Wednesday, 22 May 2013

An Arvon retreat and a book coming out – can life get any better?

On Saturday, I got back from an Arvon writing retreat at Lumb Bank, the beautiful Arvon writing house overlooking the Calder Valley near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire.  This is my fifth writing retreat, and for the first time ever, I didn’t go with a rigid goal in mind – finish a complete short story; write two new chapters; edit ten chapters.  I’m at a slightly odd stage at the moment, because  *drum roll* my debut novel, The Things We Never Said is being published tomorrow (whoop whoop!) and although I’ve completed a first draft of my second novel, I'm waiting for some feedback before starting on the rewrites. So this time, I didn't actually have anything specific to do!

It was wonderful –  probably the first time I’ve been on a retreat without feeling under extreme pressure to make significant leaps forward with a work in progress. This time, I allowed myself to thoroughly enjoy the experience. I went for walks down into the valley, along by the river, and then up much higher to take advantage of the spectacular views. I also drafted a couple of features, did some reading and spent some time thinking about my next novel. 

Considering it’s the middle of May, the weather was, shall we say, interesting. It was pretty chilly the first couple of days, and while walking through the wild garlic and unseasonably late bluebells, we got rained on, hailed on, and almost swept off the path by high winds. But it sort of adds to the experience in a way.

I always sleep with the window open at Lumb Bank so I can hear the river at the bottom of the valley and breathe in the crisp Yorkshire air. An added treat on the third night was a dramatic and satisfyingly lengthy rumble of thunder. 

In the evenings, people tend to congregate in the sitting room for a glass of wine at about 6.30 before dinner is served at seven, and then most of us hang around chatting and drinking wine for the rest of the evening. The final night, Friday, is usually given over to readings, and as is often the case, I was blown away by the talent that was revealed as people read from their novels, biographies, sketches and short stories  It was a particularly lovely group, and it was a joy and privilege to spend this time in the company of such friendly and interesting writers. 

The retreat lasts from Monday to Saturday, and as always, it’s over too soon. But here I am back home with drafts of three articles and a jumble of images, characters and half-formed ideas for my next novel tumbling about in my head.

I feel rested, ready to tackle the rewrites of novel number two, and even more ready to enjoy the immensely exciting experience coming up *second drum roll*  the publication of my debut novel. The official release date is tomorrow (23 May), but people have started receiving their pre-ordered Amazon copies today. I've received my twelve free author copies, and am now signing them to send around the family. 

If you've had a book published yourself, you'll have some idea of how I'm feeling at the moment. Someone asked me a few days ago how it felt to hold a copy of the book in my hands for the first time; I replied that it wasn't quite as good as holding my newborn babies for the first time, but it came a close second. 

I'm probably not going to be able to stop myself from going and peering at it on the shelves in Waterstones tomorrow, and then after that, I'll be getting even more excited about the launch next week.
If you’re in or near Sheffield, do come and join me – I'll be reading from the book and signing copies afterwards. That’s if I don’t explode with excitement in the meantime! The launch is at Waterstones, Orchard Square, Sheffield, on Wednesday 29th of May at 6.30-8pm, and there will be a glass of wine!


  1. I'm reading this tomorrow, so so speak - am too far from Sheffield to join the celebrations, but am cheering for you at a distance. Might even risk a glass of wine tonight, to congratulate you!

  2. Thank you, Jo - consider your glass virtually clinked with mine!

  3. Ah, those pictures took me back, I did a wonderful course with Arvon at Lumb Bank a few years ago and might just manage to convince OH that a return visit for a retreat is a must (after I've saved a few pennies). And the launch, I'm so sorry I wasn't there, it sounded wonderful, but at least I have my own copy of your book which has quickly become an absolute favourite of mine. Two great stories in their own right, beautifully interwoven - love it. Looking forward to book two now!