Guest Elaine Everest Discusses A Gift from Woolworths

We welcome back regular guest author and friend, Elaine Everest, to talk about A Gift from Woolworths

Hello Elaine, and welcome back to the blog.

Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog again. I’m looking forward to answering your questions and hope you’ve been gentle with me?

Of course we have.

First of all, Fred, and particularly Cynthia, are among some of the more ‘colourful’ characters in your book. Are you ever inspired by real people?
I love writing colourful characters especially if they are transient people who will not be around for long. They can be as horrid or deceitful as I wish, as I don’t have to keep up the ‘harshness’ of the character. As for them being real people I wouldn’t say I’ve ever lifted a real person and plonked them into my books but I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to pinching certain traits. It is one of the joys of being a writer…

Ah yes, we know just what you mean!

The dialogue in your World War 2 novels are of its time. Do you find it difficult to keep each character individual when they speak?
I can see my characters and they perform as if they were in a soap opera. I’m never comfortable writing a story or book until I can see each person move and speak. I like to get under their skins and know how they think. Then, when they come to speak I can feel how the words leave their mouths and whether they speak slowly, fast or stumble over each word.

Have any historical events, with the exception of WW2, given you ideas for a plot or setting for your novels?
Most certainly! A few snippets of information about a great grandmother perishing in the 1918 flue epidemic and leaving behind a young family had me taking them off on an adventure. Most recently I came across information of a grandmother who listed herself as working in munitions in 1920 when she had her first child. I’d grown up knowing about the local disaster of young women being killed in a munitions accident in the early 1920s and knowing my grandmother had been there has made me wish to write a story around what happened. I only have to read something about an historical event and my mind starts to plan a story…

You run a writing school, The Write Place, so what advice can you offer new writers, and is it different for a budding historical writer?
To new writers I would say just keep writing and try to write something every day. Don’t think about publication but just get into the habit of sitting down and creating a few paragraphs. You need to read – all the time. Absorb the area of history that interests you most and then start to think about how your characters would live in that time. I would also say you have to love history and enjoy writing and researching as most historical books are around one hundred thousands words in length. Finally, remember to see what is selling in the bookshops. You can write the best book going but if it isn’t fashionable no publisher will touch it. However, as a new writer just enjoy creating words.

That’s very sound advice. What do you consider to be the most important aspect of writing a novel?
The most important aspect is to be able to tell a good story and to have the kind or characters that readers will take to their hearts. Not all characters are good people and not all are a hundred percent bad. Someone in the industry told me once that even the Kray twins loved their mother…
As I mentioned before, an author needs to read all the time and that means reading books in the genre they write – and read newly published books, as this will show us what publishers are looking for. This won’t affect our writing style. One of my editors told me that they saw me as being their xxx author and named an extremely revered long published writer. I did my best not to look too shocked and muttered ‘no pressure there then!’ However, it made me read many of this person’s books to see how they wrote and why there was a comparison, the bonus being I got to read some very good books.

We love the way the war has been bookended with weddings (we’re saying no more!). But is this the end of the road for the Woolies Girls?
Haha well spotted! No, it’s not the end of the girls from Woolies. My publisher has an outline for another book and a suggestion for one after that. I’m really keen to write more so fingers crossed!

What can your readers look forward to next?
I’m at the editing stage of my book for May 2019, which is called The Teashop Girls. I’m still in WW2 but this time the story is set in Ramsgate and Margate on the Kent coast in the Lyons Teashops where my three girls, Rose, Lily and Katie are Nippies. I’ve had fun creating these new characters along with their friends and families. This part of Kent played a big part in the evacuation of Dunkirk, which has been weaved into the story. I hope readers enjoy it as much as they did my girls from Woolworths and Butlins.

That sounds like another good read to look forward to. Thank you, Elaine, for your insights and your writing advice. We wish you all the best with A Gift from Woolworths.

Thank you so much for inviting me to visit your blog xxx

 

A Gift from Woolworths…

Will the war be over by Christmas?

As the war moves into 1945 the lives of the women of Woolworths continue. When store manager, Betty Billington, announces she is expecting Douglas’s baby her future life is about to change more than she expects.

Freda has fallen in love with the handsome Scottish engineer but will it end happily?

Maisie loves being a mother and also caring for her two nieces although she still has her own dreams. When her brother appears on the scene he brings unexpected danger to the family.

Meanwhile Sarah dreams of her husband’s return and a cottage with roses around the door but Woolworths beckons.

Will our girls sail into times of peace, or will they experience more heartache and sorrow? With a wedding on the horizon, surely only happiness lies ahead – or does it?

A Gift from Woolworths is the next instalment in Elaine Everest’s much-loved Woolworths series. Available on Amazon

About Elaine Everest

Elaine Everest, author of Bestselling novels The Woolworths Girls, The Butlins Girls, Christmas at Woolworths, and Wartime 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.

 

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What’s Your Dream?

Elaine Roberts talks about what a difference a year makes.

Firstly, Francesca and I should apologise for being missing for so long, where has this year gone?

Due to a few family problems I have been in a reflective mood lately and it’s made me realise a few things, mainly how lucky I am. I thought I’d share a snippet of my world, without boring you with too much detail.

A few years ago my niece visited me and while we were talking she asked me, if I could do anything, what would it be? I told her I didn’t know. What was interesting was that, apparently, my sister had said the same thing. We came to the conclusion that we had never been asked about our own dreams and ambitions. It was from that conversation that I remembered, when I was in my early twenties, I used to write in the evening when my children had gone to bed. I had sent my work to Mills and Boon who sent me a delightful letter. It was a rejection, but it was encouraging. That was in the early eighties, I think, but then life took over.

In 2012, I joined a writing class and my dream was resurrected.

In April 2016, I had the opportunity to take redundancy from work and grabbed it with both hands, because I had a dream I wanted to follow.

In September 2016, The Foyles Bookshop Girls, which is a World War One family saga, hadn’t even been thought of. I was writing a Victorian novel.

At the end of November 2017, I signed my three-book contract with Aria.

My debut novel, The Foyles Bookshop Girls, was published in June 2018.

The second novel in the series, The Foyles Bookshop Girls At War, is published in January 2019.

I am currently writing the third novel, Christmas At The Foyles Bookshop, which is out in August 2019.

It’s all been very exciting. Since signing the contract, my life has been dogged with my own self-doubt and serious family illnesses. At times, I have wondered if I had time to write another novel, or even if I could. I have questioned myself, over and over again, but my laptop went everywhere with me in case I got ten minutes to lose myself, away from the stresses of my reality at that time.

I also wondered whether all writers go through the same emotional rollercoaster, and having spoken to a few authors, I believe the answer is yes.

Anything creative is subjective, so that is easily followed by self-doubt, because everyone has an opinion, and definitely won’t all agree with each other.

A magazine short story

It took me a long time to tell someone I was an author. I built it up in my head to be this great unveiling, and didn’t want to come across as something I’m not. Haha, it was such a let down when I finally got round to saying it out loud, because I got no response whatsoever. The second time I said it, the response was “I don’t read books”. How sad is that? I can’t imagine going through life without a book on the go. My biggest problem is not having enough time to read all the books I want to.

I love a good book, and to write a novel has been a dream of mine since I was young.

Thanks to my hard work, determination and a great support network around me, and to my readers I have achieved my goal. The biggest thanks must go to my niece for asking the question in the first place and my tutor for guiding and bullying me into writing short stories as well as the novel.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, or what life throws at you, don’t lose faith or hope that you will achieve your dream. It may not be your time now, but remember, it’s never too late.

Guest Author Vivien Brown talks about Five Unforgivable Things

Today we talk to friend and author Vivien Brown, who’s new gripping novel, Five Unforgiveable Things, is due out tomorrow

Welcome once again to the Write Minds blog, Viv.

Kate, the main character in your latest novel, Five Unforgivable Things, has undergone IVF treatment in the past. What kind of research did you do on this subject?

The novel looks at a long marriage, from the 1970s to the present day, and the infertility treatments in the story take place at the end of the 1980s when things were done a little differently, and with far less success, than they are now. Having been in Kate’s situation myself back then, and undergoing five ‘rounds’ of IVF, I had to dig more into my own memory than do any kind of formal research! But I made sure not too much of the actual nitty-gritty needles, medicines and operations stuff made it onto the page. It’s the emotional side of it all, the ethical dilemmas and the effect on the couple’s relationship that I wanted to convey more than the physical processes. In fact, it is the long-reaching results of the IVF that create many of the ups and downs of the story, much of which is told through the eyes of their now adult children in the present day.

Like your last novel, Lily Alone, Five Unforgivable Things looks set to be full of twists and secrets. Do you work these all out before you start the book or do some occur to you as you’re writing?

I always knew I wanted there to be a few big events/ mistakes that defined Kate and Dan’s marriage – the moments when if one or the other had done things differently or made a different decision then all that followed would have altered. I soon settled on the number five (not too many, not too few, and it made for a good title!) but it was only as I wrote that I decided exactly what the five things were. But the children of the marriage have their secrets and heartaches too – things they cannot always talk to each other about, for various reasons which will become clear as you read!

Do you have a favourite character in the book? Or a least favourite character?

I do love Kate because she is there throughout the whole book, from page one until the end some forty years later. Alternate chapters are told in her voice, so I guess I know her best – what is in her head and why she does what she does. Some of her husband Dan’s traits may be annoying or seem rather cold, but he is a practical person, an accountant, led by his head and his wallet rather than his heart. I certainly don’t dislike him for that.

What songs would be on Kate’s playlist, and why?

Kate has no interest in music. And, later, she has no time for it! I could try to think up songs that fit with her life, but they would be my choices, not hers.

When you begin a new novel, do you have a particular type of reader in mind?

Having written for the women’s magazine fiction pages for a very long time, I suppose I can only ever see my readers as female, interested in relationships, families and emotional stories, preferably with happy endings. That’s the type of story I enjoy reading so inevitably it’s what I end up writing too. But I do make sure I include a wide range of characters, from babies to the elderly (In my first novel, Lily Alone, one of my main characters, Agnes, was in her eighties), so I hope to appeal to readers of all ages. I have also written short stories in the past about a downs syndrome teenager and a blind baby, and in this book I introduce my first major novel character with a disability.

You’ve been a prolific writer over the past twenty years with short stories, articles and now novels. Do you ever get writer’s block?

I wouldn’t call it that. I gave up my day job four years ago and now that I work from home I do feel I can allow myself days off, even weeks off if I feel so inclined, but when a deadline looms I will just sit and get on with it. Planning goes on all the time, in my head, so when I get to the desk I hope to already know what to write and where the story is going. There is nothing worse than staring at a blank screen with no idea what to write, so I never do that. There is always admin, social media and promo to take care of in between creative bouts.

Which book has most influenced you in your life, and why?

Dictionaries! I have always loved them, and discovering new words, old words and unexpected meanings is always fascinating. As an avid ‘crossworder’, they have often saved the day when I have got stuck solving or compiling a clue. When it comes to novels, so many leave their mark – in terms of their use of language, emotional connection and just generally not wanting the story to end. I couldn’t name just one.

You introduced us to the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, the meetings of which we’ve greatly enjoyed. Tell our readers something about the organisation.

The SWWJ is a wonderful society, which I discovered about fifteen years ago and have belonged to ever since. It is the oldest society in the UK for professional writing women (and a few men these days too), and celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2019. I am now a Council member and a Fellow, and run both their social media platform and their writing competitions programme. With some prestigious and very  enjoyable social events, well-known past and current members and patrons (Joyce Grenfell, Shirley Williams, Victoria Wood, Jane Corry, Tim Rice, Floella Benjamin), a lovely quarterly magazine, and a press card for every full member, it is well worth joining – and if your level of published writing doesn’t quite qualify you for full membership, you can join as a ‘friend’. Take a look at the website for more info: http://www.swwj.co.uk

 It’s been lovely as always to have you on the blog, Viv. The very best of luck with Five Unforgivable Things.

 Thank you!

 

FIVE UNFORGIVABLE THINGS

Almost thirty years ago, Kate’s dream came true. After years of struggling, she was finally pregnant following pioneering IVF. But the dream came at a cost. Neither Kate nor her husband Dan could have known the price they would have to pay to fulfil their cherished wish of having their own family.

Now, years later, their daughter Natalie is getting married and is fulfilling her own dream of marrying her childhood sweetheart. Natalie knows she won’t be like most brides as she travels down the aisle in her wheelchair, but it’s the fact her father won’t be there to walk beside her that breaks her heart.

Her siblings, Ollie, Beth and Jenny, gather around Natalie, but it isn’t just their father who is missing from their lives… as the secrets that have fractured the family rise to the surface, can they learn to forgive each other before it’s too late?

Click here to buy from Amazon

 

ABOUT VIVIEN

Vivien Brown lives in west London with her husband and two cats. She worked for many years in banking and accountancy, and then, after the birth of twin daughters, made a career switch and started working with young children, originally as a childminder but later in libraries and children’s centres, promoting the joys of reading and sharing books through storytimes and book-based activities and training sessions. She has written many short stories for the women’s magazine market and a range of professional articles and book reviews for the nursery and childcare press, in addition to a ‘how to’ book based on her love of solving cryptic crosswords. Now a full time writer, working from home, Vivien is combining novel-writing and her continuing career in magazine short stories with her latest and most rewarding role as doting grandmother.

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Food, Glorious Food

Elaine and Francesca on researching food and how they use it in their writing.

Victorian China

Victorian China

Elaine: If we write short stories or novels, historical or modern, regardless of genre, we should always include food and of course plenty of cups of tea. When writing about a character eating, the author is giving the reader information about them. What food they eat could reveal their social standing in society. How they eat it could depict not only their social standing, but also when they last had a meal, and of course their manners. Food is often used in romantic and sex scenes; that was nicely depicted in the Disney film, Lady and The Tramp when they had a spaghetti dinner. What and how we eat has changed over the years and therefore, the meal could indicate the time the novel is set in.

I remember attending the opening of the first McDonalds in Britain, I believe it was 1972. The group I was with were totally shocked that we had to eat with our fingers and we decided there and then that it would never take off. Obviously, we couldn’t have been more wrong. This demonstrates the importance of making sure the food facts are correct because it is easy to get caught out.

Mrs Beaton's Cookery Book

Mrs Beaton’s Cookery Book

I am writing a first draft of a Victorian Saga and there is a lot of information about everything on the Internet; sometimes I wonder how authors managed twenty years ago. However, I purchased a Mrs Beaton’s Cookery Book, which is wonderful. It is more than a cook book. There are pages and pages of etiquette of that time, even what to do if the Queen pays you a visit.

@RobertsElaine11

Francesca: Looking through my fiction I find that food features large – quite apart from those endless cups of tea/coffee imbibed in the kitchen!

Competitions often have a food theme to comply with. I have a couple of stories in this category that have enjoyed comp success. Far From Home, set in 1915, features an Italian called Margherita who is in England without many of the ingredients normally available to her. She has to use lard instead of olive oil, for instance. Through research I also discovered that garlic wasn’t often grown and was viewed with suspicion! Food is the means by which she gets to know a handsome Canadian soldier.

A table of characters ready for a romance, a family bust up or a little mischief?

A dinner table full of characters: are they ready for romance, a family bust up or a little mischief?

Insatiable included the themes of gluttony, lust and greed (the general theme of the comp was the Seven Deadly Sins, so I thought I’d go for a few!) Cue lots of food metaphors in the lustful parts! More research, this time into 1950s food, was required, bearing in mind there was still some rationing in the early years.

But I don’t seem to need a set theme to employ food in my plots. Goat’s Head Soup is about Miranda who holds a dinner party for her husband’s condescending friends. They get their comeuppance when Miranda serves up something a little unconventional.

Then there is Thinking Outside the Cakebox (about a cupcake shop), Foolproof (where the pensioner next door saves her neighbour’s dinner party) and An Alternative Christmas  (where the local hippies save Christmas for their neighbours after a power cut because they have an Aga!).

The cafe above which I was born in the late '50s.

The cafe where I was born, in the late ’50s.

Two of the novels I’ve written are set in cafés. Not surprising since I was born in one. They are a great basis for all sorts of shenanigans. In one of these novels, and in a couple of my others, the main protagonists indulge in dinners a deux – not to be underestimated for their romantic potential.

Yes, food is certainly very handy when it comes to time and place setting, for the senses, for a family bust up, a romance or a little mischief. It’s something we can all relate to.

@FCapaldiBurgess

You can read Far From Home  in the anthology 7 Food Stories from Rome

 

To Be, Or Not To Be, That Is The Question…

Elaine Roberts touches on the relationship between author and reader.

When you read a fiction book of any genre, what are you looking for? Good plot? Great characters? Good grammar? Escapism? A good ending? Does it have to be believable? Or all of the above?

This could be my “to be read” pile.

There are lots of different types of books out there, because there are lots of different types of readers, and what it’s always good to remember is, there’s room for all of them. Just because a genre isn’t to an individuals liking, that doesn’t make it rubbish. Equally, if you don’t like a book an author has written, it doesn’t mean she is a rubbish writer. Everything in the creative world is subjective, whether it’s novels, films, music or art. It doesn’t really matter what we read, as long as we are reading and encouraging others to do the same.

Women’s commercial fiction is often described as fluffy, with no substance; such a sweeping statement. Many writers work hard at their research, to ensure the facts in the story are correct. I know some authors of women’s fiction that actually interview people that did, or do, the job they are writing about, to ensure they are getting it right. It must be heart breaking to work so hard, then read general comments about the genre. Some novels can take up to a year to write, because the story is intricately woven into historical facts.

Click on cover for more information.

As an author, I worried about how my debut novel, The Foyles Bookshop Girls, was going to be received. Was it too fluffy? Would it be lacking, so the readers found it boring?

The reviews and messages, from readers and bloggers, started to come in and I held my breath. I was absolutely thrilled and read the first one with disbelief. Were they talking about my writing, my novel, when they said they couldn’t put it down and gave it five stars? I thought it was a fluke and continued to be fearful of what everyone’s opinion would be. It’s been a rollercoaster ride of emotions, of my own making I hasten to add, but I have received some lovely messages and reviews. Thank goodness for the readers.

Whatever people may write about any genre, it is important to remember the only thing that matters are the readers, as they are your marker. Yes, I’m sure it would be lovely to be recognised by your peers as doing a brilliant job, but surely that’s not why we write is it? It’s not why I do it. I write because I love to write, and yes, I want to publish the best I can, though not for my writing peers, but for my readers.

It has taken me several years to get my first novel published and if I had any advice for budding writers, it would be do not give up, keep learning and try writing other genres, until you find one that fits you and your style.

Twitter: @RobertsElaine11

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Welcome to Our Own Elaine Roberts and The Foyles Bookshop Girls

We turn the tables on Elaine Roberts today, as we find out about her debut novel, The Foyles Bookshop Girlsset in World War One, and also a little about Elaine’s writing life

Hello Elaine! I’d like to say welcome to the blog, but you’re already here.

This feels a little weird but thanks you for hosting me on our blog and the interesting questions.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they dont feel emotions strongly?

When I write, I tend to put myself in the position of my characters, but that’s not to say the characters are me. I need to know their back-story, so I can write their actions and reactions accordingly. I do believe it helps to tap into your own emotions, to remember how you felt when something similar happened to you, or someone you know, or imagine how you would feel. A good example is if you lost someone you love, store those emotions so when you write it’s real.

I wouldn’t like to say you couldn’t be a writer, but it must be harder to draw the reader in if the emotions aren’t there to draw on, or at least don’t come across as real.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I enjoy reading books that are connected, whether by characters or setting, so it’s something I would love to do with my own novels. The Foyles Girls series are all stand alone books, but they have the same three girls in them. The fourth book idea I’m planning contains one of the characters, but she will probably be a grandmother, but of course it’s only an idea at the moment.

 If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Have belief in yourself and don’t give up.

I heard a poem a couple of years ago on YouTube. It’s by Prince Ea and called A Brand New Ending, about not being a “kinda” person because if you are, you end up with “kinda” results. It left a mark on me, and since then I’ve endeavoured to put my heart and soul into what I want to do. I can often be heard saying “don’t be a kinda person”

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

That’s quite a difficult question. Everything has been a series of stepping-stones. I attend a writing class, which introduced me to the Romantic Novelist Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, which enabled me to have my work critiqued each year. They also hold a conference each year, which is very high on my list of must do events, because of the workshops, panel talks and meeting industry professionals. It’s good to know that all the self-doubts you feel are the same for everyone.

Whats the most difficult thing about writing characters of the opposite sex?

Finding the tone and the voice of the characters. As a woman, I want to make sure the male character sounds real. Again it’s about knowing their back-story and I tend to think about people I know, but that’s not to say my characters are people I know. By nature, I have always been a people watcher, so people’s mannerisms and actions fascinate me. I constantly ask myself if they would act or speak like that?

How do you select the names of your characters?

I use a number of methods. Family names are a popular way of choosing, but I’ve also done an internet search of popular names in a given year. There is also the census, which is a great resource for names and occupations.

Does your family support your career as a writer?

I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I couldn’t have achieved what I have without them. In the past, I’ve had my children acting out scenes in my front room, as well as giving ideas and advice. My husband reads everything I write and lifts me when I’m down. My whole family has been involved in my writing journey and continue to be excited and part of the story.

 

About The Foyles Bookshop Girls

London, 1914: one ordinary day, three girls arrive for work at London’s renowned Foyles bookshop. But when war with Germany is declared their lives will never be the same again… 

Alice has always been the ‘sensible’ one in her family – especially in comparison with her suffrage-supporting sister! But decidedly against her father’s wishes, she accepts a job at Foyles Bookshop; and for bookworm Alice it’s a dream come true.

But with the country at war, Alice’s happy world is shattered in an instant. Determined to do what she can, Alice works in the bookshop by day, and risks her own life driving an ambulance around bomb-ravaged London by night. But however busy she keeps herself, she can’t help but think of the constant danger those she loves are facing on the frontline…

Alice, Victoria and Molly couldn’t be more different and yet they share a friendship that stems back to their childhood – a friendship that provides everyday solace from the tribulations and heartbreak of war. 

Available at Amazon here

 

Elaine Roberts had a dream to write for a living. She completed her first novel in her twenties and received her first very nice rejection. Life then got in the way until circumstances made her re-evaluate her life, and she picked up her dream again in 2010. She joined a creative writing class, The Write Place, in 2012 and shortly afterwards had her first short story published. She was thrilled when many more followed and started to believe in herself.

As a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, progressing to full membership from the New Writers Sceme, and The Society of Women Writers & Journalists, Elaine attends many conferences, workshops, seminars and wonderful parties. Meeting other writers gives her encouragement, finding most face similar problems.

Elaine and her patient husband, Dave, have five children who have flown the nest. Home is in Dartford, Kent and is always busy with their children, grandchildren, grand dogs and cats visiting. Without her wonderful family and supportive friends, she knows the dream would never have been realised.

Find out more about Elaine and chat with her here:

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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