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.
It’s a few weeks now since we were at our autumn retreat in the gorgeous Old Sawmills on the Fowey River. This waterside venue was a first for us; not only further east than we’ve been before but completely away from the world in a house that can only be reached by water or foot. Transporting ourselves and a week’s worth of provisions was an adventure, as was escorting our guests along the autumnal wooded path that leads from the nearby village of Golant to the little tidal creek beside which the Old Sawmills stands.
The peace and quiet was complete. Each day we saw the trees turn more golden as the nights drew in a little more. Our little writing community of eight got down to work and the house hummed with ideas. Outside, wading birds picked their way along the shore; we looked for otters but didn’t see the shy creatures.
As usual on our retreats, the mornings were devoted to workshops and writing, the afternoons to more writing, and one to ones in which we heard a wonderful selection of drafts, stories, memoirs and plans. Our guests never fail to amaze us with their creativity and skill. As the week continued, everything seemed to grow; a short story turned into an outline for a novella, an opening was reworked, a work of non-fiction was mapped out and became achievable in the mind of its author. We were reminded every day why we love hosting these weeks.
Evenings were our time to gather round the dinner table, full of lively chatter, accounts of the day and excitement about the rest of the week. On the final evening, we asked which recipe everyone had enjoyed the most; debate ensued, was it Kath’s brownies, Jane’s soup, the venison sausages in redcurrant sauce or the stroganoff? In the end the chicken cider casserole won. Here it is, with ingredients for six people.
- 6 large chicken breasts
- 2 tablespoons of light olive oil
- About 10 button mushrooms, sliced thinly
- 4 leeks
- 3 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
- A bag of fresh parsley, chopped
- Salt and pepper
- I large pot of crème fraiche, half fat
- 2 teaspoons of English mustard
- 2 bottles of Rattlers apple cider
- New Cornish potatoes and green beans to accompany the chicken
- Lightly flour the chicken and brown in some olive oil and butter on all sides. Set aside
- Add the garlic, leeks and mushrooms to the pan and saute until lightly brown
- Add the chicken pieces, toss together, add the cider and braise until cooked through (about 30 minutes)
- Turn the heat up to reduce some of the liquid
- Add the crème fraiche and mustard, stir and warm through. Check for seasoning
- Just before serving, add a handful of chopped parsley. Stir gently to combine all together
- Serve with baby new potatoes and green bean.
It’s a lovely warming dish for autumn, best eaten with delightful retreat company in a waterside conservatory after a day of writing, reading and staring at the inspiring views outside. Enjoy.
Roaring fires, cosy interiors, starry nights; most of our retreats so far have taken place in the autumn and early spring, when the days are still short and our inclination is to hunker down indoors. But for a long time we have wanted to do something in the summer months. The snag: our favourite venues are full up for the holidays. So, what to do?
We have found the perfect solution close to home on the coast near Falmouth. Mylor Yacht Club enjoys a spectacular situation right at the water’s edge in Mylor Harbour, across from the Roseland Peninsula and the Carrick Roads, some of the most beautiful sailing waters in the UK.
We are offering a series of three mini day retreats on summer Sundays: 10 June, 8 July and 5 August, a chance to learn new skills and spend time writing in good company, with our trademark delicious food. Our themes are Personal writing (10 June), Turning life into fiction (8 July), and Pure fiction (5 August).
Each workshop runs from 9.45am (arrive in time for coffee before a 10.00am start) and finishes at 4.00pm. During the day you will take part in practical writing sessions around our theme, enjoy a tasty lunch of summer soup, salad and Kath’s famous quiche, writing time in the afternoon, and a final round up over cream tea.
Each workshop is £40.00 per person including lunch and all refreshments. You can book here, and there is a discount if you book a place for the full series of three.
We can’t think of a better way to spend a summer Sunday beside the water.
Another year that was and will be
2017 was another busy year for us at The Writing Retreat, with guests coming and going from all over the UK as well as America, Austria, and Switzerland. It was, as always, a pleasure to meet new faces, and a very special pleasure to welcome back old friends.
In March we were back at Rosemerryn in Lamorna, Penzance, huddled into the woodland setting and learning about the Craft of Writing. Our guest writer was novelist and short story writer, Tom Vowler, who fired up our imaginations and helped us create atmospheric and engaging settings, aided by the magical surroundings and great sense of camaraderie amongst our guests.
In November, we revisited the beautiful National Trust house at Bosloe, over-looking the Helford. Guests were again wowed by the charm of the house and its stunning sea views. Our theme for this retreat was Life Writing, and the house sang with stories of every kind, some hilarious, others touching, many a mixture of both those things. Our guest author was travel writer Philip Marsden, who was wonderfully generous with his support and encouragement.
The year ahead:
As the world continues to spin around us (nobody can say that 2018 was a boring year) we are grateful to have these lovely moments to look forward to, when we drop out of the world with all its noise and multiple demands, and retreat into a community of writers and writing. Do join us in 2018 to take time out, breathe, and restock your writer’s (and personal) energy banks. You’ll be made very welcome.
Writing The Short Story retreat at Rosemerryn, 5-11 March 2018
We’ll be back at Rosemerryn in March 2018, as will Tom Vowler. This time we’ll be focusing the week around The Short Story, a genre that Tom would agree is his instinctive writing space. Learn the essential ingredients of writing short stories including idea and theme, and how to develop your story. During the week we will work with short structures from 1,000-3,000 words, and even shorter flash fiction. Do get in touchhere if you would like to book yourself into one of our remaining places on that retreat.
Writing Fiction: The long and the short of it, 12-17 November 2018
As we continue to build our portfolio of spaces to host retreats in, we will be launching another new venue in November at Woodlands Manor Farmnear Bude. The location of this comfy venue will shave a good chunk of time off the journey for those travelling down to us from up country (and pretty well everywhere is up country from Cornwall!) and has the interesting added bonus of a heated indoor swimming pool. During this week, you will work on aspects of both long and short fiction, and consider what you need to know to really craft your work well. We will be putting this retreat, and this venue, onto our website within the next week, but in the meantime, you are the first people to hear about it, so if you want to pre-register, just drop us an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This summer we will be running daytime retreats in Falmouth (initially) on a range of subjects, so do keep an eye on our website for these as dates are confirmed. If you ‘like’ or ‘follow’ us on our website, Facebook page, or Twitter account, you’ll be among the first to hear about them.
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.
Towards the end of every retreat there is a heated debate about which menu our guests enjoyed the most during their stay with us. We pride ourselves on our food, home cooked with recipes from Kath and Jane’s repertoire, and served up with help from our kitchen angels who come to help out each day.
We always offer to share a recipe on this blog, so guests can enjoy their favourite dishes again when they go home. This time, on our 31 October-5 November Life Writing retreat at Bosloe, it was a tough choice. Would it be Kath’s stupendous beef Bourgignon, Jane’s spectacular Pavlova, or something else?
In the end the ‘something else’ won. The one favourite everyone could agree on was the lentil and bacon soup (and its veggie version), served up for lunch mid-week. If the words ‘lentil’ and ‘soup’ in the same sentence make you think ‘bland’, think again. This is soup to stand a spoon up in, soup to put hairs on your chest, soup to fortify you for an afternoon of robust writing.
It’s Jane’s favourite of Kath’s soup recipes (we divvy them up between us), a triumph of home-style cooking, and perfect as the autumn days turn to winter. Eat it with crusty bread, ideally by an open fire after a long country walk.
Ladies and gents, we give you…
Kath’s lentil soup
This recipe serves 12.
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 4 onion, diced
- 8 x 70g packs pancetta cubes (leave these out for the veggie version, and add a couple of extra carrots)
- 4 carrots finely diced
- 4 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 4 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 4 chilli, sliced
- 8 low salt vegetable stock cubes
- 1000g red lentils, rinsed
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the onions, half the pancetta (if using) and the carrots. Cook on low to medium heat for 10 minutes until the onions are soft.
- Add cumin, turmeric, garlic and chillies and cook for a further 1 or 2 minutes until the aromas are released.
- Pour in 1.25 litres of boiling water, crumble in the stock cubes and add the lentils. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure the lentils aren’t sticking.
- Meanwhile, fry the remaining pancetta in a small frying pan for about 10 minutes until crispy. You don’t need to add any oil as plenty will run from the pancetta
- Serve the soup with the crispy pancetta on top.
This was a November retreat in a gorgeous house perched on a hill above the mouth of the Helford, and to be honest, we were wondering whether we might be rocked by gales and lashed by winter storms. We weren’t worried about such a scenario, just wondering – the more it rains, the more writing gets done, and the more inviting curling up in front of a log fire becomes – but we needn’t have given it a thought. The weather was crazily mild for the time of year. During the week, we spotted more than one guest enjoying eating their lunch on the splendid patio without the protection of so much as a jumper.
The gardens were looking glorious and the walking was spectacular as always. We did light the log fire in the evening, but on occasion I found I needed to simultaneously throw open a door or two.
Our theme for the week was Life Writing, a new retreat theme for us, and one we thoroughly enjoyed. A huge thank you to our wonderful guests, who all arrived with buckets of stories to tell and a whole host of fascinating projects to explore during the retreat. The week was filled with chatter, challenging reflections, and plenty of laughter.
Our mid-week author this time was Phillip Marsden, who was warm and kind, and incredibly generous about sharing his experiences and vast vaults of knowledge. His masterclass on bringing our settings to life on the page was both immensely pleasurable and satisfyingly challenging. There was more than one lightbulb moment going off around the table. For me, that came in the form of realising that I need to tackle my ignorance of the names of flora and fauna head-on, and quit employing avoidance tactics. Note to self…
Our guests made this retreat really special by sharing all their wonderful stories and projects with us, with such honesty and openess. Here’s to all of your ongoing journeys. We hope to see each of you again someday soon. Cheers everybody.