The writers gathered, windswept and willing, in the vale of Marshwood on Tuesday afternoon last week.
We'd come past Stonehenge, down through valleys with breathtaking views, hilltops with clusters of Autumn-clad trees.
We were met with a warm welcome from the hostess, the Lady of Marshwood Manor, Romla Ryan. She showed us to the luxurious cottages with standalone baths, plushly-laundered beds and kitchens stocked with fresh milk, ground coffee and cafetieres. What more could a weary writer need?
I sat down on the sofa in my recessed sitting room, and looked out at an ancient oak tree from my cottage across the fields and thought - wow, this is quiet. Not a sound. No road noise.
'People say - we came the wrong way,' said Romla, 'but I say - no, there's only one road. It's just rural.'
As dark fell, writers gathered for tea and homemade cake and began telling each other the story of their novels. They discussed their plans for the sacred week. A chance to regroup, gather the story, and work with a clear head in peace.
One by one the writers came for their sessions with 'Miss' over a cuppa.
When we sit side by side as writers, we work as friends and comrades on a story. Breakthroughs happen. There was quite a lot of laughter in each session as we explored plot twists, and went back to the novel strategy to make some big story decisions.
Artists have always needed the thoughts of other artists - to try a different approach. We need each other. Not always or constantly, for most of the work must be done alone, but on occasion big leaps forward can be made this way. I venture to say that not one single writer at The Bridport Retreat didn't experience a major plot change. There were satisfied smiles at supper times as our hostess served up hearty meals.
There were impromptu chats over cuppas mid-morning, brains were picked, and ideas bartered. The pre-dinner drinks with Miss (Gin & Tonics) became the venue for non-fiction, real-life anecdotes. The laughter was raucous.
The after-dinner evening readings proved to be the highlight of the retreat for many. Writers had to revise hard before baring their work. Nothing focuses the mind so much as a reading, to paraphrase Dr Johnson.
With candlelight and a wood fire in the sitting room in the Hayloft, we sat like good children, enjoying being read to. The first chapters were received with applause, and questions followed which got the author thinking. At last, after working so long along, there was useful, careful, thoughtful feedback. An extraordinary amount of work goes into a novel, it deserves its first airing to be among friends and fellow writers. And of course, with candlelight and a gale blowing outside.
It has been an unforgettable week, and we have enjoyed the comfort of our companions in this crazy, usually private thing, we pursue. A magical time, friendships have been forged.
With our huge thanks to the wonderful, generous hostess, Lady of the Manor, Romla Ryan and her family. Thanks to the members of The Novelry who came with their manuscripts packed full of reading pleasure for their fellow writers. Next step; publication! Every writer is leaving with a plan to 'get that novel done' and on the road to submission to our agent friends in the New Year.
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