Last week, I ran away, down south to Oxfordshire and a wonderful old Quaker house and garden called Charney Manor. I was going to the Scattered Authors Society annual July retreat.
If that word makes you think about the sounds of silence, the scratching of pens and gloomy sighs over quietly tortured drafts, you’d be mistaken.
“Charney”, as it is known, is definitely not silent. Charney is four often-noisy days, full of shared knowledge, skills and experiences, plus one or two grumbles and many reminders of the good things about being children’s and/or young people’s authors.
The retreat is all about self-help, the essence behind the Scattered Authors Society network.
So what did we talk about, you might wonder, and what did we do?
We introduced our other lives and our interests, as well as our books. We indulged in “Library 101”, a mock panel-game, airing those aspects of the writing life people wished could be sent to that place of no return, and those that make us happy.
There were periods of being informed: one very interesting double session started with two editors talking about their own role within publishing houses, and concluded with two very well-established authors suggesting ways in which a writer can be their own best editor too.
Another double value session was on the process and reasons for self-publishing. This remarkable discussion moved from the importance of using self-publishing for established niche and/or “book-of-my-heart” material but it also developed into a view of self-publication being used not as “replacement”, but as a way of maintaining and managing a broad and fluid author platform in the modern market-place.
One morning offered some refreshing glimpses of school visit styles followed by other suggestions and much discussion. It was a welcome chance for the “lone” school visitors to see or hear about other approaches but everyone came away with the mantra: “And don’t forget to read from your book as well!”
Two afternoons were given over to workshops: a calming “torn collage” technique that helped people reflect on their own work or similar issues – a workshop that is an established Charney favourite - and then a new “seven word sentence “exercise, still based on picture images, designed to help authors focus on the quality of their writing, rather than quantity.
There was some worry over what seemed to be a dud session: Work-In-Progress.
At first, when we met, nobody admitted wanting to come to what sounded like a down-beat session. However, when the moment came, several people arrived, with questions and/or readings, and the WIP session was so enthusiastically valued and lively that a second took place the next day! And in between a keen and generous photographer took author portraits during her free time, and another kindly made sure that all sessions started with five-minute readings.
Of course, some of the time was specifically social. Each evening, around six, everyone gathered on the lawn, sharing drinks, while swifts soared overhead through the summer air. One evening of lively comedy games grew into an informal song & music session, while the last evening brought the famous Charney Quiz, cunningly created so the most learned do not necessarily the most points.
The final day is always a little sad so as well as the start of plans for next year, two writers talked about their own use of writing retreats as a way of balancing the need to be in the world of story and the need for family and people. One chose solitary spaces, while the other preferred writing alongside other writers, and there was much wishful thinking and planning going on.
Charney was all of this, together with lots of time for questions, solitude for thinking and/or writing time for those who wanted to get work done, and the blessing of being easy “among our tribe”. Finally, after the last lunch, a small group remained, sitting in the sunshine and chatted about books they’d enjoyed. Others, like the swifts, were already off and away, travelling back to their homes and to real life, the pleasant days so soon over. Sigh!
I haven’t named anyone in this blogpost but you all know who you are, and thank you for making this year’s Charney such a very special time.
One last thing. It is a mistake to call the week at Charney Manor a retreat. Mostly, it is just a truly and lovely TREAT.