RECIPE FOR A GOOD WEEKEND.
Take one very beautiful house in a lovely garden, hidden away at the foot of the South Downs, once the home of the economist Maynard Keynes and his Russian ballerina wife.
Add eleven women writers, of all sorts. Here's ten of them - Beginners to established, poets and story-writers, novelists and playwrights. Performance workers and editors. Journalists and imaginers...
Talke a gifted chef called John, who runs a vegan/vegetarian catering company called Cashew Catering, (not that many of us were even vegetarians, but happy to try...!) and a lovely farmhouse kitchen in which to experience zingy healthy tastes, like stuffed mushrooms, or fruit or savoury crumbles topped with nuts and seeds, fresh soups,
extraordinary brown breads, pretty salads topped with flower petals and whole flowers. Cous cous with roast vegetables, ad inf. Stir the writers in gently, with a large glass of something relaxing, white, red or maybe rose.
Put a writing tutor in the centre, who knows what its like to fight for time to write in among the other calls on one's time - partners, kids, other family, friends, housework ("What housework?" my family are yelling...) Who knows how hard it is sometimes to remember what a gift it is to be able to create.
And who knows how important it is to be given permission to do exactly what you need to do creatively - and to be challenged when you're ready and not before, shifted out of your comfort zone when you want to be challenged.
Leave to warm for 48 hours - two days and nights. At intervals, add in a workshop - with the best writing exercises the tutor knows, appropriate for everyone. Visualisations to open up new scenarios, voices, emotions. Word games to create new connections. Scenarios full of details left out, for you to fill in - to help create living, breathing characters. Maybe a Bedtime Story by the fire at the end of the day to lull you to sleep (or not, if it is funny...).
Throw in a private tour round Charleston Farmhouse, home of the Bloomsbury set, Virginia Woolf's sister Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry and later on Clive Bell.
Point writers in the direction of Berwick Church, where the Bloomsbury crowd created murals in which every face is one of their friends, or neighbours. Or go for a walk through the farmyard, skirting the fields, along the old coach road, across more fields, and back home.
Finally, add inspiring guests who will share a meal, and wine, and talk to us, then answer questions until the questions run out. Firstly, a successful female poly-talented writer actress and director, playwright, and novelist, Carole Hayman, she of the stunning Pre-Raphaelite hair, and co-creator of 'Ladies of Letters', among other things. (Who tells us that Fay Weldon reckons you ought to be able to write your novel in 3 weeks if you focus hard enough). Secondly, a top publisher. Helen Garnons-Williams, Editorial Director of Bloomsbury, to give us the insiders' view of the publishing world. What commissioning editors are looking for. The huge benefits of having an agent. And the topsy-turvy world that is e-books. (See us all chatting before Sunday lunch, on the lawn, in one of the first pics above.)
Check for consistency. Be told that every participant had achieved or surpassed their personal objectives. Feel very delighted, and enjoy all the new friendships made, the shared inspirations, the hopes to met again soon.
Retire to bed on the third day absolutely knackered.
Leftovers can be enjoyed, gently warmed for a few days. Especially while reading unsolicited feedback sent to New Writing South, like these snippets:
Just a note to say how much I (and, I am sure, everyone) enjoyed this last weekend at Tilton. It was easily the best writing event I have attended in all respects and I came away inspired!
Just a quick thank you for a wonderful writing retreat - I think that you and Vanessa gauged it perfectly - well done!
I had no idea that this was the first writing retreat that New Writing South had organised - it all looked very professional but I'm sure there was a lot of hard work involved.
It was the best writing workshop I've been on - inspiring tutor, perfect setting, delicious and healthy food and lots of time and space to write. I feel as if I've come back with a treasure trove of energy and ideas to keep me going through the winter.
So thank you.