May, June and July were busy months for me for various reasons, none of which was particularly beneficial to my writing. My focus faded and my output dwindled. Just as well I’d booked myself on a writers’ retreat for the first week of August.
When looking around on the internet for what was on offer, I thought carefully about exactly what I wanted from a retreat. First and foremost, I wanted the time and space to write. Obviously. But what kind of time and space were conducive to writing? Did I want herds of wildebeest galloping past my window? Did I want olive groves and plunge pools with belly dancing tuition thrown in? No. I wanted a lovely old thatched house overlooking a village square in North Devon with a room of my own, a writing desk and some nourishing home cooked food. And that’s what I got. And more.
I don’t wish to turn my blog into a running advert for Retreats For You, although it’s kind of hard to avoid doing so. Hard not to wax lyrical over the attentiveness of the hosts, Deborah Dooley and Bob Cooper, who positively bar you from doing anything that smacks remotely of fending for yourself. Not only are you wonderfully fed and watered, you have free rein to roam around their lovely house and garden and settle where and when you will. You receive little kindnesses such as a glass of red wine brought to your door when you’re preparing to luxuriate in a hot bath. And you receive a stern ticking off if you so much as lift your empty tea mug from the table and make a move with it towards the kitchen sink.
Everything is geared towards leaving you free to think of nothing else but your work.
Fortunately, the old house isn’t great on insulation so, even in August, a fire was lit every evening in the glorious fireplace to sit by and chat. If you so wished. One evening, guests were invited to read from their work. If you chose to do so, the only proviso, stipulated by Deborah, was that you didn’t apologise for your work beforehand (amazing how strong the desire is to do this).
This reading (and listening) was one extracurricular activity I felt useful to me as a writer. Exploring the countryside and chatting to other writers were others. The five guests I got to know during my stay were diverse, interesting and delightful people. It’s the kind of place where I can’t imagine finding anyone who isn’t.
And then, there were the vast swathes of time I spent actively writing. No cut off points built into the day. No timetable to adhere to. No excuses.
I managed to edit fifty pages whilst away. It might not sound like much, but this was a very rough section of my novel which required some serious re-writing and polishing. Time to ponder also allowed me to finally resolve a structural problem I’d been struggling with for a while and which had seriously slowed me down.
To anyone considering going on a retreat I would say, unreservedly, do it. If you choose Retreats For You, however, be prepared to cultivate some thoroughly anti-social habits. Apologies in advance to any friend of mine who has me round for dinner if I sit idly by whilst they clear up all around me. Blame Deborah and Bob.