Monthly Archives: May 2014

What’s New Orleans like?

I returned from New Orleans over a week ago – but, sadly, I brought a hideous flu-like bug home with me, so it’s taken me a while to get around to writing this blog.

The post is going to be largely a gallery of pictures, as I took so many, and have spent half this afternoon downloading them and sorting them out.

But if a horrible bug is the price I have to pay for visiting New Orleans, I’ll accept it. New Orleans is fantastic. From the massive Mississippi River that, from our hotel window, we could see rolling by, to the street cars, to the deep-fried cuisine, to the funny smells on Bourbon Street, I loved it all. The street musicians, the sunshine, the fabulous balconies, the bars and restaurants, the fantastic feeling of warmth and friendship, I loved it all.

The balconies of the French Quarter are gorgeous - I never got to the Garden District to compare them but it's hard to think of their being an improvement.

The balconies of the French Quarter are gorgeous – I never got to the Garden District to compare them but it’s hard to think of their being an improvement.

The traditional details are stunning.

The traditional details are stunning.

 

Alligators for sale. Real or contrived?

Alligators for sale. Real or contrived?

Bourbon Street by any other name. Both magical and sleazy but always fun. Probably the only city I know where a big machine comes out and disinfects the roadway in the morning.

Bourbon Street by any other name. Both magical and sleazy but always fun. Probably the only city I know where a big machine comes out and disinfects the roadway in the morning.

The suggestion was that I should be pushed in first to see what happened ...

The suggestion was that I should be pushed in first to see what happened …

The street cars looked great but I didn't get the opportunity to ride one.

The street cars looked great but I didn’t get the opportunity to ride one.

A musician playing trumpet on the banks of the river - as you do. As you do in New Orleans, anyway.

A musician playing trumpet on the banks of the river – as you do. As you do in New Orleans, anyway.

Somewhere to tie your horse while you drink in the bars.

Somewhere to tie your horse while you drink in the bars.

One of my musical heroes, Antoine 'Fats' Domino. Walkin' to Noo Awlins ...

One of my musical heroes, Antoine ‘Fats’ Domino. Walkin’ to Noo Awlins …

Beignets at Cafe Beignet. Fantastic. Delicious. They're sort of a doughnut without a hole. (I didn't miss the hole at all.) Hot and sugary, you can tell if the people before you at a table were eating beignets by the thin white coating over everything. (It would be icing sugar, in case you're wondering.)

Beignets at Cafe Beignet. Fantastic. Delicious. They’re sort of a doughnut without a hole. (I didn’t miss the hole at all.) Hot and sugary, you can tell if the people before you at a table were eating beignets by the thin white coating over everything. (It would be icing sugar, in case you’re wondering.)

Christina Courtenay (Pia Fenton) and Liz Harris on the Choc Lit stand.

Christina Courtenay (Pia Fenton) and Liz Harris on the Choc Lit stand.

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I never found out why. But I do qualify.

I never found out why. But I do qualify.

Dancin' in the street. If you hear a jazz band marching along just go and join right in.

Dancin’ in the street. If you hear a jazz band marching along just go and join right in.

At Pat O'Brien's on Bourbon Street.

At Pat O’Brien’s on Bourbon Street.

An unusual apartment number.

An unusual apartment number.

If you've ever wondered what gumbo is, this is it. Somewhere between a stew and soup with rice. Some gumbo is much better than others. This pic shows the good sort.

If you’ve ever wondered what gumbo is, this is it. Somewhere between a stew and soup with rice. Some gumbo is much better than others. This pic shows the good sort.

Nicolas Cage's tomb. No, I know he's not dead. He obviously believes in planning ahead.

Nicolas Cage’s tomb. No, I know he’s not dead. He obviously believes in planning ahead.

This may (or may not) be the tomb of the voodoo queen. I left her a penny and knocked three times, so she knew that I'd been.

This may (or may not) be the tomb of the voodoo queen. I left her a penny and knocked three times, so she knew that I’d been.

Direct advertising.

Direct advertising.

The violinist was so good I nearly cried.

The violinist was so good I nearly cried.

Dawn breaking over the Mississippi.

Dawn breaking over the Mississippi.

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Do writing retreats work???

I have to admit that when other writers have told me that they’ve been to a retreat I’ve been sceptical about the amount of work they’d accomplish. I could believe a retreat to be enjoyable – getting away from the shopping and cooking, spending time with writers, wine, food, lovely environment etc etc.

But work?

When the lovely hosts at Chez Castillon, Janie and Mickey, asked me if I could be writer-in-residence at short notice from 27 April to 2 May I saw it as an opportunity to see for myself. I spent the week beforehand getting students/columns/edits up to date, as I planned to spend the retreat working on my new book. I had a rough outline and about half the cast – about 18 pages of handwriting. I packed my iPad and keyboard, a pad, my faithful babies’ names book (for character names) and some post-it notes. Sorted. (For future reference – take paper clips, also!)

The back of the house, Chez Castillon. My room was up on the top floor.

The back of the house, Chez Castillon. My room was up on the top floor.

 

The view from my window.

The view from my window.

My lovely room contained table and chairs (along with necessities such as the bed) and I set myself up to work.

OK, that’s a fib. I went across to Monique’s bar and had a couple of glasses of cold vin blanc, then came back for a fab and convivial evening with the other writers on the retreat, talking about our work. Also eating a lovely dinner and drinking a leetle more wine.

In the morning, after blissful breakfast of local cheeses, meats and fruits, I began writing by hand – something I often do in the planning stage – working on character bios, seeing where further characters were needed, working on conflicts and the threads they’d create, deciding how one conflict would impact upon another, making lists of things to research.

The piles of paper grew.

photo(53) copy 3I took some outside into the fantastic garden to enjoy a bit of sun.

photo(53) copy 2

At the end of my six days at Chez Castillon 18 pages of handwriting had grown to 109 plus post-its. I had:

Completed all the character bios I need so far

Worked on my conflicts and the threads they’d produce

Done some research

Emailed friends for their views on a specific conflict I thought they’d have views on

Expanded the outline enormously

Drafted the first two chapters

Written up on my iPad most of the first chapter (2,895 words)

Borrowed a stapler so I could bring my work home again in some semblance of order. The three piles I ended up with are: characters; research; story.

photo(51)I can’t say when I’ve had a more productive week. It has been amazing. I would do it again – and again and again! Everything and everyone on the retreat was fantastic.

Magic.

Garden and pool.

Garden and pool.

A sprig of 'muguet' given and received on May 1 to bring me luck all year (hope so)/

A sprig of ‘muguet’ given and received on May 1 to bring me luck all year (hope so)/

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