, work, work. There’s got to be a balance. It helps to have an agreed format with those you’re on retreat with. In my experience it goes something along these lines:

  • Morning: work till coffee time. Go out for coffee
  • After coffee: work
  • Lunch: Snack lunch provided and shared by attendees
  • Afternoon: Write till around 3.30. Have a cup of tea and a natter.
  • Work till dinner time.
  • After dinner: Watch TV, a film, natter, feedback.
  • Work if you’re a night owl
Spring retreats are more conducive to sitting out! With writers Natalie Kleinman, Elaine Everest and Elaine Roberts

Spring retreats are more conducive to sitting out! With writers Natalie Kleinman, Elaine Everest and Elaine Roberts. Whitstable 2015.

The breaks seem plentiful but are an encouragement. Plenty of mini goals can be set which I always find spurs me on. Having breaks is also an opportunity for feedback.

The proportion of work the participants get done during each period depends on whether they’re a morning, afternoon or evening person. During my recent retreat in Hastings, my writing buddy, Angela Johnson, achieved more in the mornings, whereas I did more in the afternoons. She also managed to get an early morning walk in most days before even starting!

A feature of  some retreats I’ve been on is each person cooking an evening meal, which has provided at least four dinners during the week. The other days, particularly the first and last, we’ve eaten out. How much you do that depends on what people want to spend, so retreats can be tailored to a budget. Sharing a house obviously divides renting costs. If you’re prepared to share bedrooms (I’m afraid we never are), it brings the cost down again.

Hastings in the winter sun

Hastings in the winter sun

All but one of the retreats I’ve been on have taken place by the sea –Whitstable, Littlehampton and Hastings – so there is much to inspire a thalassophiliac* like me. Perhaps mountains or woods are more your thing and you prefer to hide yourself away completely. Personally I feel it helps to have shops nearby. The one retreat we did where we were in the middle of nowhere (if you can call being seven miles from Hastings that!), we couldn’t even pop out for milk.

The final feature of all the retreats I’ve attended has been a day out in the middle to somewhere interesting. It’s another chance to recharge those batteries and could even be a chance for a little research.

If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative and you have close family living at a distance, you could always ask to spend a week at theirs. It’s particularly useful if they’re at work during the day and you can get on, while enjoying their company in the evening. It’s not something I’ve done yet but I have thought about it.

To all those on a retreat soon, happy writing – and don’t get snowed in like we nearly did our first year in Whitstable!

Whitstable beach in the snow, 2010

Whitstable beach in the snow, 2010

* A thalassophiliac is someone who loves the sea!







Do You Take…

Elaine asks is life stranger than fiction?

crest-05e1a637392425b4d5225780797e5a76If you are a writer, established or beginner, than you may well be taking part in the National Novel Writing Month (fondly known as NaNoWriMo). For those that don’t know, the idea is to write fifty thousand words in the month of November, which breaks down to approximately one thousand six hundred and sixty words a day. Normally I would be participating in this because it is a good way of getting a rough first draft of a novel written or several short stories. Everyday the writer fills out their word count and a graph rises, giving the incentive to carry on. There is no time for editing, just writing.

I am not taking part this year because I haven’t done any preparation for it, although I have set myself a word goal to write during this month. The last few months were taken over with wedding planning and preparations. My daughter got married two weeks ago; you may wonder why I am sharing this information with you, well there were some unexpected twists and turns during the ceremony.

If you were reading a romantic novel and the end was in sight, would this be an acceptable ending?

The bride wanted to get married outside. The weather was good so the registrar gave his DSC_2084permission for it to go ahead in the hotel grounds, under a beautiful pagoda. During the ceremony, he kept getting the bride’s name wrong, although they were all names that related to her. After the fourth occasion, the groom smiled before saying he was getting concerned because he wasn’t sure whom he was marrying. Thankfully, the bride and her fiancé were laughing and the Registrar was very apologetic. He finally stopped the proceedings because he couldn’t concentrate, as the bride had a wasp under one of the layers of her dress and it was getting closer to her arm. Pandemonium broke out as layer upon layer was lifted. The bride turned to the guests and laughingly asked everyone to avert their eyes while they set the wasp free.

My question is could you get away with writing that scene in a novel? Is it plausible or believable? Is it romantic?

Is life stranger than fiction? This scene did actually happen to my daughter two weeks ago and caused a lot of laughter. Was it romantic? For some, probably not, but for my daughter and her fiancé it was the very relaxed, memorable and happy atmosphere that they wanted, although I’m sure they could have done without the wasp.