I spent the weekend on my second ever writers’ retreat. I had gone on one alone before, and while I got a lot done, it was hampered by 1. not being bothered to make any food, so living off wine gums for three days, and 2. going a bit mental in my own company, to the extent of crying over the book. Also 3. it was quite chilly, and I don’t work well when I’m chilly.
So the prospect of a weekend in a full-service stately home with a group of other writers appealed instantly. I packed my hot water bottle and six packets of biscuits. West Dean college is a residential place near Chichester, where you can stay for conferences and the like, but also just book a room. It’s actually a stately home, with oak-panelled rooms, stuffed giraffes’ heads, suits of armour, and extensive grounds. If you stay there you can work either in your room, in the library, or in any of the nice quiet spots round the place. It was £75 a night for your own room, plus bathroom (my bath could have fit three people, easy, though I didn’t try), all meals (huge, delicious, cake-heavy), and use of the facilities. The peace is overwhelming, and the cake helped too. There was always someone around for a quick chat if I felt my brain was imploding it on itself, but plenty of alone time too. I managed 11,000 words over the weekend, and also edited 6 chapters and did some plotting. Book Three is definitely on track now.
I’d fully recommend it if you need some space away from home and family and work. There’s no shame in admitting it, but sometimes we just can’t produce creative work when the dishwasher needs emptied and the dog walking and your spouse is asking you where do you keep the sellotape and other ridiculous queries. Some weeks, days just fall from my hands like casino chips, and I have no idea what stops up the minutes and hours and why all my time drains away like dishwater. On this retreat, I found all that time again, stacked up and waiting for me.