Denman Writing Retreat

 

I recently went on my first ever writer’s retreat at Denman College in Oxfordshire, England. Denman is owned by the Women’s Institute and offers a plethora of course for members and non-members throughout the year, including a number of different writing courses. The retreat appealed to me because I thought it would give me some quality time to write, away from the usual distractions of home. I wasn’t disappointed. The course tutor, Chrissie Hall, herself a published writer, was disarmingly brilliant at helping us strip away our fears, anxieties and confusion about what we wanted to do with our writing. She inspired us to unleash our creative energy and to share with and support each other. In just four days we had become family, forever invested in each other’s successes.

It’s amazing what can happen when a group of people with a common interest and passion get together. Couple that with an organisation with its roots in the Suffragette movement and you have an environment that is a hotbed for getting things done. That was definitely the case for me. My current WIP, a pre-teen novel about a girl called Mollie Price, was in the planning stages when I went to Denman. During my time there I was able to really flesh out my core characters, do a detailed plot analysis of the book, and finish a very strong first draft of chapter one. I’ve already begun chapter two, and shall continue work on that today.

We had lots of time and space in which to write, opportunities for one-on-one’s with Chrissie, and just the right amount of time to come together and share with one another. All this in beautiful surroundings, with a comfortable study/bedroom to retreat to if we chose to, and delicious food served by friendly staff.

I initially chose to write in my bedroom but quickly decided instead to work in the big teaching room with everyone else. I had my headphones on to help me focus, but the sheer energy of everyone working in the room together was an utter joy and definitely helped me to produce some of my best work.

I’m now sitting here, back at home with my headphones on, playing the same music I played on retreat, and it’s definitely reminding me of those feelings and helping the words  flow as I type. I’m planning on booking myself into the same retreat next year and may go to another in October on preparing your manuscript for publication if my current WIP has reached that stage.

The upshot of all this is that I would recommend writing retreats to anyone who can get to them. There is nothing like it and it will definitely help you progress with your work.

Write on!

Liv

No Ordinary World

angels

Do you believe that life is a three-legged stool comprised of body, mind and spirit? Or do you think the spiritual world is the stuff of imagination and fairytale? Even the biggest sceptics amongst us have probably had an experience where we thought of someone just before they called, or felt nudged to contact a loved one who later turned out to be in need. Regardless of how skeptical we may be there is no doubt that we live in an extraordinary world. Perhaps it’s time to tune in.

Entertaining Angels Unawares

In the summer of 1998 I went to the States to visit my grandmother who was dying of lung cancer. It was a particularly gruelling trip for me and by the time I returned to the UK I was physically, emotionally and spiritually spent. Coming back from the airport the train deposited me in the centre platform of my local station. A large suitcase by my side and a steep flight of stairs in front of me, I stopped to adjust my bags before beginning the ascent.

Out of nowhere a man who could easily have been seven feet tall walked up beside me, picked up my luggage, and strode up the stairs, two at a time. He didn’t ask which way I wanted to go at the top. He went right, to the taxi rank, and not left to the car park. I raced up the stairs behind him, hardly able to keep pace.

When I reached the bottom I look down at the case and up at the man to thank him and he had disappeared. There was nowhere for him to have gone. I said thank you to thin air. I made the excuse that I was tired and probably seeing things. I brushed the incident to the back of my mind and continued through to the front of the station.

Once there, I was greeted by a friend. Without a word he started to load my luggage into his car. I asked him what he was doing there and he told me that he had been shopping in the high street when God told him to come to the station. There he was offering me a lift home. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Talk about feeling carried!

I used to be a skeptic. Now, if someone were to ask me if I believe in angels, I would say I have seen one. No, he didn’t have feathers. That would have looked rather odd in the middle of suburban England. But he was very tall, he seemed to know precisely what I needed, and he disappeared into thin air.

What stories do you have of entertaining angels unawares? What experiences have you had that show this is no ordinary world?

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy Who Do I Think I Am? Reflections of an Armchair Genealogist. 

The Joys of Journaling

Journaling

I kept a diary every day of my teens and well into my early twenties. I still have them, except for a six month period I tore out and burned over a boy. As I’ve been reading them a number of things have crossed my mind:

  1. They are nearly all about boys
  2. My emotions were all over the place
  3. They do mature as I get older – the voice changes
  4. They don’t have much detail in them about what life was like at the time
  5. They should never ever be published

This got me thinking about journaling today. Journaling can be good for everyone, but there is more than one approach. Here are some different journaling styles to consider.

The Emotional Journey

My teenage diaries fall firmly into this category. The journals chart the emotional development of the writer. They are of little to no historic interest and are extremely personal. Emotional journaling is cathartic. If you are dealing with complex emotions in your life I’d recommend giving this a go.

The Social History

My friend Leila Cassel had an aunt who kept wartime diaries. They are a brilliant and  insightful social history. Whilst they include personal stories about Mrs Jones next door, these tales are woven together with anecdotes about rationing, the Blitz, and life in North London in the 40s. They also contain something of a mystery. These diaries have inspired her to write a novel, The Girl in the Hat Shop, which is coming out in autumn 2016.

A social history journal is a gift to someone in the future. Who knows, an entry written today might provide the spark for a best-selling novel of tomorrow!

The Physical Journey

I have CFS/M.E. Unless you’ve had M.E. or know someone who has, it’s quite a difficult illness to understand. One way to explain to people would be to journal a physical experience of it. Others have done so with cancer, dementia, depression etc. All have been powerful and evocative testimonies that have gone a long way in spreading knowledge and understanding.

Aide-Memoire

Again, a more personal style, but with less emphasis on the emotional journey, and more on what you did that day. This is a fantastic journal if you are prone to forget things and want to be able to refer back. It’s also a great keepsake. When I’ve written diaries like this they are stuffed full of theatre tickets, shopping receipts, notecards from people, pressed flowers. These little trinkets act as memory-joggers and I have a fantastic time reminiscing as I turn the pages. I even squirted my favourite perfume, Venezia by Laura Biagiotti, on one page. I can still make out the scent today if I give it a good sniff!

The Writer’s Journal

Snippets of conversations overheard at the bus stop, descriptions of people, places and things. A writer’s journal is full of nuggets. They are literary collection boxes to be emptied and counted later. They are scribbled down on the fly rather than reflected on at length at the end of the day. What writer doesn’t carry a note book around with them?

The Blended Journal

The majority of diaries contain all of the above to varying degrees. There’s nothing wrong with a blended journal. There may be times in your life – particularly when you are grieving – when writing out your feelings can be healthy and helpful. If something significant happens in history – like the lunar landing, discovery of DNA, or the invention of the smartphone, then it adds spice to your journal to write about it. If you have broken your leg it would be odd not to mention it. Write those funny conversations down! Save those ticket stubs of films you really enjoyed. I’ve still got mine from the original Bridget Jones!

Above all have fun. I have bought myself some beautiful journals over the years and some great coloured pens. My only tip is don’t write in yellow. It fades into obscurity on white paper over time. Otherwise be bold. Who knows, your journals may help you let go of painful emotions, provide inspiration for a future novel, help others understand a misunderstood illness, aid you in remembering the good times, or all of the above. Let’s get started. What will you write today?

A Letter to my Younger Self

Our writers group recently did a project where we had to ‘write a letter to your younger self’ in 500 words or less. Brevity was never my strong point so this proved to be something of a challenge to me, especially considering the subject. Here is my letter, perhaps it might inspire you to do the same. If you do, I’d love it if you would post them below, or even a link to them on your own blog site. Anyway, here goes…

Inside Out

Dearest Olivia,

You are no accident. You are a welcome thread in the intricate fabric of the universe. There is a cavernous longing inside of you to know your origins, but you will not yearn forever. A time will come when you will reunite with your birth family, and discover you are descended from eastern Emperors, Frankish kings, signers of the American constitution, and a woman whose joie de vivre matches your own! You have leadership running through your DNA. With it comes great responsibility. Throughout life you will find people turning to you to lead them in all kinds ways. Don’t rush to take up the mantle. Just because you can lead, doesn’t mean you always should.

Don’t be afraid of your emotions. Let your feelings become your friend. They are like little people living inside your head, helping you navigate through life. One day Disney will make a fantastic film about them, but until then let me introduce you. First there is joy. When you feel joy you will want to be creative. Write, do crafts, make music. You may not be growing up in a family that likes to knit, sew, and bake, but you love to do these things. Find others that do too, and stick to them like glue.

Don’t be afraid of being sad. Cry until your teddy bear looks like he has had a bath if you need to. Don’t stuff it inside of you and become depressed. Tears are cleansing. Tears are good. Sadness is often a way of saying goodbye to the old so that we can embrace the new.

Life can sometimes be frightening. Fear can grip us and try to take over. Listen to fear, but do not let him rule. Fear helps you look at what is in front of you, not what has passed, and not what may or may not be around the bend.

You will sometimes also feel disgust. I know, the first things that spring to mind are vegetables, but I don’t just mean broccoli. Disgust also helps you avoid things which may cause you harm, like drugs, cigarettes, and violent films. Listen to your intuition. Let disgust show you where it is safe to go.

Finally there is anger. He is a tough little man who blows his top. I know you don’t like him but do make friends with him. He is a useful voice inside your head to let you know what you don’t like about the world. He is the voice that can bring about positive change. When you feel angry, go for a walk or speak to your teddy. Stomp if you need to, especially in large muddy puddles!

Never be ashamed of yourself. You are a beautiful, intelligent, and kind little lady. Take things one day at a time. Enjoy the journey, and do not be in such a hurry to arrive. Above all else, allow yourself to shine.

All my love…

Liv

Now it’s your turn. Have fun with it! Don’t forget to show me what you come up with. I can’t wait to see them!

If you enjoyed reading this from Olivia then you might be interested in The Time Turner

Top 10 ways to fill your ‘inspiration well’

Most writers carry a notebook around with them wherever they go. Whether electronic or paper, they recognise the importance of recording every good idea they have. But where do these ideas come from, and how can writers get more inspiration for their work? Is your ‘inspiration well’ running a little dry? Then you’ve come to the right place…

 

  1. Sight – Take time to stop and look at the world around you. Whether it be a beautiful landscape, an expression on someone’s face, or a bag of knitting sitting haphazardly next to an empty chair, write it down! Collect images and scribble them in your notebook. You never know where they might lead. I had an idea for a story just from seeing a broken watch lying in a drawer. What do you see around you? Write it down!
  2. Sound – A piece of music playing on the radio, the waves crashing on the shore, a child laughing. All of these sounds are absolute gems for your work and you need to get used to writing them. So often writers spend a great deal of time writing about what they see, and not enough time exploring the other senses. What can you hear around you right now? Write it down!
  3. Touch – You’ve probably figured it out by now, I’m working through the senses. But humour me a bit here. When was the last time you really took time to describe how something felt to the touch? What does it feel like to hold a new born baby in your arms? Describe walking barefoot through dew-drenched grass. What does it feel like to get sunburn because you stayed out too long? Close your eyes a moment. What can you feel right now? Write it down!
  4. Taste – Do you rush your food to the point that you don’t take time to taste what you are eating? Slow down! Consider it research and savour the different tastes of the food you eat. Drinking an iced-mochachino is definitely very different to working your way through a hot curry. Describe it. Write it down!
  5. Smell – The single-most memory-inducing sense we have and the one we describe least in creative writing. The smell of petrol at the gas station. The smell of bread baking in the oven. The smell of a wood fire. What can you smell right now? Write it down!
  6. Feelings – Whether it be joy, anger, fear, disgust, or sadness our emotions are an incredible source of inspiration for our work. Make friends with your feelings! Give them air time and write them down. Observe the emotions of others and do the same. The more comfortable you become in describing the feelings of your characters the more authentic your work will be.
  7. Thoughts – Same as feelings. In order to be able to get in the head of your leading character you first need to be comfortable in your own head. Spend time just thinking. Don’t worry what comes into your head, whether it’s thoughts about what you might have for dinner, a reminder to call someone that has been on your mind, or the meaning of life, write it down! – BTW the answer is always 42!
  8. Dreams – Every writer should keep a notebook by their bed. If you don’t have one, get one. Dreams are a fantastic source of inspiration. I once had a dream that a girl who worked in a restaurant was being blackmailed to serve a man a poisonous dish of food. Random I know, but I wrote it down and it may yet appear in some of my work. Write down your dreams!
  9. Muses – Other people are an excellent way to gain inspiration. I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by creative people who spark ideas, get me motivated and drive my dreams. They don’t all have to be writers. They just have to be creative. Some are musicians, artists, crafters, and dancers. All inspire me to write it down!
  10. Imagination – Finally there is the illusive imagination. If you’ve had a lot of people burst your bubbles over the years you may find it difficult to let rip. There may be an internal voice deriding any wild and crazy ideas you have. If this is you my best suggestion would be to write that voice down and then kill it off! You have the power to do in literature would you would never (hopefully) do in real life. Kill! Kill! Kill! Anything that gets in the way of you writing down the wildest and craziest ideas which pop into your head. Then write those ideas down!

Here are my top ten ways to get inspiration. What are some of your’s. Please add them in the messages below.