Friday, 13 July 2018

That Charney Magic by Sheena Wilkinson

For the last six years I have spent four days every July at the Scattered Authors summer retreat at lovely Charney Manor in Oxfordshire. Often, in the last three years, I have wanted to blog about Charney, how special it is and what an important role it plays in my year, but I haven’t felt able to, for one crucial reason – along with friend and fellow-writer Lee Weatherly, I organised Charney from 2015-2017. I think the three Charneys we organised were enjoyable, varied and helpful, but it wouldn’t have been at all the thing for me to have said so in public.


This year, however, for the first time since 2014, I was able to attend Charney as a ‘normal’ punter, and – yay! That means I get to tell you how wonderful it was. I’ve often blogged here about the need for writers to retreat, and I’m lucky enough to have several great places where I can just disappear into my work for a few days or longer. I know that I would mot manage my freelance life so successfully without those times: sometimes they have kept me from feeling completely overloaded. This seems to be as much the case now when I am ‘writing fulltime’*, as when I was a teacher desperate for (and better able to afford!) time away. 

What I love about Charney is that it can be what you want it to be. There are sessions all day – a great mix of sessions, some based on knowledge and insight sharing, others purely creative. The evenings are fun, with, this year, a Desert Island Books session, a comedy workshop, and a fiendish quiz. And of course much chat.
The Solar doesn't look this quiet when its filled with Scattered Authors...


You don’t have to go to anything; some people do try to attend all the sessions, while others like to hide and write – it’s up to you; anything goes. Most people love Charney for the companionship of other writers in what can be a lonely business, and for me, often feeling a bit out of the loop over on Northern Ireland, that is a big part of its appeal. Some of my most supportive writer friends were met at Charney, and every year it attracts new people, which means new friends. It’s open to all Scattered Authors, and what I especially love is that it attracts people at very different stages of their careers, from shiny debuts to doyennes with a hundred books to their credit. 

This year, I’d had a very busy spring and early summer, and had struggled to make meaningful progress with my work-in-progress, an adult novel. I was very keen to get some sort of a rough draft bashed out by the end of July, because of beginning a commissioned teen historical novel in August, but this seemed less and less possible. But this year’s Charney came straight after three days at Gladstone’s Library, three days when it was so hot I couldn’t bear to go outdoors until after eight o’clock at night, which meant I wrote 4,500 words a day. (Something I have never managed before or since!) I was, at last, feeling so immersed in the story that I almost begrudged the array of fun-sounding sessions at Charney. Flash fiction? Iphone photography? Treasure hunt? Creative collage? All I wanted was words on the screen!

But it would be churlish, I thought, not to turn up at these sessions which had been so thoughtfully organised. Maybe a little flash fiction (with Jo Cotterill) would set me up for the day and get me in training for my ‘real’ writing. What happened was that Jo’s first prompt sent me straight into my story. I didn’t manage any flash fiction, but by eleven o’clock on the first morning I had several scenes that I’ve been able to use, and some insights into characters and plot that I wouldn’t have managed if I’d been sitting trying to get them.

That afternoon, fired with enthusiasm, I had my first experience of Jen Alexander’s famous creative collage workshop. I had thought it would be fun, because tearing and sticking and making pretty pictures is fun; what I hadn’t imagined was that the activity would solve a central story issue and give me a strong recurring leitmotif. 

My collage 


These two workshops, both fabulously enjoyable in their own right, each gave me gifts for my work in progress, gifts I didn’t know I needed, but that I made myself open to receive. That’s the magic of Charney. That’s why, however busy I am, I’ll always makes time for those four precious days in early July. And why, in the midst of worrying about word counts and targets, I’ll remember to play. 

Thanks so much to Jo Cotterill, Ruth Hatfield, John Dickinson and Kit Berry for organising such a wonderful Charney. And to any Scattered Author out there who hasn't yet been touched by the Charney magic -- do join us next year! 

* haha.


9 comments:

Sue Purkiss said...

Can totally endorse what Sheena says - Charney is wonderful! It refreshes the parts that writers need to have reached, and it's great fun into the bargain.

LuWrites said...

It was one of the highlights of my year so far. Thanks to the amazing organisers and all the other lovely, supportive writers who I met there. Can't recommend Charney highly enough. Great piece, Sheena!

Jackie Marchant said...

Loved every minute of it - can't wait until next year!

michelle lovric said...

This was my second Charney and it was bliss from beginning to end. I loved all the sessions I attended and the collage workshop also took me somewhere I needed to go - a completely different world. The atmosphere is so supportive, so affectionate, so refreshingly enthusiastic without self-consciousness.

Penny Dolan said...

Always a very special place with such lovely people.

Helen Larder said...

It was brilliant! Thanks to all who organised it xxxx

Unknown said...

What a great post - thank you Sheena! It was brilliant being there again after a few years of other things getting in the way.

Susan Price said...

Couldn't be there this year but yes, Charney is without peer.

Lynne Benton said...

Lovely post, Sheena, and it captured the very essence of Charney. It is a vital part of every summer for me!