Spooky Stories in the Hills

Last week I was tucked away into a fold of the countryside near Hebden Bridge at a writer’s retreat run by the Arvon Foundation called ‘Fiction With A Gothic Twist’. While I was there I started my NaNo16 project which just happens to be a gothic crime mystery novel.

The view from Lumb Bank

When I first saw the schedule it looked pretty chilled out. A workshop in the morning followed by lunch prepared by the centre staff, then the afternoon free to write or for one-on-one tutorials, then dinner made by a rota of the attendees and then an evening session of readings by the tutors, a guest or, on the last day, by us the attendees. What this actually boiled down to was writing, thinking about writing, being taught about writing or talking about writing from about 7am to 10pm each day. Turns out that’s pretty intense.

Some of that intensity comes from the fact writing is a personal and emotional thing, especially for the new writer who doesn’t yet have the gnarled carapace that comes from the wounds of the editor’s pen and undeserved (or worse, deserved) one star reviews. So you turn up, say hello to a bunch of strangers, and then open up your innards to them. It was fantastic but also quite terrifying.

I learnt so much and it feels like I learnt it very quickly. My writing was better on day two than on day one, and better on day three than day two. This is largely thanks to the fantastic tutors we had – Diane Setterfield and James Friel were really very helpful and generous with their time. I was also lucky in my fellow attendees who were all lovely and very good writers too.

If you’re considering going on a retreat, thinking about scraping the cash together, wondering if it’s worth it, the answer is Yes! Do it! It was inspiring, interesting, challenging and helpful. I don’t know that you can ask more from a writing retreat.


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