The Writing Retreat Winter Newsletter

The year that was:

2016 was a busy and productive year for us at The Writing Retreat; a year in which we welcomed back several past guests – always such a pleasure – and met many new ones, and a year in which we consolidated some old partnerships and formed new ones.

In May we launched our new venue, the beautiful National Trust house at Bosloe, over looking the Helford. The Arts and Craft charm of the house and the stunning sea views were a hit with guests old and new, as was our guest author Patrick Gale. The setting at Bosloe is spectacular, even by Cornwall standards. We promised we would be back, and we will be in 2017 (see below).

In March and November, we retreated to lovely Rosemerryn, tucked away in the woods above Lamorna, where everyone worked hard and made fantastic progress with their writing projects. We are thrilled to be returning to Rosemerryn again in March for our popular Craft of Writing retreat.

In November 2016 we were delighted to be invited to judge the 9th annual Barbara Scannell writing competition for the Falmouth and Truro U3A group. At the presentation lunch, we discovered pockets of real talent and one unexpectedly familiar face – yes, one of our recent guests (you know who you are!), who turned out to be among the prize winners we had judged anonymously. It was a lovely occasion.

The year ahead:

In a world where things are changing at a dizzying pace, we look forward with relish to the opportunities in 2017 to retreat from the world for a few short spells and forget about everything except being writers, surrounded by our fellow writers, thinking only about writing. Bliss.

Craft of Writing retreat at Rosemerryn, 13-18 March

This retreat is now full, and it’s lovely to have the carrot of a springtime retreat dangling just six weeks in front of our noses. This retreat is the one where guests can really hone their skills as writers of fiction. Our guests will take home a whole raft of new tools and techniques to help them move forward with their writing, as well as inspiration and ideas. If you would like to be added to a waiting list for this retreat, do fill out a contact form here.

Life Writing and Time to Write at Bosloe, 31 October-5 November 

Building on our partnership formed last year with The National Trust, we’ll be back at Bosloe for our November retreat, and bookings are already coming in. Writers who simply want a Time to Write retreat, with one to one tutorial support, will find this retreat offers a perfect space for that. Alongside this, we will be focusing on Life Writing, and will offer morning workshops on various aspects of this exciting genre.

Other news

We have one or two other plans up our sleeves for 2017 (shhhh, we can’t say too much just yet), but if you ‘like’ or ‘follow’ us on our website, Facebook page, or Twitter account, you’ll be among the first to hear about it.

We love to keep in touch with our guests and hear what you’ve all been up to, so if you have any writing related news you would like to share, please drop us a line. We’d be thrilled to hear how you are getting along.

Warmest winter wishes,

Kath and Jane.

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An orange cake for Christmas

Jane Moss describes the pleasure of cooking in the Rosemerryn kitchen and shares a recipe that’s perfect for Christmas.

One of my favourite moments in our retreats comes near the beginning, when Kath and I arrive and begin to make Rosemerryn our home for the week. It’s the peaceful morning before our guests arrive, when the kitchen is ours and the supplies for the week are all put away, ready to be used.

In those quiet hours cake-1we make preparations, so that later in the week our soups, stews and cakes can appear effortlessly, as part of the retreat magic. In November I baked a new dessert, to go with our lamb tagine evening meal; a Spanish orange and almond cake, completely free of dairy produce or flour. It sounds unlikely on the page – oranges, ground almonds, eggs and a little sugar – but I had tasted it before and knew it would be a delicious addition to our autumn menu.

Is there anything more soothing than the scent of two whole oranges, skin, flesh and juice, all simmering away for several hours in the warm kitchen? This is a recipe that requires time; ideally the oranges are cooked in advance of the cake being baked, so the flavour mulls and deepens before the oranges are mixed into the other dessert ingredients before the final baking.

It’s a pleasure to share this recipe. I shall be making making it again for Christmas and serving it with homemade ice cream and a dash of Pedro Ximenez dark sweet sherry. At Rosemerryn we served it warm with Cornish ice cream (of course) and, for our dairy-avoiding guests, Swedish Glace, a delicious alternative that tastes of rich vanilla and feels like velvet on the tongue. Sainsburys and Tesco both stock it.cake-2

Here is the recipe for Spanish orange and almond cake.

Ingredients:

  • 2 oranges, scrubbed and roughly chopped, with the skin on
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 200 g (7 oz) caster sugar
  • 225 g (8 oz) ground almonds
  • 2 tbsp flaked almonds
  • Sifted icing sugar to decorate

Method:

  1. Put the chopped oranges in a small saucepan, discarding any pips. Add 1 tbsp water, then cover and cook gently for an hour or until the oranges are soft and excess liquid has evaporated. Leave to cool overnight, then mash or blend to a soft pulp.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF, gas mark 4). Line the bottom and sides of a 23 cm (9 in) spring form cake tin with baking parchment. Finely chop the oranges in a food processor or blender, or with a large knife.
  3. Put the egg whites in a large bowl and whisk until they form stiff peaks. Gradually whisk in half the caster sugar, then whisk for 1 minute.
  4. Using the same whisk, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining caster sugar in another bowl for 2–3 minutes or until pale and quite thick. Whisk in the finely chopped oranges, then carefully fold in the ground almonds.
  5. Stir in 3 spoonfuls of the whisked egg white to loosen the mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites with a large metal spoon. Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and level the top. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds.
  6. Bake for 50–55 minutes or until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Check the cake after 20 minutes and again at 30 minutes, and cover lightly with foil if it is browning too quickly.
  7. Leave the cake to cool in the tin, then turn it out, peel away the lining paper and transfer to a serving plate.
  8. Warm gently before serving, dust with icing sugar and slice into segments with a nice blob of Cornish (of course) ice cream.

cake-3Have a wonderful Christmas, from Kath and Jane.

Enjoy.

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Our November 2016 Retreat – how lovely that was

Kath Morgan looks back on a glowing, productive week at Rosemerryn

img_2400We were lucky enough to have wonderful weather for our November retreat on long narrative structure, with crisp autumn leaves and vibrant colours lending a freshness to Rosemerryn’s gardens and woodlands that was much appreciated by all.  The temperature was so unsefullsizerender-4asonably warm that at one point we debated (honestly, we did!) not lighting the wood-burner in the evening. Luckily, aesthetics won the day, a decision approved by Ginny the retreat dog.

Jane and I would like to thank all our guests for filling the house and cottage with so much writing and creative inspiration. Our long narrative structure retreat is the most demanding one on our menu, and this year’s guests were all up for the challenge. In between indulging in yummy food and shared laughter, our guests worked hard, and after a series of focused workshops they ended the week at a very different point to the one at which they started (in a good way!). For us, that’s what success feels like.

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Jen Alexander was our mid-week guest writer, her second time with us, and what an inspiration she was, again. Her talk on the publishing industry – the highs, the lows and the changing realities of it – was hugely instructive, packed full of vital information and constructive advice. Her workshop on pace was beautifully paced (pun intended) and full of useful insight. Jen’s visit left our guests buzzing with new ideas and possibilities.

 

Here are some snippets of feedback from our guests:

I learned so much! In addition to having lovely time out from the real world, and the company and conversation of other writers (all of whom were amazing) I learned insights into plot structure and character that never before in 25 years of studying writing had I ever been shown, and that have been an incredible benefit to my writing, immediately. Thank you.

I thoroughly enjoyed the week; I learned loads and thought in depth about my writing.

Jenny Alexander was fantastic. Such a lovely warm presence and so informative. She really got me working and thinking, all to the good.

Great friends, great food, great writing.

An opportunity to spend time concentrating on writing, and techniques to improve it, with like-minded people and excellent food.

I have had a wonderful week, the best ever.

It was perfect. Sad to only be able to give it a ‘5’ rating – it’s a perfect 10 at least.

This week was harder work than I expected but that work was absoluteimg_2440ly worthwhile.  I didn’t know how much I didn’t know.

If you are serious about writing, go.

Instructive, convivial, relaxing, and energising!

I loved hearing everyone’s work on the last night.

Thank you so much for your knowledge, your tact, your generosity and your humour.

If you’re serious about your writing – GO!

My novel has been on a journey this week and so   have I.

It’s been a pleasure! We look forward to seeing you again soon.

Next stop, March 2017.

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A note about notebooks

Jane Moss mulls over the value of the writer’s notebook.

More thoughts from our May retreat… Patrick Gale showed us his notebook, a handsome leather affair, slightly larger than A4, a giant wallet into which the paper notebook can be inserted. He talked about his process and the way he writes at the front of the book while keeping his notes in the back. Patrick writes his first drafts in long hand, using a fountain pen and distinctive brown ink. He writes freely, exploring the story, and makes notes in the back pages about anything he needs to research and random ideas as they occur to him. He makes character sketches and draws plot diagrams. It is a neat system and it works for him.

IMG_1546The writer’s notebook is an essential piece of kit. It can come in all shapes and sizes, be chosen from the wonderful array available in bookshops and stationers, or it can be a gift. One of my favourites was given to me as a leaving present by a writing group I worked with for several years. On the front cover it has the word ‘journal’ calligraphed in a style that makes it readable upside down, as well as the right way up. Genius.

People who paint don’t necessarily carry their brushes around with them. People who play a musical instrument won’t always be seen with the violin or trombone under their arm. But someone who writes should really have a notebook secreted about their person, in a back pocket or a bag. If you don’t, you can be sure that an idea, image or fragment of dialogue will pop into your thoughts at just the moment when you can’t write it down. I once begged the man at the supermarket fish counter for the pencil behind his ear, so that I could write something down. I knew that if I didn’t, it would evaporate by the time I got home. That was in the days before smartphones. Now, I use the notepad on my phone, or a text to myself, to record ideas as they come to me.

IMG_1547As your notebooks fill up, hang on to them. I have a shelf at home which, over the years, has become a long line of notebook spines. Mine are mostly A5, in an array of patterns and colours including a Liberty print, florals, stripes, spots, and one with a Union flag and the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ slogan. I have a beautiful A4 one which I found in Mexico, Frida Kahlo emblazoned on the cover, edged with glitter. I’m keeping her for something special.

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When they are full, I never throw them out; they become a store of random scribblings, character notes, journal entries and draft poems into which I delve from time to time for inspiration or to be reminded of something that once caught my attention. Over time the writer’s notebook becomes a valuable resource.

They have a use for non-writers too. If you are ever stuck for a birthday or Christmas gift for the writer in your life, give them a new notebook. Or if, as now, you find that some of the people you care for are feeling stressed about the EU referendum, give them a notebook and invite them to vent and rant on the page.

They will feel better for it.

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Fact into fiction

PG2Patrick Gale, who was guest author at our May 2016 retreat, said some interesting things about the relationship between life writing, or memoir, and fiction. In his masterclass, several of us asked questions about the struggle to write about ‘real life’ without compromising relationships and friendships between those who know the events and personalities involved in the story. Others were wrestling with how to fill in the gaps where parts of a story drawn from real life are simply not known.

Patrick was clear that his approach is always to make fiction from life. In his novels, a character, incident or theme will have its roots in something or someone real, often from the past. The idea for his most recent novel, A Place Called Winter, was sparked by a detail from his own grandfather’s life, and he said that the translation of a real event into something fictional makes the writing easier. The writer is liberated and can develop the story without fear of treading on toes.

pg talkThe trick is to identify a theme, or take the kernel of the real life event, character or situation that intrigues you as a writer, and make it the basis of your fictional story. Push it as far from ‘truth’ as you can. Patrick suggested changing the gender of the main character, or setting the story in another place or country, or in a different historical period. These are all tricks in the writer’s repertoire and can be played with and tried on, like costumes from the dressing up box, until you find the right fit for your story.

Patrick made it sound like play. As writers, it is important to play as you draft – everything can be changed, but that early stage where you experiment, have fun with ideas, ask yourself ‘what if…?’ and just write to find out where the story will take you, is exciting. Several of our May guests took his words on board and experimented in this way. By the end of the week at least two had discovered that turning their ‘real’ material into fiction was exciting and effective.

We can’t wait to see the results.

 

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Reflections on Bosloe

From time to time we invite a guest to reflect on their retreat week. It always helps us to hear feedback, warts and all, and in this case it popped into our inbox from Lin Rogers, before we had even had a chance to ask. Lin emailed to let us know how she was getting on after her week at Bosloe, and she gave us a wonderfully full and honest account of her experience at The Writing Retreat. Thank you Lin for letting us share your message here.
Lin writes:

Finally, peace and quiet… Since returning from the oasis of calm and creativity that was Bosloe, I’ve begun to feel that I was turning into Widow Twankey, with laundry billowing on the line every day. We’ve had ten changeovers of guests (downstairs holiday let) and visitors (family and friends staying upstairs) since I got back. Luckily, the summer season has now started with longer 6-7 day stays so I’ve been able to peel off the Marigolds and finally get down to some writing.

pg dinnerI’m still salivating when I think about the food glorious food that you (and the lovely Millie) spread out before us all week. I fully expected to have piled on the pounds but must have burned it all off with the nervous energy, adrenalin rush and the general buzz of the place (can I please put in a plea for the recipe for the courgette bread as it looks like we’re in for another good crop of courgettes over at our allotment this summer.) [Noted Lin – we’ll get on to that!]

My time making beds and scrubbing shower rooms hasn’t been totally uncreative. I have been assimilating my thoughts on The Writing Retreat and mulling over lots of ideas for my book.
Despite having read blogs from the previous Retreats, I really didn’t know what to expect. I was extremely nervous when I arrived (which I always am when meeting new people) and hoping that I would pass muster amongst the group in terms of my writing capabilities.
snack time
I think that you’ve got the balance of structure and freedom just right. I did initially feel daunted at the prospect of sitting at the table in my room and finally ‘getting down to it’ – the ultimate blank sheet of paper and no excuses about time to write etc. But the quietude of Bosloe with its ever-changing vistas over the estuary from my window proved to be the perfect setting for the imagination to run riot and the words to flow.
But the setting was only part of the formula. The morning writing warm-ups were a revelation, both because of the strange things that came from my unconscious pen and the fascinating pieces that other people wrote    and shared from the same prompts.
pg reading 2The people too – my fellow writers – were part of something that we somehow co-created at Bosloe. Was our group dynamic similar to that of previous retreats? [actually, it was :-)] I’ve been on residential business courses in the past but never before encountered such a feeling of genuine warmth and support – which happened very quickly.  The encouragement and sharing of stories –  about our own projects, but of life stories too – was very special. I felt relaxed and ‘at home’ within the group and  with you both.
However, the magical ingredient in the mix (food references deliberate) was the two of you and your extraordinary generosity of spirit which encapsulated the essence at the heart of The Writing Retreat. The one-to-one sessions were challenging and fulfilling at the same time. Your skills and experience enabled me (and many of the rest of the group) to dissect and analyse my writing and what I was trying to achieve with it. Your advice has unleashed the inner child in me (no bad thing if you’re trying to write for kids). I was fearful that, away from the highly charged creative atmosphere of the Retreat, I would be unable to maintain it. However, in the few hours that I have managed to sit at the laptop, Katie [Lin’s character] has taken me by surprise and I’ve written 5,000 words with relative ease.
pg talk k & jI’m itching to get on with it and am planning my weeks with solid chunks of personal writing time in the schedule. As a project manager, I’ve always bemoaned clients who completely ignored my production schedules, so I now have to live up to my own exacting standards.
Sorry if I’ve wittered on too much, but I feel that the Retreat was an important step in helping me find a focus in my writing at long last. So a BIG THANK YOU to you both.
And thank you, Lin – we’re delighted to hear that it’s worked so well for you. As you know, we absolutely love running our retreats, and we very much look forward to welcoming you back soon. In the meantime, you know what to do…  (turns away and starts typing)
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Soup for the season

The recent May retreat at Bosloe was our first venture into a time of year when there are leaves on the trees and flowers in bloom. Our other retreats have tended to be in the autumn and early spring when we are accustomed to evenings around the fire and darker afternoons. Lunch in the shorter days of the year features hearty, nourishing soups, with root vegetables and pulses as their base. Soup

For May we wanted something lighter on the menu, and to use seasonal ingredients for spring and early summer. Tomato and basil, mushroom soup, spinach and watercress – light, bright colours and fresh flavours to go with Kath’s homemade courgette bread and salads. The favourite – by popular acclaim – was pea and asparagus, the colour of an emerald, made with a tasty gluten-free stock and just a dash of creme fraiche to make it silky.

Here is the recipe for pea and asparagus soup. This makes enough for about 8 servings.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium white onions, finely diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • 2 litres of gluten free vegetable or chicken stock (we use Kallo)
  • 1kg of frozen peas or petit pois (a big bag)
  • 2 bunches of trimmed and chopped asparagus. If you like, make some extra stock with the tough part of the asparagus stems – it adds to the flavour
  • A dash of double cream or crème fraiche before serving. The size of a dash depends on how creamy you like it
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

  • Sautee the onion and garlic in the oil until softened
  • Add the stock and bring gently to the boil
  • Add the peas and bring back to the boil, then add the asparagus
  • Simmer for 20 minutes, until soft
  • Check for seasoning and add a little salt and pepper if you like
  • If the soup seems too thick, add a little more stock
  • Cool and blend, then add a few tablespoons (a dash) of cream or crème fraiche before gently reheating to serve.

Enjoy.

 

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