Friday, 20 September 2013

Writers Retreat

I remember the last writing workshop I attended was at the Jane Austen's House Museum and run by Rebecca Smith, Author of Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas, A Bit of Earth, Happy Birthday & All That and The Bluebird Cafe. Rebecca teaches at Southampton University.

It was a freezing day and had been snowing. Walking through the snow-covered park in the early morning I did wonder if I was wise to be travelling at all. But travel I did all the way to Alton in Hampshire. Rebecca was an excellent facilitator - calm, interesting and interested. The workshop, ‘But intricate characters are the most amusing…’ was of course linked to Jane Austen's writing. Elizabeth Bennet was a studier of character, and so, of course, was Jane. Rebecca spoke about all sorts of relationships – romantic, friendly and difficult. With examples from Jane Austen’s work and contemporary fiction, we looked at creating and capturing the sort of convincing characters and relationships that are at the heart of all good fiction.
Jane Austen's House Museum
What did I enjoy most about this workshop? Not having to do the preparation myself! And I even wrote the beginnings of my autobiographical novel, Homesick about a 16-year old girl who is leaving care and setting out into the world. So, it was a fantastic experience for me. What may you ask (quite rightly) has this to do with a writer's retreat?

Well I organised the recent Greenacre Writers writing retreat at St Katharine's, Parmoor, Oxfordshire. And although there was some organisation involved, researching places to stay, as well as negotiating with St Katharine's and the writers, I pre-warned the writers that I would not be doing any workshops, or tutoring. All I did when people first arrived was a sort of reflective exercise, that asked a few simple questions along the lines of what the writers were hoping to get out of the weekend. And in fact none of the writers except me bothered to do the exercise so I won't waste my time with that in the future. We were all there to write and write and write is what we did.

St Katharine's, Parmoor
The first thing that happened was an amazing piece of luck. We were told that we would be inside the house rather than in the annexe St Joseph's which is a little cheaper, and that it would be at no extra cost. My room was lovely - old rickety furniture, comfy bed, my own shower and the most amazing peace. No cars anywhere near the beautiful old house.

The estate, in the Chiltern hills above the lovely valley of Hambleden, was in possession of the Knights Templar originally (says Langley), was probably surrounded by wild open moorland country, and must have been an isolated place in those days. The magnificent cedar tree in the grounds was reputedly grown from a seed collected from the Lebanon during the Crusades.

The amazing Cedar tree where I sat and enjoyed the amazing peace of St Katharine's

In 1995 the Sue Ryder Prayer Fellowship took over Parmoor, now a Grade 2 Listed Building. The Fellowship was conceived by Lady Ryder to be a "spiritual powerhouse" for the needs of others. In the grounds, the walled garden is being brought back into productive use and supplies vegetables and fruit for the kitchen. The outline of a formal garden has been uncovered and is being made into a sensory garden by Lane End Elim Centre Oasis Project while a large sunken garden awaits restoration.

Lady Ryder cherished frugality, compassion, respect for the contribution of volunteers, and the spiritual dimension of charitable work. Her loss is keenly felt but her memory lives on in Parmoor.

It was this frugality that I most admired about St Katharine's as well as the amazing sense of peace I felt the whole weekend. However, there was nothing frugal about the food, home grown and home cooked, it was delicious. The writers were an interesting bunch and I learnt many things during the course of the weekend. Including all about Fracking from Irving, which apparently causes mini earthquakes - so not good for the environment and well done the protesters in Sussex. Find out more here. 

A few of the writers: me, Mark, Irving and Lianne

The view outside my bedroom window

Irving was convinced he was sleeping in King Zog's room!
I managed to get lots of writing done, as well as a quick trip into Marlow with Lianne and Mark where we treated ourselves to some new clothes! And returned with chocolate and wine for the evening spent chatting in the spooky old library. The food was excellent and my fellow writers told me over and over again what good value the weekend had been. We will definitely be booking another retreat!


Anonymous said...

Sounds lovely. Will you be organising another retreat?

Rosie said...

Yes, 28th-30th March 2014