Tag Archives: Chez Castillon

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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What do you get from a writing course?

The pool and rear view of Chez Castillon

The pool and rear view of Chez Castillon

As I’ve kept it no secret that I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to run two courses abroad, this year, I thought that I’d report in on the first – Chez Castillon in the gorgeous Dordogne, SW France, which took place last week.

The way the course is (loosely) structured is that we worked in the mornings, had a break after

Castillon-la-Bataille lies on the banks of the Dordogne

Castillon-la-Bataille lies on the banks of the Dordogne

lunch and convened again in the late afternoon. The first day or two, I also managed to write 1200 words here, 700 words there. But my energy flagged slightly on the writing front, probably because I was just enjoying myself so much.

The house, Chez Castillon, is gorgeous. Three hundred years old, the town house is part of a sweet little shopping street in Castillon-la-Battaille. Stepping through its doors is stepping into a quiet, cool world of high ceilings and ornate plasterwork, with a huge friendly welcome from hosts Janie and Mickey Wilson. From the front door you can see right through to the wrought iron doors leading to the secluded oasis at the back of the house. The pool,  sun loungers,  tables, umbrellas, warm stone and rampant greenery. Further into the garden is the gite, which includes the course room. Whether we actually used the course room or settled ourselves

The pool

The pool

outdoors, in the sun or shade according to preference, we found it a wonderful place to work.

For those interested in the course content, we created characters, analysed structure, sorted out whether everyone in our books deserved to be there and what their function was, worked on settings, dialogue, viewpoint and all sorts of technical stuff. Participants were offered one-to-ones and I was able to pretty much structure the course around the requirements of the individual.

The structure of the days allowed plenty of time to write or to wander through the quaint streets of Castillon, lounge around the pool or settle down for a coffee or a glass or something stronger at Monique’s bar.

As I was in verdant wine-growing country, it would have been rude not to try a drop ...

As I was in verdant wine-growing country, it would have been rude not to try a drop …

A little drop of champagne in the cloisters of St Emillion, a few kilometres from Castillon

A little drop of champagne in the cloisters of St Emillion, a few kilometres from Castillon

And for those interested in food and drink … let me just say, ‘Wow!’ Gorgeous. Long, relaxing meal breaks filled with chatter and hilarity. I could understand why Janie said that running courses is just like hanging out with mates.

A residential writing course is a fantastic opportunity to not only try fresh techniques and swap feedback, but to really move a project forward. Groups are small so the tutor can tailor courses to suit participants.

Thank you, Janie and Mickey, for inviting me to run a Chez Castillon course – and inviting me to do so again next year.

So now I have just over a week and I’ll be setting off for Italy and fabulous Arte Umbria, in Umbria, Italy – the next course. I have every expectation of it being another fabulous experience.

Can’t wait … I’ll be posting again to let you know how it went.

Wandering through Castillon

Wandering through Castillon

Facing camera, one of our fantastic hosts, Janie

Facing camera, one of our fantastic hosts, Janie

The cloisters at St Emillion

The cloisters at St Emillion

An interesting way of raising money for St Emillion church - you pay a couple of euro and hammer a pretty pin into the wood

An interesting way of raising money for St Emillion church – you pay a couple of euro and hammer a pretty pin into the wood

Looking out over St Emillion

Looking out over St Emillion

Market day at Castillon-la-Bataille

Market day at Castillon-la-Bataille

A gorgeous detail of a gorgeous house

A gorgeous detail of a gorgeous house

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