Why A Retreat’s A Worthwhile Treat

Last Thursday evening I got back from my accidental writing retreat to Bamberg – and if I tell you I was sad to leave, I think you’ll figure out it went well and I got over my guilt!¬†I had a great time and saw some, although not enough, of beautiful Bamberg. I’ll have to go back. ūüėČ

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I actually felt more refreshed and inspired after my brief time in Germany than I did after our two-week holiday in Wales. Why? Well firstly, there was nothing required of me whatsoever. No shopping, cooking, tidying, cleaning, washing-up, planning, phoning or preparation of any kind. I only had two full days there, but for those two days, all I needed to do was get myself somewhere with food three times a day. That was it.

Well firstly, there was nothing required of me whatsoever. No shopping, cooking, tidying, cleaning, washing-up, planning, phoning or preparation of any kind. I only had two full days there, but for those two days, all I needed to do was get myself to somewhere with food three times a day. Luxury!

Secondly, much as I love my family, their ability to tidy up after themselves and organise their lives leaves something¬†to be desired. From holidays to house insurance, PE kits to family visits and bath cleaning to birthday presents, it’s usually me that’s the organiser. There’s a rota for¬†household chores, but often they have to be ‘encouraged’ to stick to it (with anything from a nudge to a full-blown nag).

So it was great to be¬†away from all the responsibilities and distractions I find impossible to ignore – the empty juice cartons that can’t find their way to the bin, abandoned breakfast bowls that I’m compelled to take to the kitchen but can’t put in the dishwasher… because others haven’t followed the ‘help empty the dishwasher before you leave in the morning’ rule.¬†It’s really hard to turn my back on the mess. I also work better when I’m alone for at least some of the time, and these days there’s a lovely but lethal distraction in the shape of Arty Daughter, who has finished college and been studying online for additional graphic design qualifications.

I also work better when I’m alone for at least some of the time, and these days there’s a lovely but lethal distraction in the shape of Arty Daughter, who has finished college and is now studying online for additional graphic design qualifications.

House of SilkIn Bamberg I managed to get some reading done, re-reading Joanne Harris’ Coastliners (supposedly to¬†study objectively how she achieves her great characterisation and sense of place, but of course I got dragged along by the story and stopped paying attention). I also read Anthony Horowitz’s Sherlock novel,¬†The House of Silk, as recommended by DS. I thought the beginning was a little slow but it rattled along at a good pace once I’d got into it.

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Of course, I took notebooks and a couple of writing companions too. I’d finally started my lovely owl project book that Arty Daughter bought me¬†because I thought starting a new novel seemed like a good use for it. The All Big Ideas Start Small is one of my two main ideas books and she bought me that too. I took it along because it had the outlines of two short stories in, but in the end I focussed on my novel and didn’t touch short stories.

As you can see, I took two of my Della Galton books as well – The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed and The Novel Writer’s Toolshed.

The little flowery folder is full of different sizes and designs of sticky notes, from page markers upwards – an ingenious gift from my aunt. Every writer should have one *the folder, not an aunt. They’re not compulsory).

I only had two full days in Bamberg – Techie Husband didn’t have to work on the last day and we could have spent the morning traipsing around Bamberg, but checkout was 11 and it was raining, so we would have had to drag our suitcase and laptop bags around with us in the rain while keeping an eye on the time, as we had to catch a train and tube to Nuremberg airport for our afternoon flight.

WP_20150831_002But in those two days, I wrote nearly 5000 words and read many thousands more – and enjoyed a meal out with my husband’s colleagues and two meals with just the man himself.

Or last meal was Italian and the meal out with his colleagues was traditional German, but our first meal out, when these pictures were taken, was of course at an Irish pub. Because that’s what you do abroad, isn’t it?

WP_20150831_003I had cocktails (I hadn’t even started this one, so there’s no excuse for the wobbly hand blurriness) and a very odd crusty salmon dish that was rather overwhelming after the halfway point. It came with hash browns, so the whole meal was unrelentingly and unexpectedly crispy.

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I also had a humble lunch in the hotel bar, in the middle of a furious writing bout, as seen here on the right. (“We have cheese or ham.” “I’ll have ham please.” “Oh, we have something else… salami.”) They do love their parts of pig! I ate my choice of baguette while listening to English songs on German radio interspersed with humorously part-English adverts: “Burger King! German German German Chicken Special Longen!”

WP_20150902_025… And a not so humble lunch, on theWP_20150902_026 terrace of a rose garden behind The Residence, high above central Bamberg.

This little beauty is a flammkuchen. It’s like a pizza, but far lighter and twice as delicious.

 

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I soaked up sun, history and inspiration in equal measure, and got to spend some time with Techie Husband too – and we enjoyed having a meal, just the two of us, as we fail to do this nearly every year on our anniversary. Why? Because we’re usually on holiday with the kids. So it made up for a couple of lost anniversaries.

WP_20150902_047So was it worthwhile?

Abso-flamin-lutely (which is apparently now in the dictionary. Hooray!). I came back with renewed enthusiasm, no longer feeling my fiction brain was ‘ossified’ as Nicola Morgan puts it!

I’ll be going next time, if I can… ūüėČ

 

Sharing my Birthday Book Blurbs: Part 2

So here we are, on the second post about the Books Wot I Got For My Birthday. Here are the four books I got from my lovely husband…

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The Humans by Matt Haig

What appealed:¬†I sometimes wander on to Matt Haig’s blog and often catch his articles here and there. As a writer I shouldn’t use clich√©s, so I daren’t say I like his ‘refreshing honesty’ (but I do).¬†The premise of The Humans¬†interested me and writers I like liked it, which seemed a fair recommendation:
“Excellent . . . very human and touching indeed” (Patrick Ness)
The Humans is tremendous; a kind of Curious Incident meets The Man Who Fell to Earth.¬†It’s funny, touching and written in a highly appealing voice” (Joanne Harris).

It was also¬†compared to the work of authors I already liked: “This is a tender, funny novel about the often irrational ways humans behave, written in accessible prose, and invites comparison with Mark Haddon and Patrick Ness.” (The Independent on Sunday).Oh, and it’s set in Cambridge – and I live in Cambridgeshire. Do I need any more reasons?

Blurb 

HERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME.

OR IS THERE?

After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, he is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog.
What could possibly make someone change their mind about the human race. . . ?

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

What appealed:¬†Clare is an ex-police officer who answers questions on police procedures and related topics for Writing Magazine. She was kind enough to answer a question of mine and we sometimes have twitter chats about the chaos of the writerly life on crazily busy days. That’s not why I chose her book though;let’s face it, not all of the fellow writers you ‘meet’ on the internet will write stuff you’re interested in. But the book blurb below grabbed me. The setting – a remote cottage in Wales – appealed, as did the idea that the main character is making a fresh start (I like books about fresh starts. I like that inherent optimism). Also,¬†Clare’s book sounds darn intriguing and has got some amazing reviews – most of which mention a mind-blowing twist!¬†I can’t wait!

Blurb

A tragic accident. It all happened so quickly. She couldn’t have prevented it. Could she?

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.
Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating . . .

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

What appealed:¬†I’d been ¬†aware of Kate Morton because her books kept coming up in articles¬†and blog posts about slipstream novels. She was often mentioned in the same breath as Kate Mosse, and that can only be a good thing. I read through all her book blurbs to pick a first one to try, and this is the one – after a bit of dithering – that I picked!

Blurb

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, author of the best-selling The House of Riverton, is a heart-breaking story of love and loss with a devastating secret at its heart.

Edie Burchill and her mother have never been close, but when a long lost letter arrives with the return address of Milderhurst Castle, Kent, printed on its envelope, Edie begins to suspect that her mother’s emotional distance masks an old secret.

Evacuated from London as a thirteen year old girl, Edie’s mother is chosen by the mysterious Juniper Blythe, and taken to live at Millderhurst Castle with the Blythe family.

Fifty years later, Edie too is drawn to Milderhurst and the eccentric Sisters Blythe. Old ladies now, the three still live together, the twins nursing Juniper, whose abandonment by her fianc√© in 1941 plunged her into madness.¬†Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst Castle, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in the distant hours has been waiting a long time for someone to find it . . .

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

What appealed: Letters fascinate me, and I love books of letters and books about letters. So this tagline grabbed me: ‘At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter¬†that’s not meant to be read…’

Blurb:

Mother of three and wife of John-Paul, Cecilia discovers an old envelope in the attic. Written in her husband’s hand, it says: to be opened only in the event of my death.

Curious, she opens it – and time stops.¬†John-Paul’s letter confesses to a terrible mistake which, if revealed, would wreck their family as well as the lives of others.

Cecilia – betrayed, angry and distraught – wants to do the right thing, but right for who? If she protects her family by staying silent, the truth will worm through her heart. But if she reveals her husband’s secret, she will hurt those she loves most . . .

Perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult, or anyone who enjoyed One Moment, One Morning or The Midwife’s Confession, The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty is about the things we know, the things we don’t, and whether or not we ever get to choose. Above all, though, it’s about how we must live with the consequences of our actions – whether we like it or not.

So, what do you think to these four then? Read them? Want to read them now? ūüôā