Last year I blogged about the kind of writing holiday I would love to go on – one where I'd be left to my own devices and not have to do any tutor-led writing exercises, crit anyone else's work or, heaven forbid, cook for other people.
So, last week I headed off to Retreats for You, a writing retreat run by journalist Deborah Dooley in her own idyllic 18th-century Devon house. Situated in the centre of the village of Sheepwash, the building – which was once a shop – has the happy feel of a place that's been used for living, working, gossiping and laughing for centuries. It feels like home from the moment you step through the door.
A stay at Retreats For You really is a retreat from the demands of the world. All food is provided, the tasteful and simple décor of the rooms is conducive to inner peace, and there's no pressure to do anything. You can write 24 hours a day, or you can doss around, sleep, read, walk and eat – it's up to you.
At the beginning of the retreat, I had a complete first draft of my second novel but had left it festering at that. With a deadline-esque job and a three-year-old son, even making a cup of tea feels like a self-indulgent luxury, let alone writing another book. But the story I'm working on could be pretty good, if it had the chance, so I decided to become the Daily Mail's version of the anti-Christ and abandon my little one to the care of his father for four nights.
When I arrived at Deborah's house, I faced the temptation of just clinging to the crisp lavender-scented bedding and sobbing in gratitude at the thought of sleep and proper food. But I had work to do and only four days in which to do it.
The novel was at the stage where I couldn't measure progress by word count, but neither could my efforts be dignified by the term 'editing'. It was more like trying to chop up a turkey and reassemble it as a diamond.
Retreats For You was the perfect place to get a bit of space, to have the luxury of thinking things through rather than panicking that I have to get words on the page before the next bombardment of noise and demands. I had not spent a full day writing fiction for at least 10 years and it was a real eye-opener to discover how much is possible when you can organise writing as a working day.
The retreat is full board (though Deborah also does B&B if required) and the food was gorgeous – really good, healthy, home-cooked meals that formed the perfect fuel for the writing brain. Though it's fine if you want to eat in your room and carry on working, I enjoyed the opportunity to meet up with the other guests and hear all about their progress. In a perfect example of attention to detail, Deborah even brought a pre-dinner glass of wine to our rooms each evening!
Spending a few days away with the book enabled me to fall in love with it again, and since returning home, I have been able to treat it as if it were a first novel. I don't know whether it will ever get published, but I'm writing it because I want to and because I love the characters – goodies, baddies and all. I think it's in many ways better than anything I've written before, and whatever might ultimately be its fate, it's worth finishing for its own sake. I'm glad to have had the opportunity to go on a retreat, reboot my brain and regain the joy of writing.