Claire King


A writing retreat with the whole family?

Posted on: June 26th, 2012 by Claire - 15 Comments


Our travelling companion  – Jung.

So, I’ve been working away from home a lot for the first six months of this year. It’s my job, it’s a good job, maybe one day it will give way to actual income from writing but for now that’s how it is.

Summer, though, is about spending lots of time with my family. That’s the payback. And summer is here and we are all very happy about that. We never go away on holiday, because summers here are very smashing, so we do things in the region instead: visit places, have day-trips, that kind of thing.

But…summer is also the time when I can really get into the zone with writing. And this year that means editing the manuscript of my second novel which I want to have with my agent by autumn.

(Update 2016 – I did NOT have it with her by autumn 2012, it took a further TWO YEARS) 

The Canal du Midi and a houseboat upon it feature prominently in this novel, and whilst I had done plenty of research I had not actually set foot on a houseboat in over 20 years. And never one in the south of France. I was missing something – the smells, the textures, the sounds, the sensations, the peculiarities that an author needs to know about if you are really to transport someone into that world.

So, somehow I had to combine my need to get myself away onto a canal boat for a couple of days (and be inspired and make notes) with my need to spend time with my family (and just having them in proximity while my husband babysits doesn’t count)…

I needed to organise a writing retreat with the whole family.

Cue the Magical Mystery Surprise Family Weekend Away.

List of things required:

  • Internet to find suitable boat owner willing to accommodate leggy, exuberant family of four.
  • Own chequebook and email account for secret booking of smashing weekend on the canal.
  • Teasing build up to surprise trip, including maddening hints and knowing smiles.
  • Something for everyone to do:
  • Claire – Pencil, Paper, 5 senses.
  • Husband – Camera.
  • Small daughters – pencils, paper, puzzle books, reading books, travel board games (draughts, chess, back-gammon, cards etc)

And off we go.

It was brilliant! We had an absolutely wonderful and relaxing weekend, taking the boat down the Midi and onto the étangs (salt-water lakes) of the Mediterranean where we moored in a little port for the night, and back again. We spent much more time with the children than we would on a normal weekend, and yet I got much more writing done too. Our hosts were friendly and laid on wonderful food and good conversation. We all came home inspired, zen and somehow exhausted. I declare a success!

What are you writing about now, and how do you fit in research with your other commitments?

Want to see our photo album?


5km an hour is fast enough. You have to imagine the cicadas and the smell of the pine.


Yes, I am writing.


Like mother, like daughter.


Fresh water on one side, salty water on the other!


Arriving at the étangs.


Moored in a port for the night, playing hangman and drinking aperitifs on deck.


15km of oyster beds on the étangs.


Nothing to see here.


Captain Jean-François allowing a 4 year old to take the wheel.


And the 6 year old!

(In fact, the forty-somethings also got to drive, but we’re not quite so picturesque)…


Thanks to the photographer!

Note: If you’ve come across these photos through a search and would like to use any of them, please ask us via the contact page. Thanks.


15 Responses

  1. Peggy Riley says:

    What a smashing idea – and glad to hear it was a good, productive time for writer and family. Best wishes for your deadline!

  2. Yes, indeed it is truly lovely and you all look relaxed and really well. I look forward to the story too. I would love a canal holiday. Last time was decades ago now.

    • claire says:

      I would have gone for a longer holiday, but the prices seem to be quite prohibitive. In the event, after a weekend it felt as though we’d been away all week.

  3. Alison Wells says:

    I love the idea of this (although I have to admit that I’m off on my first writing retreat soon, utterly, utterly alone for the first time in years). It really sounds like it worked out for you. It must have really helped with the 5 senses and sounds most relaxing.

  4. I have wanted to do one of these canal trips in France for ages! Thanks for letting me live vicariously for a bit.

  5. Oh, it looks lovely! I must say, I admire how much you’re able to get done around your other job and your family. Here, there is just myself and my partner, and I don’t think I’m nearly as productive.

    Is Jung your dog? He’s beautiful.

    • claire says:

      Thank you! I seem to be more productive when there’s more to do. It’s more tiring but energising too if you see what I mean?! Jung is not our dog, he lives on the boat. He’s absolutely gorgeous, and very well trained. The girls adored him!

  6. Fab photos! I’m off to Arran and writing about early onset dementia so will use my confusion about new places to feed in…

  7. D.J. Kirkby says:

    Gorgeous, gorgeous photos! At the moment I am struggling to fit it all in. Nonfiction book number 2 is complete but number 1 is still with agent. Novel number 2 is published so I suppose I need to get on with the rest of novel 3 but I seem to spend a lot of time before leaving for work (in which I used to write) is now taken up with social networking. *stern look at self*

    • claire says:

      Wow, that’s a lot of book! Social networking *is* useful though. And enjoyable! *slightly less stern look* Bon courage with it all! xx

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