I’ve signed up for a writers’ retreat in Shropshire, UK

Arvon 2

Shropshire, in case you didn’t know — I didn’t! — is between Cardiff and Manchester, in the UK. You have to catch a train that leaves from either of those places to get there. And now, amongst my growing list of writerly things to do in the UK, I’ve signed up for a week-long writers’ retreat in an out-of-the-way manor located somewhere in the ‘rolling hills’ of Shropshire. No mobile phone signal. No Internet. No social media. (Oh, what?)

The manor, called The Hurst, once belonged to British playwright John Osborne. Mr John Osborne’s most famous play is Look Back in Anger. In fact, the term angry young man was coined to describe him. Look Back in Anger was also a highly successful film from the late 50s, starring the wonderful Richard Burton. LBiA 1

Of course, John Osborne won’t be there to greet me when I arrive and to help bring in my bags. (He died in 1994.) But I will be in his old home with a group of fellow enthusiastic writers for a week.

So what do writers do on writers’ retreats? (I hear you ask.) Well, write a lot, obviously. (At least, I hope that will be true.) But I’ve selected to go to one of their retreats that isn’t totally heads-down and write, write, write. We’ll be talking about writing too! There will be morning group sessions conducted by established authors, and one-on-one sessions throughout the week.

I believe every writer can benefit from a retreat, no matter your level of experience, and I’m just as much looking forward to learning new things from my fellow emerging writers as I am from the well-established writers. Like any creative art form, you never stop learning, and from all directions.

An angry young man

An angry young man

The retreat’s afternoons will generally be given over to one’s own writing, back in the privacy of your own room. I plan to focus that time on Beneath the Surface (the complete draft of which, by the way, is still currently on Wattpad).

It’s only the evenings I’m less keen on. There will be cooking teams for the dinners, with everyone taking turns. Oh dear, cooking isn’t really my thing. Not sure how I’ll fare there.

So let’s quickly get back to the writing. The Arvon Foundation run the retreats and courses at The Hurst. (They also have locations in West Yorkshire and Devon. Arts Council England support them.) The established authors at my retreat will be:

  • Mavis Cheek

Pause Between Acts

Mavis Cheek is the author of 15 novels. Pause Between Acts won the She/John Menzies First Novel Prize. More about Mavis Cheek here.

  • Stephen May

Wake Up Happy

Stephen May has written three books including Life! Death! Prizes! which was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award. His latest novel is Wake Up Happy Every Day. More about Stephen May here.

  • Selma Dabbagh

Out of ItSelma Dabbagh is a British-Palestinian writer who gained fame in 2011 with Out of It, an acclaimed novel centred on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. More about Selma Dabbagh here.

I have read none of the author’s books, I must confess, and will need to get cracking and download at least one thing from each of them before I head off. One more task to add to my still-long Going Away To Do List.

I’m not sure yet if the above authors will be living-in with the rest of us (if so, they’d better be in a cooking team!), but I expect so. The Hurst manor looks to be quite a big place with plenty of room for us all. Here’s a little something I found in The Shropshire Star about the restoration of the 200-year-old Georgian manor in readiness for its new role as a writers’ retreat.

I couldn’t find any pre-restoration shots, but here’s how it looks now…

The Hurst

Arvon 3

Arvon 1

Lounge at The Hurst

Do you like checking out other people’s bookshelves? I couldn’t help but notice those shelves in the above pic. Tidy! They put mine to shame. Checking out other people’s shelves can be rather revealing sometimes. What’s in those two, I wonder? Just John Osborne’s stuff? I’ll have a look when I get there, and let you know. Other people’s bookshelves can be little glimpses into their worlds.

Here’s a bookshelf from my home. (Plus dog.) Not quite so tidy, I’m afraid.

Sparks, defending some of my books -small

Here’s a slightly tidier one, I’m happy to say. Yep, that’s 45s and LPs on the lower shelves. (I like to check out other people’s record collections too. That’s just a bit of mine.)

Bookshelf (small)

And one more. A random bookshelf from my place of work…

Work shelf

Pretty tidy again, perhaps it’s a corporate thing. Not even a stray book chucked on top. And what’s with that book Insults?

I have significantly drifted from my main topic about writer’s retreats. I promise I will tell you more about the retreat once I get there (or afterwards, really, given it’s in a blank zone, phone signal and internet-wise).

If all goes well, my next post will be from London. I’m flying out from Down Under next week and will be in a position to speak first-hand about writerly things in the land Up Over, as I encounter them.

The Melbourne Writers’ Social Group

Sunset on the first night I attended the writers' group

I took this photo a few weeks ago with my iphone, on one of the nights I attended the writers’ group

I head off on my big UK writing journey in a few weeks (nervous eek) and I hope to tell you a bit about the various writerly events I manage to get to, whenever I get the chance. But before I go, I thought I might tell you a little about a writer’s group that regularly meets in my hometown of Melbourne — the Melbourne Writers’ Social Group. Good name, eh? I mean, I especially like the ‘social’ in it.

I mentioned this group in my last post (I took the sunset pic at that time — the group before last).

The group meets fortnightly on a Tuesday at the Wharf Hotel, which is down by the Yarra River, and it’s free to join. (The Wharf Hotel is in the darkness on the very right of that above sunset pic.) It’s easy to join too: simply log into Meetup (or sign up to it, if you haven’t already), and ask to join. Once you’re accepted, do an RSVP for the next group you would like to get along to, and once you’re actually there, participate at whatever level you would like. (See you there!) Here’s the group’s main Meetup link.

Wharf Hotel

Wharf Hotel (sort of sandwiched in there)

The Melbourne Writers’ Social Group is a busy group with a variety of events for you to choose from (or go to the lot, if you want, and have the energy). The group is co-hosted by Geoff Stuart and Mat Clarke, two guys who are clearly in it to support good writing in ol’ Melbourne town.

The group has what they call The Flagship Event (perhaps it began here, back in 2009?), which is the Tuesday evening social gathering where readings are shared and informal feedback is given — more on the flagship event here. It’s the thing that I’ve been getting along to. We had a great turn up last week — 16 all up by my reckoning. As Autumn is truly upon us, we met indoors for the first time this year.

Philip - long-time group member

Philip, long-time group member

They also have the Writing Time group, where writers spend time quietly writing together, and then chat about what they’ve been working on afterwards. I’ve yet to get along, but it sounds great. Apparently the table is wobbly but the cheesecake makes up for it. They meet at the Cafe Giraffe — it’s worth getting along just for that name! This group used to be their NaNoWriMo group, for those in the know about that. More on it here.

They also have a public Facebook page here. Plus two closed Facebook groups, which you can join once you become a member and start participating. One of these closed groups is for critiquing written work (treading carefully on each other’s dreams, naturally).

I think that’s it? Oh, they also organise the odd one-off event, perhaps based around one member’s activity or a guest speaker opportunity. I told you they were busy!

So, if you’re a Melbourne-based writer — here’s a group to think about. But if you live in New York, Bangkok or Mykonos, well, it’s still interesting to hear how writers can support each other in different places. And perhaps there are some ideas here that you might like to try out in your own neck of the woods.

But — you know what? — in the end what really makes a writers’ group worthwhile is the writer membership. And so I will close this post by introducing you to a few excellent members from last week’s Tuesday meetup…

Billy

Billy

Billy read to us from his — to put it in his words — ‘memoirs of his misspent youth’.

Kelvin

Kelvin

Kelvin read from his published epic sci-fi. He is currently working on his second sci-fi novel.

Geoff Stuart

Geoff Stuart

Geoff Stuart is a co-host of the group (along with Mat Clarke who couldn’t make it last week). He read a short piece. He is currently working on a speculative fiction novel and a series of short stories in the ‘drama’ genre.

Andrew

Andrew

Andrew is currently working on a sci-fi musical, along the lines of Jeff Wayne’s exciting musical rendering of HG Well’s War of the Worlds, but in the metal genre. Sounds very cool.

Nick

Nick

Nick recently spent a month in Paris and read from his journal notes about that time, focussing on his hilarious airbnb accommodation experiences (names changed to protect the innocent).

Christie

Christie

Christie is writing a sequel to her published Red Dirt Road (which comes with an album of songs). The follow-up is a love story inspired by her experiences as a musician. (Doesn’t the picture look like a polaroid? Looks great.)

Ivan

Noel Anderson

Noel Anderson was the first to read on the night. He spoke eloquently about his new play and read from the script. The play is called Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame: In the Raw and is currently on at the Jewish Museum of Australia. Here’s a link if you’d like to find out more.

With so many great participants, I didn’t get to read at all. But it was terrific to hear about the projects of others and to contribute feedback on works in progress. And there’s always next time.

(I think my iPhone pics have turned out quite nicely, don’t you think? All personal pics used with permission — but just weigh in by clicking on ‘Leave a reply’ below, if one of them is of you, and you’ve all-of-a-sudden changed your mind now that you’ve seen it.)

Giraffe cafe