I’ve just spent a fabulous weekend at a writing retreat at the new home of the Sussex House Party. Hosted by Gilly Smith and Jed Novick, the weekend was a great mix of good food, good company and great inspiration.
We arrived Friday night for a delicious Syrian inspired dinner with home cooked bread, and the chance to get to know the eight writers taking part. Some of us had come from Sussex, others from much further afield. Most people were in the midst of a big project like a novel, memoirs or a set of themed short stories.
Saturday morning I woke to a beautiful view of the frosty Sussex countryside. A pheasant made its way slowly across the lawn, and I could hear Jed and Gilly’s dogs somewhere across the fields. A hot cooked breakfast was followed by an hour and a half of inspiration from Tom Connelly, author of The Spider Truces, a story about a father and son, spiders and growing up in Kent which is now top of my reading list. He spoke about his transition from film maker to writer, his writing successes and failures, and shared his advice to just keep writing. (Tom reckons it takes him five years per book which helps me keep going!). Tom followed this with one to ones with each author. He was gently interested in each person’s works and willing to share his own experiences.
I spent the afternoon working in my room, a beautiful white walled room with touches of red and gold. It was a great place to get more deeply into the characters in my current book, which is set in London, West Africa and on the Kent coast. I discovered more about the motivation of the female lead character, what makes her behave the way she does, and what holds her back. I also drafted a couple of tricky scenes which although i wasn’t sure about them at the time have made a helpful contribution to the book as I look at them now.
The evening passed with wine and conversation and Gilly’s delicious cooking: it was a real treat to have someone else plan and prepare meals. We also got the privilege of hearing the first draft of Katie’s song about her father, which was very moving.
As I returned to the house, writer William Shaw was driving up. I’ve written about William’s Breen and Tozer series before, so it was great to get the chance to hear his take on writing. He was very focussed in the one-to-ones. While I might have asked him about his writing, he was clear that he was there to find out about what I was working on. It was reassuring to hear that he thinks I’m on the right track. And over lunch I did get to hear about his new book, The Birdwatcher which is out in May.
The weekend overall was truly special, and right now I’m trying to fend off the come down! Gilly and Jed are great hosts, the authors who came to speak to us were lovely people, and it was fabulous to hear the work and inspiration from the other writers taking part. At the end of the event, the feeling was very much, ‘When can we do this again?’, and I already have plans to meet up with and stay in touch with the supportive group that we formed.