five things you’ll discover on a writing retreat

five reasons you should go on a writing retreat

I know what you’re thinking. The idea of a writing retreat seems ludicrously self-indulgent. (Why would you need to escape when you’ve got a perfectly good study at home? I know this, because I thought it too.)

 

Then I started noticing that writing friends were sneaking off and posting little comments on Twitter saying how many gloriously un-interrupted words they were getting done, and I began to  wonder if I was missing a trick.

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The thing is, there’s the school run, and the trips to the post office, and the neighbours having their roof re-tiled, and – before you know it the day is over and all you’ve done is rearrange your desk.  So what exactly can a writing retreat do for you?

1. Discipline

The first writing retreat I took was a bit of a shock to the system. I arrived in a daze with a heap of post-it notes, a pack of brand new Sharpies, scissors and sellotape (I don’t know what I was planning to do either – origami, perhaps?)

I pootled around and went for a walk, and was shocked to discover that everyone else had written thousands of words by lunch. So I downloaded the Self Control app and remembered that the secret to a first draft is much like running a marathon.  One word in front of another until you hit The End.

It’s not always easy. It’s not often easy, in fact. One of the first lessons I learned about writing books was that the moments when your fingers are flying on the keyboard are the unusual ones. Some days getting the words out is so painful that you’re completely exhausted by the time you give up. But when you’re on a retreat – and you know you’re paying for the privilege – it focuses the mind and that discipline can really help you get going on a new book, or get you over the tricky middle bit. (You know, the bit you forgot to plan where all your characters start misbehaving. That’s not just me, is it?)

writing retreat

2. Competition (and camaraderie)

I wrote the first chunk of Wildflower Bay in a sprawling manor house in the Somerset Hills, cheered on by a group of writing friends (Cesca Major, Kat Black, Katy Colins, Holly Martin, Helen Redfern and Emily Kerr) without whom I’d probably still be stuck on chapter one. Bolstered by delicious cooking, and inspired by the daily word races we had, between us we wrote tens of thousands of words in just five days.

My love of writing retreats was cemented. I also laughed until I ached – which is definitely the advantage of a group retreat. But when the bell rang to signal the beginning of our hour long word race, the house fell into silence and we all typed like the wind, desperate to be the winner. Word races are a brilliant way to chase off the self-doubt and get your subconscious working. If you don’t know what to write, just leave it and move on to the next scene. The whole point of a first draft is to tell yourself the story, and you can’t work on it until those words are actually on the page…

You don’t need to be on a group retreat to do a word race, of course. You can do it when you’re alone – just set a timer and give yourself a daily target, or shout out on social media. You’ll find word racers willing to join in with you at any time of day or night – have a look at #wordrace on Twitter for inspiration.

3. Location

writing retreat rachael lucas

You’d think following a gorgeous five days in Somerset I’d have been at my desk feeling inspired and writing like a fiend, but one child off school sick followed another, and then there was school sports day, and then the cavity wall insulation (think: sound of a dentist drill but making the walls of the house vibrate) and the first draft deadline was looming.

So off I went, alone, to the Island of Bute for a few days. It’s inspiration for the fictional island of Auchenmor where both Sealed with a Kiss and Wildflower Bay are set so it was just what I needed. I didn’t just write in the time I was there – I took photographs and scribbled notes, listened to the people who would be living in the background of my story, soaked up the island atmosphere, and imagined how it would feel for Isla, the main character of Wildflower Bay, to be trapped there. She’s sent to help out her aunt for a couple of months and island life is not her thing at all. She loves the anonymity of the city, so I wandered around thinking about, putting myself in Isla’s shoes.

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4. Pacing

(Yourself, that is, not your prose.)

Writing daily without interruption gives you an idea of exactly how many words a day you can write before your brain gives up. I have writing friends who are pleased if they manage 1000 a day, and others who prefer to work in furious bursts and aren’t happy unless they get over 8000 done. Most of us lie somewhere in between, and having the time to focus on your writing and nothing else gives you a good baseline which – theoretically – you can then take back home with you.

I say theoretically because I’m still struggling to get into a consistent daily writing routine and I have a very bad binge writing habit…

writing retreats gladstones library

Luckily I live just an hour from Gladstone’s Library which means I can sneak off for day-long writing retreats. I get there at 9am, work until lunch, and write, surrounded by books, long into the evening before driving home in the dark. Often the driving time helps me sort out plot tangles for the next day, which is a plus.

5. Education (or inspiration – or writerly gossip)

Having decided I was definitely more productive when writing alone, I didn’t expect to get much done when I headed to Gladstone’s Library with fellow Prime Writers. But in between coffee and long chats over dinner, delicious chocolate and the occasional glass of red, I managed to write over 30,000 words in five days. (It’s amazing what a tight deadline can do for inspiration.)

Writing with friends, talking about the things we all have in common (we all have habits – my characters are always ‘laying a hand on an arm’ in a comforting manner, and it turns out we ALL pull faces our characters are making when we’re typing) is a real help. And an evening talking about books and writing with other people who are just as obsessed is the best fuel for a long writing day.

Good luck, and happy writing!

This little island has some big secrets…

My new book Wildflower Bay is released in three parts as an eBook serial, before being published by Pan Macmillan as a paperback on August 11th.

You can download Part One FREE here.

Sign up below for my occasional email notes and you’ll have the chance to win a super early signed copy of Wildflower Bay later this month. You’ll also be first to hear about courses I’m offering, and Write for Joy retreats which will be coming soon. I promise not to fill your inbox with rubbish or share your details, and you can escape any time.

Unsubscribe. I mean unsubscribe. Ahem.


five reasons you should go on a writing retreat

the art of doing nothing 

I’m actually not very good at doing nothing. When I finished writing Wildflower Bay I accidentally wrote the young adult novel I’ve been trying to write for ages  and so I’ve only just come up for air. 

You might remember I said in January that I was going to do gentle pottering. Well, I’m starting now. Honestly. 

  

And if that looks like research for another book, that because it – shh, no. It’s just reading. Tiny little bit of research, perhaps. But nice-book-smelling, lovely-dusty-old-pages research. With tea. 

  
And with photographs of gorgeously skeletal hydrangea flowers which I’ve picked from the garden. The new leaves are appearing, and I’m wondering what’ll happen if I plant the now-shooting bulbs which are still sitting in nets in the garage. Reports to follow. (To think this used to be a gardening blog. Ahem.)

  
I’ve discovered that Mabel’s favourite place is the beach so we’ve been spending loads of time there. The tide goes out so far here that you can walk and walk and still not see the sea – and you can collect coal, too, because it washes up with the tide. Someone told me it comes from old ships which were sunk out to sea, but I’ve also heard it comes from a seam out at sea. 

  
And while I miss the rolling countryside of our old village, after almost five years we’re definitely used to seaside life. It’s lovely at this time of year, when the sun shines but the beach is still deserted. 

  
And when you can see skies like this it definitely makes up for the lack of hills. Getting up early in the morning is worth it when you see the world before anyone else does. The only minor detail is that Mabel would happily go for about fifteen walks a day and still want more…

Wildflower Bay, my next book, will be available exclusively as a three part ebook before the paperback publication on the 11th of August. You can pre-order part one FREE right now by clicking this image!

rachael lucas wildflower bay part one

a walk by the sea

I used to blog about walks and stuff and then I stopped, because I got so caught up in writing and work and things.
But I’ve decided 2016 is the year of gentle pottering and peace, of exploring where we live and baking bread and sorting out the garden (oh the poor, neglected garden) and of finding a bit of balance. 

(And writing – but this year it’ll be a more relaxed sort of writing, because I’m saying it here and making it so. No more hurtling up to deadlines in a panic… I’m going to try and be a bit more mindful in my writing as well as my everyday life.)

Armed with my new iPhone 6, which is having to take the place of my much-lamented dead digital camera – I’m going to start blogging here a bit more, as I’ve been promising for ages. 

So hello. Happy new year. Here are some photos of our adventures by the sea with Mabel.

   
    
    
   

untold stories

So what does a writer do when everything around her is breaking apart, but the stories aren’t hers to tell?

This year I returned from a magazine writing assignment to South America to discover that my uncle’s cancer had returned, and this time it wasn’t going away. Mum’s brother Stewart didn’t have any children, so he treasured his role as surrogate dad to us – and we absolutely adored him.

He’d recently moved back to the North West to be near us all, so Mum managed her house move from Buckingham to Southport whilst nursing him, my aunt came over from Australia for three months, and we made our way through it. There’s a lot of waiting with cancer. Lots of laughter. And tears, lots of tears. But even at the very end, more laughter because that’s what keeps our family going.

And (whilst this is happening, and I’m writing my next book, and publicising Coming Up Roses) in the midst of this some more stuff happens. My sister discovers she has a degenerative illness and our little family is spun around again.

I’ve always processed my thoughts in words, but where usually I’d have rambled away on Twitter or on my Facebook page instead I stared into space a lot. I walked our new puppy and sat on benches watching the world go by. I completed my reiki training – I’m now a Master Teacher – and read nothing but non fiction. I treasured time with my family.

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So what have I learned? That – taking a leaf from my sister, who remains resolutely anti-social (media, not people) – a quiet life is a good one. That Instagram is a lovely way to keep in touch but without the whirl and combat of twitter. That nothing happens if you don’t know how your book is doing in the charts.

That – and I know it’s a cliche, but I speak as someone who has lost two of my closest friends, my father, my uncle and my grandmother in the last nine years – this life is precious and to be treasured.

That human connection is important – that the laptop can stay closed for weeks on end and nothing happens.

That I have more space for writing and thinking if I let myself be in silence. And that the responsibility for finding that balance in a world where we’re expected to be on all the time lies with me.

So there we are. That’s where I’ve been and that’s what’s been happening. I’m making my way back now, but bit quieter than before – you’ll probably find me on instagram sharing photographs more than anything else. Hopefully I’ll see you there. x

Coming Up Roses – my new book is here!

Coming Up Roses has arrived…

buy now!
coming up roses by rachael lucas

Coming Up Roses is here! This week has been amazing – I got home from the school run (no glamorous launch parties here, just the usual early morning chaos) to find that #cominguproses was a trending topic on Twitter on release day. There has been lots of excitement all over the from Pan Macmillan Towers (where you can actually try out the first chapter of Coming Up Roses by visiting their site)

to authors like Rowan Coleman, Miranda Dickinson, and Jill Mansell (which is a pretty amazing sentence to write) all cheering on Coming Up Roses which was brilliant. The blogging community has also been its usual supportive self and I’ve had so many lovely reviews, all of which I’ll be linking to over the next few weeks.

There’s loads going on over the next week or two – I’ve got signings coming up at Broadhursts in Southport and a brilliant new books-and-coffee shop called Write Blend in Waterloo if you fancy coming along. You can also find me at Blogtacular on the 13th of June – there are just a handful of tickets left!

You can find reviews, interviews, and Q&A features on the brilliant blogs below as part of the Coming Up Roses promotional whirl – and you can download Coming Up Roses now whilst it’s available at the promotional price of just £1.89  – which is less than the cost of a cup of coffee!
coming up roses rachael lucas author southport

we’re on a break

Dear The Internet,

This can’t go on. It’s not you, it’s me. If you weren’t so beguiling, so 24-hours-a-day entertaining. I know, you don’t mean to be, but it’s just the way your pixels are arranged.

But the thing is, I’ve got books to write. Two of them. And every time I remove myself from one of your social media sites, I find myself becoming increasingly fond of another one. So no more Twitter means oh hello there, Facebook.

So I’m calling it quits for the next few weeks. I’ll be around on Instagram in a few weeks time because I’m on an exciting mission for a week (more about that later) but other than that I think we need some time apart. We’ve been together almost twenty years. You can see other people if you like. I certainly hope to. And I’m going to swim and run and think and read and hopefully write quite a lot.

I’ll see you soon.

mark warner levante resort – review

I’ve been on a couple of Mark Warner holidays before so it was a real treat to head back to Rhodes this September but this time with my reviewing hat on, and not a child in sight. If you’re looking for the technical details, the first place to go is the Mark Warner website

Below you can also check out the reviews from my fellow blogging girls who shared a gorgeous few days away – between us, you can get a pretty good picture of Mark Warner Levante and what you can expect from a Mark Warner holiday.

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As mum/stepmum to six children from 8-14, I’ve gathered a pretty good idea of what parents are looking for on a holiday, and there’s no getting away from the fact that Mark Warner have the family holiday experience covered.
You can fly from Manchester (with Jet2) or from Heathrow (with BA) and the flights are chartered, so from the start you’re straight into MW Mode which really does help, because when you’re juggling small, cross children after a flight it’s lovely to arrive and be swept by a cheery face onto the right coach (complete with seatbelts – that’s one of the things I look for) and driven to the resort.

Levante isn’t far from the airport and before you know it you’ve arrived at the hotel where you don’t even need to worry about your bags – you just hop off the bus, grab a drink (they’re waiting for you, which is always a plus) and they’re whisked off to your room. Sue, the resort manager, and her staff are there to welcome you and they will do ANYTHING they can to make sure you have a good time. If you’ve forgotten insect repellent, or you need a particular food or drink – she’ll get it for you. My previous two experiences on Mark Warner holidays were exactly the same – their ethos is based on making sure you have the best holiday you can and they really do everything to make it happen.

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We woke to the most beautiful sunrise over one of the five pools. I’d decided this trip was going to be as much about taking time to embrace the gorgeous atmosphere and scenery of Rhodes as it was about taking part in the activities – and there are loads of them – in Levante. I got up every morning at dawn and sat on the beach watching the sun rise before meeting the others for breakfast.

Breakfast was a huge buffet which catered for everyone – from a full English, to made-to-order waffles and pancakes (gluten free available, too) and a wide range of fresh fruit, pastries and continental breakfast. Coffee or tea and freshly squeezed orange juice are brought to your table, and there are high-chairs galore so no worrying about there not being enough to go round.

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The first morning I decided to give windsurfing a whirl.

You can kayak, paddle-board, windsurf and sail – all for free, with experienced staff happy to teach you how to handle your chosen vessel… well, theoretically. I was the worst windsurfer in the history of the world – after what felt like forever (with Lisa almost weeping with laughter) I almost managed to get my sail upright for a second before falling in for the 89th time.

In the end I lay on the board and had a lovely relaxing float – but I gave myself serious brownie points for trying. It also meant I felt completely justified in eating vast amounts at lunchtime. (My reputation as World Champion Feta Cheese Eater is now cemented.)

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You can also head off to sea for a turn on the inflatable sofa thingy (I’m sure it has a proper name) but I decided against that because I like my lunch to stay inside me once I’ve eaten it. Plus now I’m in my forties I’m allowed to send the young things off to have fun (whilst I read my book under a sun umbrella). Needless to say, this was the before photo. The after one was a bit more bedraggled…

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I stayed in a deluxe family suite which had a huge bathroom with a bath and separate shower (the rooms and bathrooms are very much five star standard and gorgeous). There was a separate sitting room with two sofas which could be turned into beds, complete with a television, perfect if you had children who wanted to get up at ridiculous o’clock and watch cartoons.
The bed was super king size, incredibly comfortable, and there were dressing gowns, slippers, all toiletries, and a little fridge. There’s also a safe, loads of storage space, another television, and the huge balcony you can see below – complete with a high, safe barrier (another thing on my holiday-with-children checklist).

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What you really notice at Levante is the space – the rooms are huge. The balconies are huge. There’s loads of paths all around the resort so you can wear out your toddlers before bedtime (assuming you’re not taking advantage of the famous Mark Warner evening childcare) and in the mornings I quite often met families pottering down to the beach with early-rising little ones before they headed up to breakfast.

If you need toys, flotation devices, baby equipment – the childcare staff are happy to lend you anything you need. You can read all about the childcare details here – but what I’ll say here is this: when I first went on a Mark Warner holiday it was as a very cautious young mother to a nearly-four year old and a toddler, and I’d never left them at all, but they had an amazing time, and when I got home I had friends stopping to tell me that I looked more rested than they’d seen me look in years. It’s bliss.

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You can borrow a mountain bike (free!) and take a trip round the island – on or off road. Or if you’re a tennis fan, there’s a purpose-built tennis centre boasting six Astroturf courts and you can either sign up for lessons with qualified coaches, or have a quick knockabout and then get down to the more serious business of… Pimm’s.

 

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There’s some beautiful countryside surrounding the resort and the grounds have both the ruins from a house from the Hellenic period and a Roman kiln which are mesmerising. I kept stopping to stand beside them and daydream about the people who’d lived there so long ago – one of the magical things about visiting Rhodes is the history which surrounds you.

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I had an amazing time – a perfect mix of relaxation (and making pebble cairns, which was a lovely way to spend time on the beach, in between mojitos, delicious meals, and trips to the spa) and activity, which is a pretty good advert for a holiday.
It’s a testament to how seriously Mark Warner take holidays that I managed to feel completely rested after our five day break.

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For more reviews and some other perspectives on our blogger trip to Mark Warner Levante resort in Rhodes, pop over to have a look at my fellow bloggers:

Kate
Rebecca
Emily
Victoria
Lisa
Alison
Carissa
Monika
Kara
Julie

Huge thanks to Emilia, Polly and Tim from Mark Warner, who made our trip a brilliant experience. Can’t wait to return to Levante…soon!

Don’t forget you can buy my first novel, Sealed with a Kiss onAmazon and you can order the sequel, full of Christmassy sparkle, Highland ponies, an out of control PR, and a wedding disaster in the making here: Sealed with a Christmas Kiss – only 59p for Kindle this week!.

Are you coming to Blogfest?
I’ll be there, talking on a round table about Blogging and Self-Esteem.
I’ll also be on a panel at St Albans Literary Festival on November 7th with Rowan Coleman, Liz Fraser, and Angela Clarke – which comes with champagne and cake which is always a plus in my book.

mumsnet

Coming Up Roses – my next book!

Hello. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? For that I blame the fact that I ended up slightly drowning in rewrites of my next book, which is out on the 21st of May. Turns out I’m not very good at just fixing this and that. I ended up pulling at the written equivalent of a loose thread and unravelling the whole jumper into a woolly mess and having to rewrite the WHOLE thing.

I could lie and say it was easy… but it was one of the hardest things I have ever done (and I’ve run a marathon, and had a 9lb+ baby at home with no pain relief, so I know lots about doing hard things, I think). I cried a lot. I threatened to give up writing. I contemplated breaking limbs or paying back my publishing advance. (Okay, I might be a bit of a drama queen…)

And then it all came together. I really love the story it became, thanks to my lovely agent Amanda and my equally lovely editor Caroline, both of whom could see the story that was lurking underneath, waiting to get out.

And so here we are: in May 2014, Coming Up Roses will be released to the world. Here’s the cover – isn’t it gorgeous?

Coming Up Roses Low Res

What’s it about? Well, here’s the official blurb:

 

Would-be gardening expert Daisy can’t believe her luck when her parents announce they’re off on a midlife crisis gap year, leaving her in charge of their gorgeous garden, much in need of her expert TLC. And coming just after a break up, some peace and quiet in the countryside is just what she needs. Only, village life turns out to be anything but – with nosey neighbours and greedy developers instantly stirring up trouble.

What Daisy really needs is a good friend, or two. So when she comes across Elaine and Jo, she’s relieved to have multiple shoulders to cry on. But her new friends are dealing with dramas of their own – a marriage in crisis, a family secret and managing the local gossips.

As Daisy wrestles the garden into something like beautiful order, can she get a grip on her new feelings for handsome Irish rogue George and stop her parents selling up to a developer?

 

You can already pre-order it here (or you can wait and buy a copy in the shops!)