Writing retreat – day 5 – Climb Every Mountain…

Bet you expected a photo of a mountain, didn’t you…? Well, there’s been a few of those this week already, and I heard somewhere that cats are popular on the interwebs, so I’m heading this blog with a pic of Napoleon the cat* in a craven attempt to be down with the kidz.

Today was the final full day of this writing retreat at Le Chant de la Cascade and there’s a bit of an end of term feel to proceedings. I was up at around 6am, and by 10am I had done all I set out to achieve. The first five chapters of my middle grade book have been thoroughly rewritten and I have a road map of how to finish the rest of the book. Just having the head space to ruminate on this story has been invaluable. Note that I said ruminate and not concentrate. Concentrating is what I do during my regular working week; grabbing an hour here and there and focussing intently on the story. Here I’ve been allowed to let it drift in and out of my head as it pleases and we’ve been getting along better than ever as a result.

After my session, I went for a walk and found myself clambering up a very steep path, stopping every twenty minutes or so to avoid a coronary. I was eventually treated to this…

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Yes, another bloody photo of Mont Blanc… but look at it!

This has been an extraordinary week. A leap forward for a writing project, great company with my fellow writers, and wonderful hosts in Marcus and Maureen. If you have a project that needs some rumination and you like an environment that’s tranquil and inspiring, then check out the next retreat in May. I can’t recommend it enough.

 

*Not his real name. He asked for anonymity.

 

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Writing Retreat – day 4 – mind groove

The best thing about this retreat is the space it gives you to think. Work emails are off on all my devices, I’m not worrying about catching trains, or getting to meetings on time. I’ve been given the luxury of time to let this story float around in my head and take shape.

I’m still working on streamlining the opening, which has meant chunky rewrites, but I’m really happy with how they’re coming out and I now feel like I have a roadmap to finish the next draft of this book before the end of the year, if not sooner.

It also helps that my fellow retreaters are night owls and I’m up first thing in the morning, which gives me the run of the place all morning.

After the morning session, we became tourists and visited the market in Les Gets and Morzine and I think I’ve bought chocolate, cheese and beer than will actually fit in my luggage. Our host, Maureen also took on a diversion to Lac de Montriond (pictured above) which is depleted after a drought. Everywhere you look here, there is epic scenery and I know I’ve banged about this already, but it really does get the synapses sparking.

We’ve been discussing author intent all week, so tonight we watched Room 237, a wonderfully bonkers documentary where various writers/conspiracy theorists outline their thoughts on Kubrick’s intent for The Shining.

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Most of them start with intriguing hypotheses, and then eventually go off the deep end because they just don’t know when to stop. My theory about The Shining is it’s just about a poor writer who wants to finish his book, but his wife and kid keep interrupting him… maybe he should go on a retreat?

All work and no play… something… something…

For more details about the retreat click here.

To read about the final day click here

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Writing Retreat – day 3 – Taking out the trash…

Another early start with a little bit of light podcasting for next week’s episode, and a good morning’s writing. I’m realising that a big problem with this book is I’m setting too much up too soon, and a lot of what I’m setting up doesn’t even need to be there in the first place (retrospect is a fine thing and this is why we have rewrites). So my first four or five chapters might only need to be three chapters with clearer intent so that the reader’s expectations aren’t muddled and I have a greater chance of getting them engaged with the story.

It’s all about focusing on what’s important and taking out the trash… Speaking of which, Marcus asked if we fancied helping him take the trash up the road to where it’s collected, because when you get there, this is the view…

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Mont Blanc… which, on the hour, every hour, rumbles and ejaculates a new overpriced fountain pen from its summit.

 

I mean… blimey… that puts our local recycling centre into perspective. I couldn’t stop staring at it, and these photos don’t do it any justice whatsoever. It’s magnificent and gets something ticking over in my excitable little brain.

Fired-up once more, I returned to the chalet and worked harder than ever. This is the nook that I’ve been writing in. A little mezzanine level in the chalet with a not-remotely distracting view of the trees gently swaying outside…

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After a walk and an incredible dinner, we gathered for this evening’s session with Marcus, which was on endings, twists and readers’ expectations. This all came from conversations we’d each had with Marcus during the day, which is such a nice way of tailoring the group sessions to our own needs. I also got to interview one of my fellow retreaters Dawn Kurtagich who has been to a number of retreats and now even runs her own (subscribe to the podcast to make sure you don’t miss out on that!).

Once again, this retreat has defied all expectations and I can heartily recommend it. Check out more details of the May retreat here, and if that doesn’t convince you then this is the sort of food we’re getting…

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I mean, come on…

For day 4 click here.

For regular writing tips, news and other stuff to help a writer get through the day, sign-up to my monthly newsletter, and grab a FREE eBook while you’re at it!

Writing Retreat – day 2 – hot tub writing machine…

I was up pretty early this morning and got straight into my rewrites, working solid for an hour or so before I hit a crossroad. One of those writing moments where your choices can end up taking you down all sorts of blind alleys. 

Last night, our host Marcus Sedgwick talked us through a mapping method that he uses to sketch out his outlines on a large sheet of paper. I gave this a go, but my bum had been stuck in the same spot for too long, so I decided to take a walk to get the oxygen flowing through my beleaguered noggin. Marcus thought this was a good idea, pointing out that the Romans had a phrase for this: Solvitur Ambulando! (Yes, say it out loud and make a Harry Potter wand action, good, yes, now sit down, well done). It means, ‘It is solved by walking.’ Well, I’m all for that, especially when the views are like this…

These photos do this place no justice whatsoever. It’s incredible. Sheer cliffs, mossy boulders the size of a house, the distant clonk-clonk of cow bells, deep, impenetrable woods echoing with the sound of mysterious creatures… if you’re not inspired by this stuff, then there’s no hope for you.

After a couple of hours going up-diddly-up, I came down-diddly-down, staying close to the stream to ensure that I didn’t get completely lost. Returning to the chalet I was fired up and ready to write and had a very productive afternoon completely and utterly rewriting the second chapter of my middle grade book.

Part of my suspicion of writing retreats is the thought of having to read out my stuff to a bunch of other writers who will then rip it to shreds. I embrace a bit of healthy criticism, but I’ve ever thought that’s the best way to go about it. However, our session with Marcus this afternoon was partly inspired by my switching from third person past tense, to first person present, and so it made sense to read a bit of both versions out to make the comparison, and I’m glad to say it went down very well. We also discussed character, opening pages and how shifting the perspective of your narrator’s voice can make a dramatic difference to the tone of your writing. This was an easygoing hour or so with a small group and it was inspiring stuff.

I can’t recommend this retreat enough and there’s another one next May if you fancy it. Click here to check it out.

Oh, and tonight I got to interview Marcus while we were both in the hot tub. Another first for the Bestseller Experiment. Please subscribe on iTunes or your pod catcher of choice to ensure that you don’t miss out!

Click here for day 3.

For regular writing tips, news and other stuff to help a writer get through the day, sign-up to my monthly newsletter, and grab a FREE eBook while you’re at it!

Writing retreat – day 1 – Good news, bad news…

I’ve always had a healthy, working class suspicion of writing retreats: do you really need to go to a nice country house in Dorset to work on your novel…? Really?! Really??! Oh, get over yourself…

But then I stumbled across Le Chant de la Cascade over on Instagram. A retreat run by Marcus Sedgwick, an award-winning children’s author whose books I used to sell when he was published at Orion Children’s and someone whose writing I like very much, and he’s a very decent chap… and as I’ve said before, in these trying times I try to only work with nice people.

I dropped Marcus a line and he explained that the retreat is a small affair, just a handful of writers, and it’s all very relaxed and easygoing. No enforced jolliment or systematic abuse or ritual humiliation (you might think I’m confusing prison with writing retreats, but I have heard horror stories…).

After an incredible drive from Geneva through some truly stunning countryside we arrived in approximately the middle of nowhere, and it’s perfect. The only sound is the gentle hiss of the wind through the trees and the occasional cock-a-doodle-doo from a laid back cockerel.

I’m here to crack a middle grade children’s novel that I’ve been working on. I sent a draft to Karen Ball over at Speckled Pen and she gave me some excellent notes, which I plan to tackle while I’m here. The main note was about the authorial voice of the book. It’s currently in the third person past tense, and she noted that it just sounded too much like me (a bloke in his forties) and not the protagonist (a child), which can really hobble a children’s book. Karen advised that I read Joanna Nadin’s Joe All Alone – an excellent example of a first person present tense children’s novel – to see if it appealed… and it does. My first task today was to experiment with my book and see if that worked for me… and it does. That’s the good news. The bad news is I now have to rewrite the whole book in the first person present tense, which is a bit of an undertaking, but y’know what? What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, and that applies to rewrites.

Tonight, Marcus, myself and the other writers here discussed plotting, outlining, story, and we had fun sorting lyrics from ballads and synopses from films into order. This has put us all in an excellent frame of mind for the rest of the week… More tomorrow!

Click here for day 2

To find out more about the retreat click here.

For regular writing tips, news and other stuff to help a writer get through the day, sign-up to my monthly newsletter, and grab a FREE eBook while you’re at it!

More podcast goodness for your ears (and mind…)

We’ve had two cracking – a very different – episodes of the Bestseller Experiment recently. First up is a report from The Romantic Novelists’ Association conference in Leeds where I spoke to Rhoda Baxter, Nicola Cornick and Sheila Crighton (aka Annie O’Neil) about all sorts of love including instalust, passionate blur and the scale of hotness. And it was great to finally meet Rhoda Baxter (aka Jeevani Charika), who also proved the Lego image above! Listen to the podcast here.

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Rhoda (Jeevani) and me at the RNA

This week’s podcast features John McGhie, an investigative journalist who has worked for the BBC, Channel 4 News and the Observer. John and I met on Whitstable beach at the peak of the football world cup at what felt like a brief moment of optimism in an otherwise politically depressing 2018. We cheer ourselves up by talking about the historical atrocities chronicled in John’s excellent new book White Highlands! No, really, it’s a fascinating episode and we cover writing historical fiction in some detail. Listen here.

And if you want to know more, the documentary that inspired John’s book can be seen here…

And last but by no means least I was once again on the Dominic King show on BBC Radio Kent in the conversation slot. We chatted about YALC, YA fiction, The End of Magic, podcasts, soundtracks and I even wheel out my Sean Connery impression. You can listen here and for my bit skip forwards to 2 hours and 11 minutes…

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Here are links to stuff I talk about on the shows below…