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

WP_20150901_003

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.

WP_20150901_001

 

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.

WP_20150901_007

 

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.

 

WP_20150902_021 WP_20150902_019

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

 

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.

93px-Bamberg-Rathaus1-Asio

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?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Wander.
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! ūüėČ