Claire King


Room of One’s Own.

Posted on: September 20th, 2011 by Claire - 16 Comments

I’m just back from a two day writers’ retreat at Tilton House in Sussex. Having never done a writing course/retreat/anything before I blogged about having booked it…and now as promised, here are my thoughts on how it went:

The setting at Tilton House is sublime. Very spacious, clean and comfortable. Hammocks in the sunshine, crackling log fires and comfy sofas and many, many nooks and crannies perfect for writing in. Books everywhere. Healthy and delicious food morning, noon and night and a yurt at the bottom of the garden for yoga before breakfast. The location undeniably was a great foundation for our writing.

Vanessa Gebbie, who was running the weekend had put together an ambitious schedule of workshops, one-on-ones and individual writing time, as well as some opportunities to get out and about. During the two days we talked about where stories come from – the internal and external stimuli that prompt us to start writing. We tried some visualisations and other creative exercises to spark off ideas that really grabbed us. We also talked about the things that can block us from writing and how to get around them.

We also had two exceptional guests over the weekend. On Saturday evening Carole Hayman regaled us after dinner with tales of her writing life and advice on how to succeed (including how having a rasher of bacon festering down the side of your cooker is perfectly normal). And then on Sunday, Helen Garnons-Williams, editorial director at Bloomsbury (who also happens to be my editor) brought her passion and enthusiasm for great books, talking about the world of publishing, how literary agents fit in, how she sees e-books evolving and answering our questions.

What did I personally get out of it?

I was one of a diverse group of eleven women who had jumped at the opportunity to put our writing first for a change. We included playwrights, poets, creative non-fiction writers and novelists and some writers who were just starting off on their writing journey. The virtual writing community has been a life saver for me over the last couple of years, but it was truly lovely to meet people face to face and I’m sure I’ve made some friendships that will stick.

The workshops that Vanessa ran were great fun and very informative. I found that some of the exercises really clicked for me, and others less so. So I’ve learned something about my own creative processes and I have some new ideas, tips and tricks to keep things moving and, I think, bring some new life to my prose.

At the start of the retreat we talked about our objectives (mine were very vague, but involved writing a lot!) then afterwards we had a chat about how we had done versus those objectives. Perhaps I was expecting to write thousands and thousands of words on my novel over the weekend. What I actually came out with was a surprising piece of flash, a poem, the beginnings of a short story and some work on my novel…but not the work I’d been expecting to do.

I think the biggest benefit is yet to be seen. By actually allowing myself some down time, time to think, sleep, do some yoga, be inspired, try new things…the nourishment that that provided, along with the seeds of inspiration will see me in good stead for the writing I do over the next few months and I suspect will bear fruit when I’m least expecting it.

Thanks to Vanessa Gebbie for conceiving and running this weekend, from a very happy writer!

16 Responses

  1. Miriam Drori says:

    Sounds wonderful! One day, I’ll do one of those. I will!

  2. “I’ve learned something about my own creative processes and I have some new ideas, tips and tricks to keep things moving and, I think, bring some new life to my prose.”

    Perfect! Claire, it was great working with you, and thank you so much for your contribution to the weekend, especially your generosity in sharing your writing done on Sunday morning.

    Long may the effects of Tilton House last.

  3. alison Woodhouse says:

    I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve written Claire, particularly the chance to meet and work with other writers and the wonderful tips and tricks Vanessa generously shared-the virtual community is great but nothing quite beats that sense of minds fizzing and working alongside each other – albeit helped along with a large glass of red! Think it should be an annual event.

  4. Alison Wells says:

    Yes I do think we heavily underestimate the nourishment and peace that is needed for us to percolate ideas. Even a small change of scene can be a catalyst and a weekend of relaxation in the cause and context of writing is a lovely thing. Glad you had some time to hear yourself!

  5. Frances Kay says:

    From my past: facilitating writing workshops at Skyros, loving watching writers swapping roles with emerging writers, sharing, creating, teaching each other… the most surprising moments become inspirations… this will add to the sum of your parts as writer and as nurturer of others… thanks for sharing your experience.

  6. So pleased you liked it. I still draw lessons and inspiration from my Arvon course last October. Perhaps it stays with you all your writing life…

    Love the hammock-cam view!

  7. It sounds so wonderful!Learning about one’s creative processes, and developing insights into new ideas, as well as spending time with other creative people is the perfect way to spend two days.

    And in such a gorgeous setting 🙂

  8. I’m currently writing a novel about a writer’s retreat – having experienced them both as a writer and as a host. So many stories there. I think you hit a chord when you say ‘…a diverse group of eleven women who had jumped at the opportunity to put our writing first for a change. …’

  9. Eliza Green says:

    That looks lovely. I was looking into doing one, a place where you can relax and become creative with like-minded people. In the future, definitely.

    • claire says:

      The only advice I’d give (having only done one retreat) is to talk to the facilitator in advance, find out the kind of people who are coming and the ‘atmosphere’ she expects on the retreat. One of the differences about the Tilton weekend was that nobody was asked to share what they had written, so it felt a very safe environment.

  10. I was looking forward to reading about the retreat having yearned to go on it myself. I will definitely be saving the money to do one one year and this one sounded the most ideal to me.

    Glad it was so nourishing for you, Claire.

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