So, I’d read a lot about writers retreats all over Europe and really liked the idea of time dedicated to just writing, talking writing and being with authors. The things that stopped me booking was that they were often £500 or more and usually tended to be for a week which would have required a week’s annual leave from my day job I couldn’t really spare.
There must be another way – I thought.
And then it hit me, I could organise a short, basic accommodation writing retreat to get around the two issues above. I combined this with my love of caravans and my desire to go on a writing retreat and so the budget TOWIE style Essex writers retreat idea was born.
We hired an 8 berth caravan – 1 double bedroom, two twin bedrooms and room for two to sleep in the living room – for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. The entire caravan cost £244 to hire for the three nights, so between 5 of us it worked out very reasonably.
We all arrived from Friday afternoon to Friday evening but could have checked in from 3pm.
Yes, the kitchen was so small it could only contain two of us at a time for fear of accidental body touching. Yes, there were two toilets and a small shower. Yes, I slept in the living room area on a sofa bed contraption. But, it was all about the writing and it was budget.
So, I joined 4 other mm romance authors to spend the weekend in a caravan by the sea writing. To make sure we actually did write during the weekend I had designated times during the weekend for quiet writing and we all, pretty much, kept to these. I scheduled 2 hours Friday evening, three hours Saturday and Sunday morning and then four hours Saturday and Sunday afternoons. It was a total of 16 hours’ writing time over the whole weekend.
Between us we wrote about 46,000 words including my 14,000. Yes, I was surprised when I double checked, but according to my little WIP word count note I keep, that was right. I’m not posting everyone else’s word counts because it wasn’t competitive, it was just quietly encouraging and supportive.
It was so interesting to see how others’ writing ‘process’ worked and it was very encouraging to my productivity to only hear the quiet tapping of fingers on keyboards.
There was no internet of any description – mobile phones or wifi – in the caravan. This, I think helped our writing productivity. Knowing this, I didn’t even bring my laptop, I went low tech and just brought my Neo for first drafting of the Christmas novella WIP.
I sat with the Neo on my lap on the sofa – there’s something quite opulent about writing reclining like that and I often write in bed too. Clare London and Jay Rookwood sat with Barbie the pink laptop and a tablet / keyboard respectively at the table, joined by George Loveland who tapped away on his Neo, proudly transferring its words onto his netbook after each session. AE Ryehart tapped away in her room on her laptop, joining us for tea and coffee making sessions in the kitchen.
It wasn’t all writing. There was plenty of time for fun too! We went to Brightlingsea for a walk along the beach and food by the tower and sea water pool. And on Sunday we visited Clacton for the push penny machines, amusement arcade a walk along the pier and then beach with lots of ice cream obviously.
Personally, I love the sea and find it a great inspiration for writing, even in winter. I deliberately chose a location near the coast for this reason because I wanted somewhere interesting to spend time when we weren’t writing.
We had readings – only if people wanted to read their work out – gave feedback on the work; we helped each other with stuck plot points (the ending of my Christmas novella was basically plotted in that caravan and for that I’m very grateful); we discussed writing processes and what we enjoyed reading and writing.
With all the drama and fighting and anger in the mm romance genre which seems to erupt with remarkable regularity online, the weekend in the caravan without the internet, concentrating on what’s important (writing and friendships with other people), it reminded me how lucky I am to write and have friends in the mm romance genre. I reflected on this on the Monday morning we checked out by 10am, as I walked along the sea wall looking at Brightingsea over the water and on the lovely drive accompanied by Erasure Pop 40 Hits all the way home.
Would I do it again?
Absolutely. It was all I’d hoped it would be. Fun, productive, budget, and an opportunity to get to know better some of my author friends. Because the caravans can be booked separately, it only requires a small number of authors to commit to it to get one caravan booking filled – as we did. It can also grow incrementally too; if there was a rush of authors all wanting to come too, we could easily book 2, 3, 4 caravans, each with a lead person to book it. We could request that our bookings were near to one another and mix together during writing time or social times. It is all very flexible. The caravan sites are now closed until spring so there won’t be anything until next year now. However, I’m definitely interested in repeating this in 2017. Where I do it is up for grabs, but as it’s a long weekend I expect it’ll be somewhere weekendable from the London area where I live.
If you’d like to be kept in the loop with future plans, do let me know by commenting below or send me a PM or email. I think it would be such fun to get a larger group of us spread over 2 or more caravans.
Until next time,
Liam Livings xx
In other news, I’m pleased to announce there are still places on the Real People Write Books workshop I'm running with fellow romantic novelist and ex-teacher, Virginia Heath. The workshop, Write That Novel Workshop on Saturday 21 January 2017, in London.
It’s designed for people who don’t want the expense or time of a residential writing retreat and are done with reading books and websites about how to write. It’s interactive, activity-led and fun-filled with plenty of useful tools for you to take away and use on your own writing.
For details of what it includes, and how much it costs, see this page. I’d love to see you there,