An Accidental Writing Retreat

My name is Alison, and I have a problem with doing things just for me.

Not doing things by myself, you understand; just doing things and spending money on things that only benefit me.

So it’s not surprising that although I’ve been tempted to book myself on the writer’s holidays that Della Galton praises so highly, or the writers’ retreats that Nicola Morgan and Laura Wilkinson have both enjoyed recently, I never have – because it seems self-indulgent; a holiday for one, albeit a working one, that would use money I could put towards a week in a cottage for the whole family. Perhaps if I was a mega-bestselling author, then…

Before anyone suggests that I Have Issues and Need Psychoanalysis, there’s no need. I know where the roots of the problem lie, and as my husband will attest, I’ve got a lot better over the years at allowing myself to buy things that aren’t a) the cheapest option available or b) life and death necessities. I now, for instance, own more than one bag. It took me a while.

bag pic

So. The writing retreat thing. Brief background:

  • Techie Husband often has to work abroad for a few days, and once when asked to do so at short notice, was told he could take me for free as a sweetener
  • I couldn’t go due to work, although it planted the seed of me/all of us going some other time
  • It was no real loss because his hotel was, as is so often the case, miles away from any pretty/interesting areas.

But recently he was asked to go to Bamberg and I made the mistake of looking at some images online and checking the hotel location, which for once is central, and not far from the river that flows through the city – a city that, if Google is anything to go by, is beautiful.


I was seized by Crazy. Could we all go and make up for our disaster-prone, illness-filled, wind-and-rain besieged holiday in Wales? There were even vegetarian restaurants for Constructo Boy, who is a pescaterian – something we’d presumed would be hard to cater for in Germany or Austria. I sent a jokey email to Techie Husband about it and shortly after the phone rang. “Were you serious? Because I need to book in the next two hours.”87px-Bamberg-Schlenkerla1-Asio

I dithered. He looked up prices. Booking a twin room for the kids would be pricey at the same hotel; Arty Daughter offered to stay at a cheaper hotel but Constructo Boy wasn’t keen on that – or on having fun while his Dad would be stuck at work for hours, possibly including evenings (often, he’s overseeing the installation of IT and comms systems best started when other staff aren’t in the office).

So I said no, but felt  sad. I’d been quite carried away. But it wasn’t fair to go without the kids – was it? I’d barely see my husband and it would only be fun for me… wandering the beautiful streets of Bamberg when I wasn’t writing… completely undisturbed… using the desk and free WiFi…. in the hotel room room that, unlike the kids’ one, was already paid for…

BW Bamberg room

A writing retreat had landed in my lap and I’d said no. What an idiot.

My children started on the psychoanalysis, telling me that I deserved to sometimes do something just for me and that I should go (see – told you I didn’t need your psychoanalysis offers). So I texted my poor husband who got the booking changed (saving his company the sole occupancy fee), and booked myself on the same flights.

So what will I do when I’m there?

Take in some sights and smells.
Learn something about Bamberg.
Be completely without responsibility to do anything other than write what I want for a few days.
What is  that like?


writing snipProbably work on the new novel that’s brewing and two short stories I’ve outlined this week, and if they don’t gel then go back to this novella >
that’s been sitting neglected for the last few years, with a few gaps that together only need around 7000 words to fill them…

… I might even blog about it! 😉

De-stressed by The Teenage Guide to Stress

A new book coming through the post is always a reason to celebrate. But when it’s on your mat when you get home from an unexpected and rather stressful stint at work, it’s even better. And when it’s a book you’ve wonand it’s a good’un! – what could be better?

Not a lot (yes, that’s the right answer. You can put your hand down at the back). Coming home to a signed copy of Nicola Morgan’s The Teenage Guide to Stress on Monday was a great start to a busy week, and as you’ll see…

Teenage Stress

… Nicola sent three lovely signed postcards too, featuring her book covers; one for me and one each for ArtyDaughter and ConstructoBoy. I asked for the book to be signed to them because, well, they’re teenagers. I thought it might be very useful for them. ConstructoBoy was alerted to the book’s presence by TechieHusband muttering approvingly about it as he turned it over in his hands.

ConstructoBoy (glaring, jaw twitching, fingers drumming an irregular beat on the table): What? Why have you got us a book on teenage stress, hmm? So what are you saying? That I’m STRESSED?

Walks off stage, grinding teeth.

I jest. That’s artistic licence gone mad. He did make a fake unimpressed noise, though, and asked why I thought he needed it.

Of course, nobody needs a book on stress solely because they’re a teenager – and it’s not only teenagers that may need a book on stress, either! But I’ve already had a dip into several sections and read enough to know that firstly, it’s really good and full of sound, non-judgemental advice – I found myself nodding a lot – and that secondly, I wished I’d had a book like it when I was a teenager. When I was a teen, I didn’t know that I was stressed, but looking back, I’m not sure how I survived with my marbles intact (always open to debate, that one).

I do remember saying once that I wanted to go to the doctors because I thought I might be suffering from depression. I was asked what on earth I had to be depressed about. I didn’t mention it again.

Hopefully any teens out there experiencing similar problems to those I had (problems that unfortunately I can’t really go into here) will borrow, buy or download this book and not only be reassured, but steered towards getting the right information and help too.

The Teenage Guide to Stress is my favourite kind of non-fiction – the kind that genuinely helps, informs and makes the world a teensy bit better. If you want to scoop up a copy for yourself, try your local bookseller, or WHSmith, Waterstones,, the Hut… or those other South American river people if you must. You know who I mean.

If you’re in the Peak District, you could pop into the lovely Scarthin Books, which I wrote about here, to buy a copy. In the Marches/Herefordshire? Then pootle along to Aardvark Books instead (recommended here). You’ll get a warm welcome at both places and delicious food, too (plus, probably, several other books you didn’t budget for). What more could you ask for?


SUNDAY SITE SWEEP: Six Super Sites on Writing Dialogue

Writing dialogue is a tricky business. We want it to ‘sound genuine’ and not stilted, but we need realism without the everyday ums, ahs and errs. We want it to convey emotion, relay information, show character, move the story on…

Poor old dialogue! We ask a lot of it. And that’s without the scary task of indicating dialects or speech impediments, and ensuring that our characters sound different….aargh! Luckily some writers share their words of wisdom on how we can tackle these problems, so out with the notebook and see whose offerings ‘speak’ to you (all puns intended).

Speaking of Dialogue

A light hearted look at how to make dialogue sound real from Hugo and Nebula award winner Robert J. Sawyer.

A Few Thoughts About Dialogue

Novelist Janet Fitch’s views include the idea that you only need dialogue in your story if it’s showing conflict between characters. It’s a fair bet not everybody will agree with that one, but the post is well worth a read.

Writing Really Good Dialogue

A PDF guide to writing dialogue from NaNoWriMo, complete with exercises to try.

A-Z of Writing – D is for Dialogue

Light-hearted advice from the delightful Sally Quilford, writer of novels, columns and short stories.

Dialogue Techniques and Dialogue Tags

Essential info from the Crabbit Old Bat (her words, not mine!) Nicola Morgan

Dialogue Workshop

This is from author Holly Lisle. Well worth trying this on days when your brain is blank and you want someone to give you a random starting point, too (what do you mean, you don’t get those?).