Monday, 16 September 2013

Never mind the bullocks - Part II

The table set for dinner
So, there I was, stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of complete strangers, supping wine and wishing I’d practiced a neat one or two sentence answer to the frequent question ‘what are you writing?’, then I could have avoided cringing my way through my feeble, wishy-washy replies. 
After dinner we made ourselves comfortable on the squashy sofas, the sun still streaming through the windows. Fourteen people – twelve participants and two tutors – Kevin MacNeil and Suchen Christine Lim – did introductions. I was almost the last to go. During that agony of waiting, while my fellow writers told of exciting lives and equally exciting writing projects, I still failed hopelessly to think of anything interesting to say about myself or my writing. ‘It’s a crime thing. New direction. Mumble, mumble.’ There followed general writing chat and a balmy night with little sleep – the heat-wave really had made it to Scotland. A strange bed in a strange house.
One of the sheds
Day one was the busiest retreat day you could imagine: A workshop in the morning and my one-to-one meetings in the afternoon with each of the tutors who were going to comment on the work I’d sent in advance. Stepping into the writing shed with Kevin was a bit like boarding the plane again. I felt I had to do it in order to get to where I wanted to go, but I was afraid he was going to say the engines have failed, you’ve run out of fuel, there’s no-one in the cockpit and you’re free-falling into a sea of pointless prose and clichés. I’m not going to try and quote him, just in case he reads this and I get it wrong, but the gist was that the first three chapters I had shown him were good - although there were a couple of incidents of flying ‘perilously close to a cliché’ (and I am quoting him here). I was flying very high when I came out.

I had a breather, thinking about what Kevin had said as I looked out into the beautiful landscape around me, and then stepped into Suchen’s shed. Wow.  She gave me and my writing quite a welcome. While Kevin had given me an overall opinion and then focussed on choices of verbs, commas and dialogue - and emphasised the need to make a plan for the rest of the story, Suchen reached inside my protagonist’s heart and drew out her pain and conflicts. I was almost in tears. She said to let the story come to me and develop over a few years. It went from micro to macro, from Yin to Yang. I came out glowing inside and thought for the first time, this is something I can really do. This was quickly tempered by the fact that if I was going to get anywhere with it, I needed to follow through and deliver on the promises I had made in the early chapters; all those questions raised, all those mysteries to be solved.
I was on the cooking roster for that day and reported for duty shortly afterwards. Kevin and Suchen’s comments swirled around in my head as I chopped and grated and layered, and then had to de-layer and layer again in the correct order, while also chatting to Ivor and Christian, my cooking buddies.  That’s the other great thing about a writing retreat – all the lovely writers you meet. Fourteen people, all very different and from all over the globe and all walks of life - and amazingly, all writing about very different things.  

So, day one was action packed. That left four more days of the retreat and the only structured activities I thought I had left to worry about were eating and drinking. Plenty of time to do what I came there to do...


  1. Hey! I've nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. Take a look:

  2. Thanks Karen! Gulp! This means I should quickly finish parts 3, 4 & 5 of the above and then get on with questions. I feel like I have been caught out while skulking around in the dark..