Saturday 14 March 2020

A Retreat (from normal life) by Lynne Benton

I have just come back from a writers’ retreat in North Yorkshire.  It was organised by the brilliant crime writer Sophie Hannah for her Dream Authors – a group support system for writers which she set up last year – and it was wonderful!  For one thing, the setting was idyllic – two former mills, renovated to a very high standard, with beautiful grounds and a lovely walk between the two.  I stayed at Bents Mill, which entailed a 5 minute walk to get to Hewenden Mill, where the sessions were held – but such a walk!

There was also a ford across the millstream which was sometimes passable on foot but at other times not.  On the first night it was two inches underwater, so we needed transport to get across, but the next two days it was dry and easily walkable.  Only on the last morning did I confidently stride out to cross it and find that owing to some overnight rain it was flooded again.  However, the lovely housekeeper, Susan, soon collected us in her car, so we weren’t stranded.

All the sessions were empowering and encouraging, as is Sophie herself.  Some were taken by her and others by Jon Appleton, a well-respected editor, and all were really interesting, so I took loads of notes.  Although none of us knew each other to start with, we soon got to know who was who and who was writing what, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to come away having made several new friends.  Every morning we had breakfast in our own rooms followed by free/writing time until 11, and from then on we had sessions and meals until 9.30 at night.  And one thing that proved to be really invaluable was our one-to-one sessions with Sophie – each of the 21 writers had half an hour with her, talking about our WIP, a short blurb of which we’d given or sent her in advance.  She made some really helpful suggestions about the wording of the opening of my blurb, and I certainly came away feeling that the whole story definitely "has legs".

All too soon the weekend came to an end, and I had to say goodbye to the place and the people I’d met there and go back to normal life.  The retreat bubble has burst for now, but it has left me raring to get on with my book.  Which is obviously what a retreat is all about!

Though I gather not all retreats are like this…  I am reminded of an incident when my granddaughter was about ten, and her father, a vicar, was about to go on a religious retreat.  “Daddy, what do you do on a retreat?” she asked.
“Well, we think a lot, and we pray a lot...” he said.
Tabitha frowned.  “H’m,” she said.  “Doesn’t sound much like a treat to me!”

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