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

 

 

 

 

Who’d Live in a House Like This?

Francesca looks at finding the right home for a story’s characters. And she has good news!

All novels, short stories and serials need settings. All characters need somewhere to live (unless they’re vagrants – but I guess even they’d need a place to shelter).

The houses in my stories have a number of origins. The cafe in my first novel was based on my dad’s, that in the fourth novel on one in Whitstable. The main house in my second novel was based very loosely on my own (though so much neater and tidier!). The abode in my third novel was completely out of my head, yet I can picture it as if I’ve lived there. Houses in my current novel are based on those that exist in the village I’ve based my setting on, if you see what I mean! Though I’ve had to make up the interiors.

Some of you might know a computer game called The Sims, where you build homes and people, then control their destinies. I’ve used this program more than once just to build my characters’ houses, to see what they look like.

What does one need to consider when creating a house? How many rooms / bedrooms are needed for a start. Is it a small or large house? Are the characters crowded in or rattling around? What’s their financial status, and does it match or mismatch the house? Is the house in the right period for the story? It would be bad form to have a Georgian family in a Victorian house (unless it’s some kind of time slip), or to give a Tudor house sash windows. The publisher, Countryside Books, has a number of guides on houses from different eras, as well as other period knowledge, which can be very useful for this kind of research.

So, who’d live in a house like this? Do any of them conjure up a character or characters. What’s their story?

Whitstable

Llangrannog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Llangrannog Tori

Tintagel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tenby

Newcastle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam

Ightham playground

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newcastle 2

Hastings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapel House Pembrokeshire

Wendy House

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scotney

Middle Coombe Farm Devon

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Downs

Arundel Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any idea what or where any of these buildings are?

Lastly, my good news. First of all, having been a runner up in the People’s Friend serial competition last year, I’m now completing the serial for them. No news yet of when it’ll be published, but I’ll post about it when I know. Secondly, I was longlisted in the Frome short story competition. Lastly, I’ve been shortlisted in the Wells Festival of Literature competition for a children’s story, with my second Young Adult novel, How to Handle Plan B. I won’t know the result of that until mid October.

Happy house hunting!

Links: Countryside Books