Friday, 18 July 2014

RUNNING AWAY or THE CHARNEY MANOR RETREAT. By Penny Dolan.



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.


Penny Dolan





15 comments:

adele said...

Wasn't i it great? Thanks for lovely account Penny!

Sue Purkiss said...

Definite case of Charney-envy here!

C.J.Busby said...

It really was a treat - and thanks for making it so!

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Ah, that brings it all back, Penny! I was wondering when someone would blog about it. Thanks to everyone who helped make it so good. I have been beavering away on a new novel here, with a tough schedule, and I'm sure I'm better able to tackle it after being fortified (not just with wine and desserts) at Charney.

jocotterill.com said...

I'm all nostalgic again - how long till the next one?!

Susan Price said...

More Charney envy! Having been before I know for certain that it WAS great, because it's always great, and oh I wish I could have been there...

Richard said...

If it's a treat you come back to, doesn't that make it a retreat?

Emma Barnes said...

I'm so jealous. Resolving to go on retreat - or just treat - soon.

Jenny Alexander said...

Thanks for such a lovely account, Penny - it was completely brilliant, as usual. A real tonic.

Leslie Wilson said...

I was thinking of you, and envious - definitely - but had to be on baby alert. Shall have to come next year! But did you dress up as a monk, Penny, or is it photoshop?

Penny Dolan said...

Good point, Richard. Ha ha!

It was a pleasure to have the excuse of this unexpected post to revisit. through writing, this year's Charney week.

Sorry to have caused envy or distress. ( I did blot out some housekeeping annoyances, which seemed right, as the time is all about the people gathered there together.

Enough daydreaming. I really must get back to some proper work of my own now . . .

catdownunder said...

I am jealous, very jealous -

Penny Dolan said...

Poor you,Catdownunder.

Even when you're here in the UK, there's never enough time for everything. I am wishing I could have been at the YALC event that Lucy is blogging about tomorrow/today. Making do by attending a couple of sessions at my very local Harrogate Crime Festival on Sunday. Hoping there's not to much gore.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Thank you Penny for those of us who couldn't be there. Just lovely to have your summing up and know that yes... thats exactly how it is. Something slightly intangible added to by the magic of summer and the swifts!

Teresa Heapy said...

Wondeful post which has brought lovely memories flooding back. What a brilliant few days it was - a true treat indeed.