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!






Food and Wine, Oh and Writing

Francesca Capaldi Burgess and Elaine Roberts invaded Ramsgate for a writing retreat last week with fellow writers Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman 

Views from balcony

View from the sitting room


Our writing retreat had been planned for quite some time: we had picked our house, packed our things and brought plenty of wine.



2016-05-17 17.17.31 cropped

And it was twice that size to begin with!

It was a week to celebrate. We had just entered an ice cream parlour when Elaine Everest discovered she’d made it to number 16 in The Sunday Times Bestseller List, so we had the biggest ice cream ever seen, followed by champagne, of course.

Views of the harbour





Views of the harbour

Views of the harbour


Some of us were writing: Francesca wrote the second part of her serial for People’s Friend and Elaine R started her second novel. Elaine E and Natalie were busy doing edits. We each picked a space in the house to work in, though some of us could be found from time to time on the balcony in the sun, and even across the road on the terrace of the snack bar. We worked hard, but we managed to enjoy the glorious weather, the view of the sea, eating and drinking. We spent a hilarious hour one afternoon sitting by the marina, coming up with book titles, eliciting some funny looks from people close by.


at Corby's Tearoom with Pat Corby, cousin of writer Deirdre Palmer (and well recommended by her.)

At Corby’s Tearoom with Pat Corby, cousin of writer Deirdre Palmer (and well recommended by her.)

You've got to have fish and chips when you're at the seaside.

You’ve got to have fish and chips when you’re at the seaside.








The bohemian Belgian Bar was on our doorstep.

The bohemian Belgian Bar was on our doorstep.

Reliving our childhoods in the arcade below us.

Reliving our childhoods in the arcade below us.

A brick three piece suite spotted in a courtyard.

A brick three piece suite spotted in a courtyard.






On Thursday, the four of us travelled up to London for the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) summer party, where the contenders for the Joan Hessayon Award gathered and the overall winner was announced. This year it was Clare Harvey, author of the Gunner Girls, and our congratulations go to her. This wonderful event gives you the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones. The established writers are always willing to give advice and share what they have gone through to get where they are. It makes you realise everyone experiences something similar so you’re not on your own. It was a good night, which obviously involved more food and wine.


Elaine Everest and Francesca.

Natalie Kleinman

Natalie Kleinman

Our own Elaine.

Our own Elaine.







It was soon time to pack up and return home. It was an enjoyable week, but as someone famous once said, “There’s no place like home”.

Have you ever been on a writing retreat? Does the scenery or area distract you, or are you prolific in your writing? Let us know your views.

@FCapaldiBurgess & RobertsElaine11

You can also read Francesca’s post on the advantages and fun of writing retreats here

My Write Place

Francesca Capaldi Burgess talks about where she likes to write

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Sunset the day I posted this blog.

Sunset this evening.

Being comfortable with where I write is important to me, as I imagine it is with most writers. Currently I use the study, at the front of the house, which overlooks the grass and trees outside. It’s rather dark in the mornings, especially in winter, but benefits from the sun later in the day. Many an evening I’ve admired the sunset from my desk, grabbing my camera to capture it. (It never looks quite as good in my photographs!)

Study view.

Study view.

I’ve used several parts of the house to write in over the years. I started in the study, moving out several years ago when my son, Peter, moved back home for a while. He used it as a (very small) bedroom. I relocated to the ‘playroom’, still called that although it hasn’t been used as one for a long time. It does still contain many boxes of toys, along with the washing machine and dryer, tools, my husband’s hifi ‘bits’ and all those things you don’t know where else to keep. I set myself up at the table originally bought for the children to do their homework on. The room has the opposite light problem of the study, which I don’t really like.


The study desk is always overflowing.

From there, I moved to the dining room which had the advantage of feeling more spacious and a bigger table, but alas the disadvantage of no spare storage. I found myself going constantly to the playroom to retrieve things.

When Peter moved back out, I painted the study and moved back in, gathering together my things that had found homes in various other rooms. There is built in storage on two sides, though I have long since grown beyond it.

shelf 2

Just one of the overflowing bookshelves.

Wherever my work base is, I’ve never confined myself to working only there. When I feel restless, or it’s a lovely day out, I’ll drive off somewhere for a coffee. I can sit for hours, whether in a café at a shopping mall, the local garden centre or a nearby park. It allows me to concentrate entirely on that project, not distracted by the dishwasher, washing or any other household chore that suddenly seems more compelling. And if I’m working on new writing, I’m quite happy to write by hand.

Whitstable Retreat snow

Whitstable 2010. My workspace can be spied through the bottom window.

I’ve been away several times on week long writing retreats and I find this also works well. It has the same advantage as working in a coffee shop, in that there are no household distractions. I’ve been to Littlehampton and also four times to Whitstable, where I’m due to return this April. Despite there being other people present, we are all quite disciplined, allocating coffee and meal times which we stick to. We also spur each other on.

Writing Garden

The problem with writing in the garden is the temptation to weed!

In the summer I love to work in my garden, albeit under an umbrella, with several cushions and a big pot of tea. Roll on the good weather!

Where do you like to write?



Twitter: @FCapaldiBurgess