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

A lovely old boat in Whitstable which could spark new story ideas

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 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! Another writing buddy, Elaine Roberts, is also a morning person, whereas Elaine Everest likes to work later in the day.

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.

Littlehampton 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!

 @FCapaldiBurgess

 

 

 

 

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Guest Elaine Everest talks about Wartime at Woolworths

Today we welcome Elaine Everest back to tell us about the next episode in her saga series about the Woolworth’s girls

Hello Elaine, it’s lovely to have you back on the blog once more.

Hi, Elaine and Francesca, thank you for your kind invitation.

We know you lived in Erith and this shows in your precise descriptions of characters’ trips around the area. Are there many differences between when you lived there and during World War 2? 

Sadly, Erith bears no resemblance to the Erith in my novels. In 1966 ‘the powers that be’ decided to flatten the town and build a concrete jungle. The beautiful Victorian shops and building were gradually flattened and in their place were square ugly boxes. Erith lost its soul in the sixties. The concrete jungle has since been replaced with another monstrosity. I visited recently and could have cried to see what had become of a once beautiful town.

The Woolworths store was still functioning, being part of the last block of buildings to go, when it was hit by tragedy when a fire swept through the building. The store’s cat died in the fire. Rumour has it that skulduggery was afoot, as many didn’t want the store to leave the town… It was later rebuilt as a concrete box and the building remains to this day but is now a carpet shop.

Maisie’s talent as a dressmaker has been highlighted in all the novels. Have you ever had any interest in sewing?

Like most women of my age we were taught to sew in school. My mum also had an interest in dressmaking and I grew up wearing homemade outfits. I made my bridesmaids dresses and continued sewing when married making cotton summer skirts that my stepmother sold at work. I moved on to making and selling soft toys and rag dolls for a few years. My last sewing venture was supplying made to measure raincoats and boots for show dogs, which was very successful, featuring on TV and in magazines. I finally gave that up when I became too busy with my writing and arthritis in my fingers stopped me doing as much as I’d have liked.

There’s a lot of historical detail about the war on a day-to-day basis. Where has your information come from?

I grew up hearing about the war and, living in the town, I had learnt how it fared during WW2. I lived in Alexandra Road, where Ruby lived, for twenty years and knew the people and the way they lived intimately. Like many saga authors I read books, watch films and use as many research facilities as possible. Woolworths has a very good online museum and the London Borough of Bexley’s archives are second to none.

The different characters in the Woolworth’s novels have so many exciting stories going on at the same time. How do you keep track of them all?

I wonder the same at times! Like all good authors I plan my books and know what will happen to my characters. I do like my three Woolworths Girls Sarah, Maisie and Freda to each have a story in the book but of course their boss, Betty along with nan, Ruby and a few other people shout out to me to be included. It’s a matter of blending their stories around the war, local events and also Woolworths – and not forgetting one of them along the way.

Who’s your favourite character in the Woolworth’s books?

My goodness it changes all the time. I always enjoy writing the scenes between Ruby and her nosy neighbour, Vera. They have a love hate relationship although Vera seems unaware of the fact. I’ve known several people like Vera and she is probably one of the few characters based on someone who once walked this earth. I’ll say no more! Then of course Ruby has her own romance with Bob so I do like letting them have some fun. Over all I confess to liking Betty Billington and so her part has grown from book to book. After all, if it weren’t for Betty hiring the three girls there wouldn’t be a story to tell.

When you get some time off writing your own books, what do you enjoy reading? 

I enjoy a well-written saga but can also have my nose in a psychological thriller by C L Taylor, one of the Women’s Murder Club novels by James Patterson or perhaps an old-fashioned crime novel – I’m re-reading all the Dick Francis books at the moment. I’m also a big fan of Milly Johnson and Carole Matthews so you could catch me with their latest romcoms. If the book blurb calls out to me I’ll read almost anything.

Is there anywhere you’ll be appearing/talking while promoting Wartime at Woolworths where your fans can go and see you?

I’m still firming up talk invitations but can announce that I’ll be at:

Sidcup Library: Saturday 12th May 2.30 pm

Erith Library:  Monday 14th May at 2.30 pm

Crayford Library: Tuesday 15th May at 2.30 pm
*Tickets for the above three events are free and available here on Eventbrite.

Hempstead Library: Tuesday 29th May at 3.30 pm

Eltham Library: Tuesday 5th June at 7 pm

The War and Peace Revival Show, Paddock Wood, Kent Saturday 28th July where I’ll be signing books in the author tent and being interviewed during the day.

I’m also book signing and holding a launch event on 31st May at the Waterstones store in Bromley at 7pm.

Thank you for taking some time out from what we know is a very busy period for you. The very best of luck with the book.

Thank you for such interesting questions xx

 

About Wartime at Woolworths: 

The Woolworths girls have come a long way together . . .

Fun loving Maisie is devoted to her young family and her work at Woolworths. But her happy life with her RAF officer husband and their baby daughter leads her to think of the family she left behind . . . With the war now into its fourth year, what will she find when she sets about searching for them?

Sarah and her husband, Alan, are blissfully happy and long for a sibling for their daughter. But dark days lay ahead for this close family. Freda heads home to Birmingham, to go in search of her family, back to the life she fled – far from the safety of Woolworths and her new friends.

With families’ separated by war, will the Woolworths girls be able to pull together?

Wartime at Woolworths is the fourth moving instalment in the much-loved Woolworths series by bestselling author Elaine Everest.

PRAISE FOR ELAINE EVEREST

‘A warm, tender tale of friendship and love’  Milly Johnson

‘Heartwarming . . . a must-read’  Woman’s Own

 

Elaine Everest, author of Bestselling novels The Woolworths Girls, The Butlins Girls & Christmas at Woolworths was born and brought up in North West Kent, where many of her books are set. She has been a freelance writer for twenty years and has written widely for women’s magazines and national newspapers, with both short stories and features. Her non-fiction books for dog owners have been very popular and led to broadcasting on radio about our four legged friends. Elaine has been heard discussing many topics on radio from canine subjects to living with a husband under her feet when redundancy looms.

When she isn’t writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school at The Howard Venue in Hextable, Kent and has a long list of published students.

Elaine lives with her husband, Michael, and their Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry, in Swanley, Kent and is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, The Crime Writers Association, The Society of Women Writers & Journalists and The Society of Authors as well as Slimming World where she can often be found sitting in the naughty corner.

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