Thursday, 17 October 2013

We all need a lighthouse of our own...

We already knew the setting was going to be stunning, but when you stop in a pub not more than a few miles from where you need to be to ask directions, and the barmaid and three regulars haven't heard of a lighthouse nearby, certainly not one that you can stay in, well it just becomes even more exciting.
When we found the entrance, drove around a couple of narrow hair pins and dropped down a steep steep hill, the silence in the car was utter awe.
Amanda welcomed us and showed us around the long building that has been respectfully restored to feel warm and lived in, but the bedrooms are quite stark. And why would you distract a room with too much decoration when you have an outlook across the Bristol Channel.

Many writers draw from it and have their own theories of its lure, but which ever way looking out over a body of water effects you, with moors and sheep and wild ponies on the hills behind you, well it's bound to spark something creative.
I find it unbearable to look at so much water and not slip in. Even knowing it's freezing beyond bearing, each white crest curls at me like a forefinger. I thank my childhood for making me a fish with legs, but last weekend I settled with the sunset from the rocky goat track, looking west towards Lynmouth.

Apparently I could ramble on and on about the weekend, so I'm restricting myself to two highlights:

Mealtimes
My vegan experiment stayed in London. In fact I treated myself to a Jamie Oliver bacon and egg sarnie before I caught my train. And over the weekend I enjoyed hearty homemade meals and puddings - chilli, chicken stew, vegetarian lasagne, apple pie, chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis...ok, you get the picture. Veganism is now reinstated, with many fond food memories. And a takeaway container in my freezer (thanks Amanda).
But apart from the food itself, the dining table was where we all came together, and really talked. Our group writes poetry, quirky flash fiction, short stories, humour, dark, women's lit, the (extra)ordinary...so it didn't take long to get into rich conversations, and establish links that spread from Wales, to London, to Cambridgeshire to...well Amanda's on her canal boat adventure now, last heard heading north.

Alison Moore masterclass
On Saturday afternoon, Alison Moore's smiling face appeared at the bottom of the stairs and we had wind-whipped introductions. Her taxi driver had asked if she was going to a hen's party - there's got to be a 'setting' story there.
The focus for our afternoon was setting and landscape in literature, which opened with reading and discussing extracts from a selection of books that all went on my to be re-read list, including Wuthering Heights, Waterland and The Woman in Black. And now elevated to the top of my must read list, 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things' (Jon McGregor) for his use of urban landscape as powerfully as the others use the wildness of moors and weather.

When Alison asked if we'd like her to read one of her short stories from 'The Pre-War House and other stories,' my enthusiasm nearly deafened my neighbours. Sorry about that guys. But I do love being read to.
Somehow the afternoon just ran seamlessly from listening to writing to discussing each other's writing to listening, afternoon tea, writing, discussing, and then Alison had to return to civilisation.

It's no wonder her events schedule is so extensive - I'm looking forward to the incredible line up at the 'Start Small Think Big' weekend workshop in November.


This was the first residential retreat for Amanda's Retreat West, and I have no doubt that it's the beginning of a very successful programme. Her plans for future stays in remarkable settings, with authors lined up to hold workshops around themes, it's a recipe for rewarding experiences all round. If you can get away from families and work for a few days, you can know that you'll be well looked after and there'll be lots of time and space for writing. And, if you're lucky, you'll make some great new writing friends.

Before I went to Exmoor last week I'd been struggling with a bit of a word rut. Now I'm back, writing, editing, smiling. And vegan. And now I really must head to the gym.

Soundtrack for the weekend? Of course I'm listening to The Waifs

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Time out track - thanks to 'Freedom' by Jonathan Franzen

I'm little kid excited about going on the Retreats West Lighthouse Retreat tomorrow. What a stunning setting, surely it's going to bring out thousands of words. Earlier this week I put aside Jonathan Franzen's 'Freedom' to take as a cold night companion, but I couldn't resist starting it on Tuesday. And I'm already half way through.

One thing I rarely try to do is write a review/summary of a book, so I'm stealing the quote from the cover -  'Deeper, funnier, sadder and truer than a work of fiction has any right to be' (Independent on Sunday)


Whilst reading this exploration of love, families, wanting and abusing freedoms, I'm also trying to finalise a short story that is about the stages of a relationship. I'm at a scene where my couple go to a wedding. She looks across the room at the partner she loves but who doesn't fit in, and my aim is to describe the complication of emotions that sparks in her. As always I went searching for a song that might help, and tying it all together nicely, I came up with this fantastic clip that shows the mess a wedding party can become. It's 'Tangled Up In Love' by The Rifles. It's, well, it sure shows how a wedding can have a range of consequences! I can't say I've been to one where all of these scenarios have played out, but some of them are familiar.

Friday, 4 October 2013

With thanks - this writer getting out of a rut

I've been in a word hole for about a week. Who knows why, but it got to the point where I couldn't even read. I started 'A Field Guide to Getting Lost' by Rebecca Solnit (irony is recognised). By the end of the introduction I was so excited by it that I ordered it for dear friend in Australia. And yet, I had to put it down, because I knew I wasn't in the mindset to appreciate it properly.

And when I had the confirmation email that the book had been dispatched, I realised that I'd ordered the wrong book. So Mel, I look forward to hearing how you enjoy 'Wanderlust: A History of Walking'. At least I got the author right.

For several days I was more likely to eat large bowls of pasta and watch poor tv than be involved with written words.

A combination of things have got me back at the desk, but most importantly I'd like to thank Matt Haig, and all of the people who have tweeted about what an inspiration THE HUMANS is.

I could easily have finished it in one sitting, but I'm not willing to let it inspire only one day.

I remember reading someone saying something like - you should leave your desk when you still want to keep writing. For me it's the same with this book.

Music, as usual, has also got me back on track, and this week it's discovering Agnes Obel's new album. 'Aventine' was released in the UK on Monday, and has been 3 years in the making. It's a struggle to pick one song to highlight. Reviews describe the 'mournful sternness' of the album. As usual I get something slightly different from it. I've felt like I've been swimming out from a bay beach on the Mornington Peninsula, swimming past children's thrill squeals, through the chimes of anchors and sails moving with the tide and the wind, and swimming on out to the deeper water with sun on my back, salt thick hair, and the tranquil space of contentment. And that's when my word brain really takes flight.

So for any one struggling for inspiration at the moment, I hope this might help. As for me, I'm off to the local pool. And then I'll be back to finish another draft of a 4,500 story called 'Shame'. And maybe tomorrow, or on the weekend, I'll be loving 'A Field Guide to Getting Lost'.