A big thank you to Julia for writing up her reflections on retreating at The Old Sawmills last month. We loved the week and can’t wait to do it again. Watch this space for 2019 dates coming soon.
Joining The Writing Retreat was my reward to myself for having successfully completed a degree in English and Creative Writing. Kath and Jane’s retreat at The Old Sawmills seemed an appropriate prize for all my hard work.
I had heard and read about the perfect peace at these retreats, and about the inspirational workshops run by Kath, Jane and guest speakers. I knew there would be time to write, like-minded companions and lots of advice and guidance available. I had even heard about the amazing food! But it wasn’t until only days before I set off, that I began to consider the enormity of what I was about to undertake, and the potential talent and experience of those I would be joining. How could I compete?
The truth, as I discovered, was that this was not a competition. There were no comparisons drawn, no pressure to share our writing unless we wished to, and we were all working on very different projects. What we did have was the companionship of people who share our passion for word craft and an opportunity to just write. No distractions, no excuses for displacement activity, not even a phone line or mobile signal. The outside world would have to cope without us for a few days.
The first clue we had to just how isolated The Old Sawmills would be, came with our joining instructions: we were told to wear stout shoes or boots and to bring a torch. On arrival at Par railway station, we took a taxi to the village of Golant, which lies on the River Fowey. Here the road runs out. We were escorted along a footpath through the woods to the house, some 20 minutes walk from the village. Our luggage joined us later, brought by boat on the high tide. The adventure had begun.
Sawmills has a recording studio. Over the years, numerous musicians have come here to make albums, and their creativity haunts the place. I was inspired also by the evidence that Kenneth Graham had visited this secret creek as he conjured up the tale of Mole, Ratty and Toad, and in the process encapsulated some quintessential essence of rural England. Tales of pirates and shipwrecks seem to lurk among the trees that hide the creek from prying eyes. Their spirits inspired a dark tale of foul deeds set in the village and in the very building where we sat by the fire and shared pieces of our work on the final evening after supper.
Although outside it was chilly and damp, the beauty of the scenery surrounding us more than compensated, as we watched the ebb and flow of the tide below the house and the wind tearing at the trees. The opposite bank glowed with autumnal colours when we arrived but was left stripped and denuded by the following Saturday. Despite the weather, we all ventured out at some point for some fresh air and a bit of exercise. One afternoon, Lin and I set off after lunch and spent the entire walk discussing our respective stories. On my return home, I could not wait to tell my husband Duncan about his namesake in Lin’s children’s story about a green dinosaur with pink spots.
Some people came specifically to grapple with their particular WIP, away from the humdrum demands of day-to-day life. I joined the workshops and took full advantage of the hour-long 1:1 consultations on offer. I learned a lot about the different structure and shape of the various story forms: the short story, the novella and the full length novel. The balance between workshops and time just to write was perfect for me. There was no need to worry about life support. Everything was taken care of by Jane, Kath and the lovely Kim, and we were pampered and cosseted from breakfast right through to chocolates and port in the evening.
I had brought along the basis of a short story I wrote two years ago, which even then felt too big a tale for the short story form. Perhaps it was a potential novella? By the end of the week, with encouragement, guidance and constructive questioning from both Kath and Jane, I was seriously beginning to wonder if I have the basis of a novel. The main protagonist changed his name and with it, unnervingly, his persona. Characters and settings became solid and took on a life of their own, sending the story off in directions I had never considered. Other characters materialised unexpectedly and transformed the tale still further. It was amazing, thrilling and unbelievably exciting. Now that I am home, the challenge I face is to take the time needed to bring my story to life. I’m excited.