Thursday, 19 October 2017

My First Writing Retreat by Sophie Claire

Do you ever wonder how much you could achieve if you weren’t constantly interrupted by the demands of daily life and could concentrate solely on your writing? Well last weekend I did just that when I went on a writing retreat for the first time. It wasn’t anything official – just a group of us who booked into a Bed & Breakfast in the grounds of a monastery in Yorkshire.


Beforehand, I was excited at the prospect of immersing myself in writing for 3 days and being in the company of writer friends, although I must admit I was a bit nervous too about not having my usual desktop (I borrowed a laptop) or a printer, and also, would it be too intense? Would I be the naughty one who was always stopping for cups of tea and distracting the others? (*coughs* that did happen, but I think they were happy to stop – and eat flapjacks!).
The orchard (the monks produce their own apple juice)
The vegetable patch

I needn’t have worried. The technology worked, and I was at my desk at 8am each morning.

Away from my usual routine, I was really productive and more focused; although we had internet, I wasn’t as tempted as usual and enjoyed the uninterrupted stretches of time to write – what a luxury.




My word count steadily increased, but regular breaks were essential, so I explored the monastery grounds, which were surprisingly big for a town site.



The whole place had a very peaceful atmosphere, with benches dotted around everywhere, inviting you to sit and contemplate...





...Encouraging you to slow down, and live in the moment.




By the third day I felt immersed in my story and with this came a feeling of deep calm. It reminded me of when I took part in NaNoWriMo last year – I experienced the same freeing up of the imagination and shutting off of the inner critic, allowing my imagination space to simply create.
I could hear the outside world, the cars and buses trundling past on the main road nearby, yet I felt cocooned here and apart. Cloistered, is the word, I suppose.


The church bells rang four times a day and they soon became a familiar background noise, also calming. Out of curiosity we went to evensong, which was beautiful and the monks were very welcoming. (I kept setting my alarm to go to 6.45am matins too, but I confess I never made it!)

The church

Anne Stenhouse, Sophie Claire, Kate Blackadder
& Helena Fairfax



After evensong we headed out to eat in the local pub, where we soon became regulars.


Unlike the monks’ meals, these were not silent!


The four of us had lots to catch up on, writing projects to discuss, ideas to share. All good fun and inspiring.


The whole experience was very liberating and productive. We all agreed that we’d like to do it again and I look forward to that.







Have you ever been on a writing retreat? How was your experience? 

Sophie.x


Links:
Anne Stenhouse
Kate Blackadder
Helena Fairfax
Sophie Claire

Friday, 1 September 2017

I Can't Write Without... by Sophie Claire

…My stash of rough paper.


I know – it's not glamorous, it's not an expensive gadget, and in this world of laptops and printers you might think it's a little peculiar and very old-fashioned.
Obviously, I have a computer and this is essential for editing and making the manuscript presentable to the rest of the world, BUT without rough paper I simply wouldn’t have a book to show in the first place.

What Do I Use It For?

  • Morning pages (à la Julia Cameron). To get me into writing mode at the start of the day I write three pages of whatever's on my mind. It's a great warm-up, and also good for getting any worries off my chest so I'm then free to focus on the novel I'm writing.
  • Sketching out a new scene. Everything I write begins life as rough scribbles, sometimes pared down to pure dialogue to give me the essence of the scene, and I build up from there. 
  • Thinking through problems: if I’m stuck, I stop typing and go back to paper. I brainstorm solutions, or write a kind of stream of consciousness, putting down on paper any thoughts that come to mind. Anything at all. This often throws up surprising results and sometimes the solution isn’t as difficult to find as I first thought.

The stash:


It’s made up mostly of discarded printouts of my work which I’ve scribbled all over (are you surprised that I also edit by hand?), but environmentalists will be pleased to know that I also salvage from around the house any paper which can be re-used. Letters, flyers, the children’s old homework, including maths papers and sheet music. (For some reason, these especially delight me: I love to see the outlines of graphs which are beyond my understanding or the notes of silent melodies). 

It’s messy - but that's the point:

The fact that it’s not pristine sheets of paper is crucial

It tricks my brain into believing that what I write doesn’t matter, that I can relax and anything goes. Whatever I scribble on there can be as messy, as clichéd, as honest and as terrible as I like because it’s for my eyes only. The paper’s usedness, its tatty, second-hand rejected state encourages me to open up and just write.

The first couple of lines are usually rubbish, but then I tackle the problem, thinking around it, or getting into the head of the character who’s been enigmatic. They begin to reveal important facts, or sometimes, if they’re still holding back, I ask them questions. (I’ve been told that if I did this using my left hand to write it might be even more effective because it unlocks the right part of the brain, but I confess I’m too impatient). 


With the help of my stash of rough paper, I often unearth gems of ideas, or come up with novel solutions to plot problems. I simply couldn’t do without it.

Do you ever use paper and pen? What is essential for your writing?

Sophie.x



Her Forget-Me-Not Ex is currently 99p/$1.30 in the Kindle sale! 
It's available here.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Research On the Go - a fairy tale by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

Once upon a time...

...a woman of indeterminate age set off on a journey. This woman – with dark hair that was not entirely natural anymore, and dark eyes framed by black geeky glasses – was, and always had been, a Writer. The journey wasn’t as perilous as others she had embarked on, as it didn’t involve the M6; but the A49 proved eventful enough.


The cottage the Writer was staying in for a week had a wonderful, quirky name, yet she wouldn’t reveal it to anyone until her dying breath – or at least until it popped up in one of her novels.

The detachment of being away from home lent a fresh perspective to her research. She found herself taking lots… and lots… of photographs with her phone. (Thank goodness for WiFi and that one terabyte of cloud drive, she realised, as she made sure to back them up daily.)

Now, oddly enough, the Writer lived in a picturesque village herself. But somehow, it was easy to be blind to sights she saw regularly. The saying “familiarity breeds contempt” didn’t seem so cliched when she considered how a never-before-seen vista can spark inspiration, or a new outlook lift a story up out of the grey and into a rainbow of light.

Trying to capture the essence of a place in a photograph wasn’t easy, the Writer discovered, especially with a phone case that made the edges of certain photographs blurry and pink. But it was worthwhile and fun. Viewing the typical settings of her stories with a fresh lens meant creativity was stirred and new scenes imagined.

An old gate here (ooh, the possibilities of where it might lead!) or a pretty cottage. A crumbling, ancient gravestone remembering a tragic young life, or a war memorial marking the loss of so many others.

The Writer’s brain was never still, never silent. 


Without the infinite number of errands and chores she faced back home, it was uplifting. Only a finite number to tackle here. Such as feeding the dog. And the children. The writer might not be sitting at her desk slaving over her keyboard, but she was working, even while enjoying a break from the chains of deadlines or fitting in laundry (washing and hanging) between chapters. She was “on holiday”, and yet… she wasn’t. There was no need to feel guilty. She was free. Her mind was free. More importantly, inspiration was free – to run wild.


How fortunate Writers are these days, she thought, to be able to record their travels in pictures, storing them in albums on hard-drives or printing them out and pinning to study walls. Perhaps she would add her photographs to a Pinterest board. Or use a particular favourite as a screensaver. She would decide once she was home. There was no rush. No pressure. It was satisfying simply to be able to enjoy them and play games with the possibilities...

A whitewashed cottage for the heroine,
with flowers around the door.

A posh house - for a posh person? 
The hero's imperious mother, maybe?

'The Old Vicarage'. 
Does that mean an old vicar should live here?

An uber-modern interior for the posh house?
Interesting...

Who would want to walk along here on a dark night?
*shudders*

Every village needs a quaint church,
but just look at that impeccable lawn!
(Gardener with a strain of OCD perhaps?)

And of course, the village local.
Indispensable.

Once upon a time...

...a Writer went on a journey and finally returned home, if not with a tan (it was only the Forest of Dean, after all), then at least with a whole new village in her head.

The End



By day, Valerie-Anne Baglietto writes contemporary, grown-up fiction. By night, she clears up after her husband and three children. Occasionally she sleeps. During her career so far she has written rom-coms for Hodder & Stoughton, won the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writer’s Award and been shortlisted in the 2015 Love Stories Awards. Valerie-Anne tweets @VABaglietto

Valerie-Anne's latest modern fairy tale for grown-ups is available from Amazon worldwide click here for more details.