Tag Archives: writing

A rather unusual writer’s retreat

27 Aug


I’m writing this on my last night at a ‘study centre’, a sort of place for quiet reflection and that type of thing.  The reason I’ve ended up in a little place in the Midlands (Selly Oak, to be precise) is because I’ve been shocked at how easily I can come up with excuses to do anything but write.  I figured if I could send myself away with nothing but my laptop then I’d have to write.  So I started searching for writers retreats but most of the ones I found were far too expensive for my budget.  Also, I figured, I didn’t want to spend time around other writers, I just wanted to be quiet and get on with my own things. To be honest, I would have been happy with an all-inclusive in a shed but unfortunately those don’t exist. Really it didn’t matter where I was or with whom I was around as long as the atmosphere was conducive to creativity. 

Now here comes the weird bit.  The place I’m staying at is a Quaker study centre which is a very strange concept considering I’m an Atheist.  Firstly, I didn’t even know Quakers still existed; the only thing I knew about them was from brief mentions in old History lessons.  Apparently the Quakers aren’t so great at self promotion…But when I was able to research the place further, I realised it was perfect for my requirements. There’s a library, a desk in my room (there, I’ve taken a little photo of it, just because), ten acres of beautiful woodland and breakfast, lunch and dinner so I don’t have to worry about what to eat etc.  And that usually is a big worry for me, sadly… 


But I have definitely managed to write a lot more although today (my last day here), I did suffer from some kind of writing burnout as my brain is not used to writing non-stop all day long.  It got to the point today where I would literally read over what I had written and genuinely not be able to tell whether it was OK or utter drivel.  I think three days away is a good time if you’re writing – any longer and I think my mind would have spontaneously combusted but perhaps it would be different if you just came out looking to meditate and gain a different perspective on things. 

I had concerns beforehand that I might slowly start scratching the walls but there are always people around so you never really feel like you’re completely alone.  In the canteen, I’ve met people I would never normally meet and had some really meaningful conversations.  Although it’s a ‘Quaker study centre’, the actual building is used to hold various conferences and it prides itself on being a good place for people to stay whether you are religious or not.  

The test will be when I go home and read over what I have written with a fresh mind… but I’ve definitely done something I wouldn’t normally do so I can tick ‘stay in a Quaker centre’ off my bucket list…



An evening with Michael Frayn at the Bloomsbury Institute

26 Jul

Yesterday I went to the beautiful Bloomsbury Institute to listen to an interview with the multi-talented writer, Michael Frayn.  He has been one of my favourite contemporary novelists for many years now and I am still happily working my way through reading his back catalogue.  I first learnt about his writing as a 16 year old, studying ‘Spies’ for English AS Level and was hooked since then which is weird as I usually think tediously analysing every single word, a practice somewhat synonymous with English Lit courses in the UK, would mean I would never want to read another book by Frayn again.  However, in this case, it had the opposite effect.  I loved ‘Spies’ so much – the beauty of Frayn’s prose, the themes of the transience of memory and the brutal transition from childhood into adulthood – so I was eager to read more of Frayn’s work.

The talk mainly covered Frayn’s work as a playwright as it was an interview with Geoff Coleman, Head of Acting at Central School of Speech and Drama.  Last year I saw ‘Noises Off’ in the theatre and thought it was the funniest play I have ever watched.  It literally had me in stitches as I was giggling so much.  What struck me was how clever it was and the challenges Frayn must have had when writing a play about a play within a play.  Well worth watching and the talk discussing his motivations and relationship with the director Michael Blakemore has motivated me to watch more of his plays.


Frayn first worked as a journalist and he talked about how he thought his journalistic background had helped him with his fiction writing.  Essentially, he believes that real life is far more complicated than fictional worlds and it would benefit fiction writers to experience real-life reporting to understand the reality and how to write concisely, with definitive facts.  Working in PR, I guess many would dispute whether you need to write with ‘definitive facts’ but I did find Frayn’s words encouraging as I often wonder if the writing I do in my job actually benefits my fiction writing.

I didn’t realise at the beginning but I was sat next to a playwright, Alistair Beaton who was lovely and friendly and introduced me to Frayn at the end for a book signing.  Thanks to Wikipedia, the fountain of all knowledge, I’ve since found out that Beaton is a Scottish left-wing political satirist, journalist, radio presenter, novelist and television writer.  It was amazing to be around such talented writers and incredibly inspiring.  At one point, Frayn was asked a question about his favourite contemporary playwrights and he mentioned Beaton and his play ‘Feelgood’, a satire on New Labour spin doctors.  So this is something I intend to explore next!

I had an amazing evening and chatted to some lovely people within the publishing industry.  The atmosphere was incredibly inspiring and it was great to meet someone I have admired for so long.  It also made a change to go to an event that didn’t claim to ‘teach’ you anything; in fact, I learnt far more at this than I have at many other literary events I have attended.

Writer’s aid: ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande

7 Jun

I purchased this book slightly reticently, having read thoroughly disappointing books in the same genre.  This, however, is something of a gem.  Originally written in 1934, Brande blasts so many of the typical writing tips out of the water, especially that writers possess some sort of secret and genius that we can only dream of attaining.


The book is actually incredibly uplifting in addition to being informative.  The idea Brande consistently emphasises is that there are certain habits one needs to cultivate as a writer before any of the technical writing issues should be addressed.  She presents some really interesting and unusual ideas of how writers can combat their doubts and anxieties about writing, including adopting a sort of dual personality.  Not in the insane sense, of course.  It is more to nurture the unconscious which is when your imagination runs freely and to moderate it with the more disciplined side of yourself.  Practical advice she gives includes waking up half an hour earlier and making yourself write before reading anything or talking to anyone as this will reveal where your talent, i.e. which genre, needs to be developed.  If you wish to write short stories yet you find that your writing in these morning sessions tends to focus on drawn-out characterisation rather than more concise scenarios, you may find that you are demonstrating more traits akin to that of a novelist, rather than the short story writer.

I really enjoyed reading Brande’s book – it is elegantly written and her wit shines through.  It is infused with good advice that teaches you how to prepare yourself for the psychological challenges a writer faces, rather than the technical ones.  For me, self-doubt and apathy are two of my biggest challenges and I found that this book inspired me to leave my demons by the wayside and simply get on with writing.

Highly recommended.

Writer’s block

5 Feb

I have currently hit a writing brick wall.  My mind is so frazzled by the time I come home from work, I find it difficult to sit down and write when I’ve been sitting at a computer for over 9 hours already.  So, in search for inspiration, I have bought a number of creative writing books from the every-trusty Amazon which contain advice as well as exercises to flex and hone my writing technique.  Hopefully I’ll find at least one of these somewhat helpful and I’ll try to post reviews in the near future. 

Must stop procrastinating.