Writing Heaven

Retreats for You in Sheepwash, Devon
Retreats for You in Sheepwash, Devon

What’s your idea of the perfect place to write?  Would it be a cottage in the country or a summer house at the bottom of your garden which only you had the key to?  Well, I think I’ve just found my perfect place and it’s in the little village of Sheepwash in Devon.

Deborah Dooley runs Retreats for You with her husband, Bob.  When I arrived, feeling somewhat frazzled from the drive, Deb welcomed me in and gave me tea and cake.  Not a bad start I thought.  Then she showed me round the house, a seventeenth century thatched cottage, and to my room.  Once I’d unpacked and had another cup of tea I thought I might as well open my laptop. I wrote a thousand words before dinner that evening.

My room when I'd just arrived and it was still tidy!
My room when I’d just arrived and it was still tidy!

‘Productive’ is one of the words that people use most at the Retreat (probably only slightly less than they say ‘wine’ and ‘coffee’) and I was incredibly productive while I was there. I wrote over 10,000 words.  Usually that would take me between 2 and 3 months!

I know that part of the reason I was able to achieve that was because I had nothing else to worry about.  Fabulous meals appear on the table at regular intervals, my bed was made and there was a kettle on my desk so I didn’t even have to walk to the kitchen for my next cup of tea.  Deb even brings a glass of wine (or for me a cold beer) to the guests’ rooms at 6 pm every evening!

Post dinner conversation
Post dinner conversation

There were also fewer distractions.  No TV or radio in my room.  There was broadband but I mainly used it for research and spent far less time on Facebook than I normally do. I did become rather fascinated by the comings and goings of Sheepwash and loved sitting in the window seat in my room watching the world go by.  It was a bit like The Archers but without any dialogue!

Those are the practical reasons why it was great.  The thing that’s much harder to define is the creative vibe that the place has.  The other guests were all working on novels or writing poetry.  Deb has had a successful career in journalism but is now concentrating on the retreat and finishing her first novel.  Her husband is a craftsman creating wonderful items from local wood in his workshop in the backyard.  But we didn’t just talk about writing.  We talked about everything from Scottish Independence to sheep racing to Cath Kidston frocks. And we laughed a lot!

Deb clearly knows that nothing but writing can make your brain hurt because one evening we had a barbeque on the beach.  It was a beautiful evening and I loved being able to paddle in almost warm sea.

Fabulous evening for a barbeque
Fabulous evening for a barbeque

If you’re thinking you want some time out to work on your book, then I’d definitely recommend Retreats for You.  But make sure you go for more than a couple of days the first time.  Allow yourself time to find your rhythm and settle into the creativity of the place.  It speaks for itself that of the people who I met while I was there, 3 of them had been at least once before and 2 of those had stayed many times and were planning to come back as soon as they could.

In the sitting room there’s a shelf of books written by people who have stayed at the Retreat.  I really hope that one day Beltane will be on there.  But, whether it does or not, I’ll definitely be going back soon for another taste of writing heaven.

Books by writers who've stayed at Retreats for You
Books by writers who’ve stayed at Retreats for You

If I’ve inspired you to find out more then check out the Retreats for You website http://www.retreatsforyou.co.uk/

The sitting room
The sitting room

 

Home grown vegetables from the thriving veg patch were often on the menu.
Home grown vegetables from the thriving veg patch were often on the menu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the picture of Glastonbury Tor?

Beltane is my first novel and it’s set in Glastonbury.  The original spark of the idea came from staying in a bed and breakfast near Glastonbury Tor with a friend almost ten years ago.  It was very alternative.  People had conversations about angels over the breakfast table. Daily group meditation was pretty much compulsory.  The woman who ran it was a very strong character and to be honest, my friend and I found her a little bit scary.   Years later I started wondering what if someone who ran a New Age retreat didn’t have good intentions towards their guests.  And from that I had my antagonist, Maeve.

Because of that there was never any question as to where I should set the book, the practical considerations of writing a book set 250 miles from home (I live in York and it’s about a five hour drive to Glastonbury) didn’t really cross my mind at the beginning.   About a year in I realised that even with the help of Google Streetview I had too many unanswered questions so I planned a holiday/research trip.  It was fantastic to spend a week in the place that I spent so much time writing about and huge number of new ideas came out of being there.

One of the amazing things about Glastonbury is that you never know who you’ll meet.  At the Chalice Well I started a conversation about the weather and within minutes the guy I was talking to told me he was a druid and that after buying his house he’d grown a tall hedge around it because he practised druidic rituals in the garden.  My imagination was obviously working over-time as to what exactly these rituals involved but the conversation sparked another idea and I knew this was all going to have to go in the book.

Angel at Chalice Well
Angel at Chalice Well

I’ve been back to Glastonbury quite a few times since then. In fact, I’ve been so often that I now have friends there.  I’m going back at the end of this month and I can’t wait!  There is something about the place, for all its bonkersness, which I find really soothing.  I honestly feel like it’s good for my soul to be there.  OK, there’s a dark side to Glastonbury as there is anywhere else (and you only have to look at the vandals who’ve attacked the Holy Thorn on Wearyall Hill to see that) but there’s such a positive, creative buzz about the place and I just love that.

Holy Thorn, Wearyall Hill
Holy Thorn, Wearyall Hill

The festival will be on when I’m there this time.  Much as I love music, Glastonbury Festival has never really appealed to me (well, apart from when I wanted to see Hothouse Flowers play there back in the early nineties but that’s a different story) and I have no idea if the place will be changed with the proximity of thousands of festivalgoers.  It’s going to be interesting to get there and find out.