After a beloved family member is drowned in a devastating flood, Bede and Elin Sherwell want nothing more than to be left in peace to pursue their off-grid life. But when the very real prospect of fracking hits their village, they are drawn in to the frontline protests. During a spring of relentless rain, a series of mysterious threats and suspicious accidents put friendships on the line and the Sherwells’ marriage under unbearable tension. Is there a connection with their uncle’s death? As the river rises under torrential rain, pressure mounts, Bede’s sense of self begins to crumble and Elin is no longer sure who to believe or what to believe in.
Getting away to write
A friend once said to me: “But you live in a lovely location and have your own office – why do you need to go on writing retreats?” To me, it’s not as simple as an inspiring location (though that often helps!) It’s a case of breaking from the routine, making space purely for your writing, and getting away from work and family commitments – though visiting locations related to your work-in-progress can often help.
There are some inspiring retreats on offer at creative writing centres which give you time to work alone but with theopportunity to network with fellow writers and, often, the added benefit of workshops or tutored sessions. There are residencies that provide accommodation, time and space – some with a requirement to offer a talk or workshop, others offering a stipend, some involving nothing but time away. Or you can simply take yourself off somewhere.
I’ve been lucky to have done all three. I like to take time out to immerse myself in the world of my novel, both when starting a new project or working on a particularly sticky spot. The idea that I’ve booked the time away from work and home, and the self-imposed writing deadline, concentrates my mind and imagination and I’ve always found retreats to be productive. I recently went on a writing retreat at Tŷ Newydd Creative Writing Centre in North Wales. This was not only an inspiring week in great company, but also the opportunity to visit a creative writing centre where I’ve attended a number of excellent courses in the past. [Tŷ Newydd photo]
While working on Riverflow, I was fortunate to be offered a fellowship – a place with five others on a month’s writing retreat – at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland. The former home of 17th-century poet William Drummond, the castle was bought in the 1980s by Drue Heinz and run as a writers’ and artists’ retreat ever since. The stimulating company of five other authors and poets in the atmospheric castle and grounds formed a perfect backdrop for me to complete much of the first draft of my novel. [Hawthornden photo]
That was an exceptional opportunity, and my personal writing retreats are usually more down-to-earth. I’ve sometimes arranged to house-sitwhen friends or relatives go on holiday – even if they don’t have pets, and their houses or flats don’t actually need sitting, they understand where I’m coming from! The location is secondary to allowing myself total “me
time” and not being bound by anyone else’s routine. As I can’t expect people always to plan their holidays around my writing needs, Ialso use AirBnB as a great way of finding reasonably-priced accommodation. While writing and editing Riverflow,I stayed at permaculture and offgrid places that provided a valuable insight into the way of life featured in my novel, in addition to the space to write. At the start of this year, I spent a week in a remote AirBnB cottage on the rugged coast of west Wales, the location of the new novel I was beginning to write.[Lleyn peninsula photo]
If, like me, you like to get away as part of your writing process, you can apply for retreats at centres such as Tŷ Newydd, the Arvon foundation centres, Anam Cara in Ireland or Moniack Mhor in Scotland – look out for competitions with a course or retreat as the prize, or some offer bursaries – or residencies offered by organisations such as Gladstone’s Library or Hawthornden Castle.
Or you can you go it alone; it needn’t be expensive. Or remote. You may prefer a city location; I know people who book themselves into a simple hotel or guest-house room somewhere mundane, with just a desk and the freedom to write. Less-than-beautiful surroundings mean fewer distractions and therefore more productivity. If time away from a day job is tricky, a day out researching an aspect of your novel or the change of scene that comes from visiting a location new to you can be a real inspiration. The possibilities are as varied as individuals’ writing processes.
Thank you, Alison Layland and Damp Pebbles
About the author
Alison Layland is a writer and translator. Raised in Newark and Bradford, she now lives on the Wales/Shropshire border. She studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge University and translates from German, French and Welsh into English. Her published translations include a number of bestselling novels.