Gladstone Library Retreat: Day Ten

11058666_10153295080275817_3431906838164195866_nThis is the end, the end … and I’m overwhelmed, feeling a tad emotional, sitting in the library before I say goodbye, absorbing the atmosphere.

In summary:
• Inspiring, Creative, Tranquil, Nourishing, Open-minded, Open-hearted.
• The ideas and subsequent words have come – just nudging 13,000; and as ever the story isn’t quite what I thought it might be – a good sign as far as I’m concerned
• I’ve read three smashing novels during my stay: The Island Escape, Blackmoor and Wide Sargasso Sea
• I’ve eaten delicious food, taken some beautiful walks and snapped away like mad on Instagram
• I’ve met some incredible people: authors, journalists, writers, academics, theologians, minsters, interns and other members of the staff team. Special thanks to warden Peter Francis and interns Sophie and Sian and all the cooks and cleaners

11705357_10153295090155817_6347792843615633973_nIT’S BEEN AMAZING

THANK YOU EVERYONE AT GLADSTONE’S FOR HELPING TO MAKE IT SUCH A MAGICAL COUPLE OF WEEKS

To quote Arnie, ‘I’ll be back.’

Gladstone Library Retreat: Day Nine

Salley Vickers 2nd collection of short stories

Salley Vickers 2nd collection of short stories

Over lunch with my Norwegian novelist friend we discussed our progress yesterday morning – this post is late because of an event at the library last night (more on this below). We always do this when we hook up in the Gladstone restaurant Food for Thought, which, incidentally, serves spanking gorgeous grub: breakfast, lunch, afternoon cream tea, supper. Did I say I might need to diet after this stay?

Victoria (not a very Norwegian sounding name, I know …) asked what had been the best thing about my morning. I said: ‘Scrapping everything I wrote in the library last night.’ She laughed and asked if I was serious. Of course I was. It meant that this morning I was able to begin a new, relevant scene and, boy, did I enjoy writing it. I’d known last night that most of what I was writing was cobblers but for some inexplicable reason was unable to stop. It was background information and added nothing to the story. Perhaps the writing down means that I know it better? But quite honestly the reader doesn’t need to. It was boring. Good riddance.

We agreed that writing is an odd job – for many reasons more than just this – in that you can feel overjoyed about chucking away hours of labour. And we agreed that we love it.

I have a sense of an ending (thanks Mr Barnes) to my stay and the need to spend as much time as possible in my favourite place in the library – the gallery of the Theology Reading Room, but I wrote over 1,000 ‘good’ words yesterday and I took a few hours out to catch up with my sister. We headed to a spa, so yet another indulgence.

And last night the library hosted the very splendid Salley Vickers for ‘An Evening with …’. I heard Salley speak at GladFest last September so knew we were in for a treat. She spoke about her seven novels and how they have informed her latest collection of short stories, The Boy Who Could See Death, the enduring significance of old stories and why it’s always good to pinch them (‘you don’t have to think of a plot’) and how she doesn’t plan her writing, at all. I’m not familiar with Salley’s work but will purchase a copy of The Cleaner of Chartres before I leave. Inspirational on many levels, I learnt a lot. Victoria and I had the pleasure of Salley’s company over wine in the reading room once the audience had gone home too. We talked Edinburgh (the festival), travelling and the eye-watering cost of London property! Oslo is much cheaper, apparently.

My time is running out here, so I’m off to the library now.

Gladstone Library Retreat: Day Eight

photo 1

St Deiniol’s Graveyard, Gladstone Estate

10,000 words in and I spent much of the morning reading through and summarising the scenes I have so far, distilling them to their essence – three or four sentences apiece.

Because I have some scenes written in the ‘now’ and some in my protagonist’s past, I then set about trying to work out if there is mileage in interlacing them throughout the narrative. Does one section throw up enough questions to be answered, or partially answered, in another and does that other scene also throw up enough questions which are subsequently answered in the next. And so on. Without questions there is no imperative, on you reader’s behalf, to turn the pages.

And the answer? I think so. Though it’s still too early to say for sure, I’m growing in confidence – this story just might have legs; the characters are interesting (and already surprising me, which I’m also taking as a positive sign) and I’m enjoying writing about them.

Much of this is thanks to the inspirational atmosphere of the library. Not only as a writing space – though it’s perfect for that – but as a space in which (open) minds can be expanded. There is a diverse and fascinating collection of individuals here, all concerned in one way or another with the importance of reflection, of our culture, politics, faiths and ideals. Last night there was a new influx of guests – Hebrew in a Week began this morning and there are more writers and academics too.

And sadly, someone leaves today and I shall miss the conversations, but know that we’ll stay in touch.
I’m in the library now and it is possibly even more magical as the light fades. Bliss.

Gladstone Library Retreat: Days Six and Seven

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A sign in the Bilberry Wood, Gladstone Estate

Six: Another good day with a draft of a short chapter completed. This one is set in my protagonist’s past, and the second written from this perspective. This bouncing backwards and forwards in time might form the basis of the structure of the novel; it might not. These sections might go completely but it will not be wasted work because it contributes to the building of character, my understanding of her, the way she views the world and this will enrich her and the story in ways that might not be quantifiable but are nevertheless there. To date I have been writing in the first person. It was an instinctive choice and one of the few things I’m certain of is that it was the right choice.
Another beautiful day, in the afternoon I took a long(ish) walk with my fellow writers across the Gladstone Estate and into the Bilberry Wood. We took in the scenery, chatted and gained inspiration. It really is such a gorgeous part of the world. If you’ve not visited this corner of Wales I urge you to do so. En route we came across this sign, which I thought could have been made for me – a city ‘girl’ who loves heels (I’m a titch) and well known amongst friends for my lack of sensible footwear. We also found a deserted mill.
In the evening I visited my mum and stepfather, Mike, who live only a few miles down the road. Talk of my lads, who stayed there earlier in the week, brought on a bad bout of missing them. A pain in the belly kind of missing. It was Ginger2’s birthday today too and I’d spoken with the little fella that morning, which was lovely but also painful. I’ve not spent more than three nights away from my kids since they were born and that’s quite a few years ago now. Ouch.

Seven: Lazy start to the day perusing the papers after breakfast in the reading room. Around 11.30 I headed to library and sat on the upper gallery beavering away. Another chapter set in my character’s past; the teenage years so a challenge to find the right voice.
After lunch I hoofed it down to the Co-op (only a mile away) for essentials – doughnuts, toothpaste. And then back to the library.
Reading and chilling after supper, then bed.

Gladstone Library Retreat: Day Five

photo 3-1It was beautiful here in north Wales when I woke: blue sky, blazing sun. I’ve been bat-like since my arrival so I decided to go for a walk before heading off to the library. Walking is great for creativity, as is running and swimming. My fellow writers and I had had a lively discussion about it the previous evening.

Next door is St Deiniol’s church. From the gardens at the back of the library there’s access to the graveyard, which is MASSIVE, and I love graveyards so I spent a couple of hours mooching around there, studying the headstones – they are fantastic for collecting character names and you get a real feel for which names were fashionable in which era. I sat in the sun watching at a gaggle of weird birds – they might have been peasants but they were brown; the females perhaps? And I came up with a scene on which to end the novel.

photo 2-1This might strike some of you as peculiar but it’s not the first time I’ve written the final scene near to the beginning of the process. Knowing where to begin a story and having a sense of where it will end isn’t a problem for me – it’s the great big bit in the middle that presents a challenge. And how to tell the story, how to structure it etc etc etc.
Three hours in the library and another 1,700 words later and I have what I think will be an epilogue. I did a little more research afterwards and then began my next read: Blackmoor by Edward Hogan. We’re speaking at an event at the Shoreham Literary Festival in October and I want to have knowledge of Ed’s work beforehand. I’m three chapters in and absolutely sold. Atmospheric, beguiling and menacing; it’s fab.
Now, I’m off to the pub across the road. Chin-chin.

Gladstone Library Retreat: Day Four

Gladstone's Library in north Wales

Gladstone’s Library in north Wales

The Good News: Another morning in the peace and splendour of the Theology room. I have completed a second chapter and the word count has tipped 5k. These chapters – and a section, which might become a Prologue, and another section which I kind of like but am not sure what to do with just yet – are OK. Reading after lunch, very pleasant.
The Bad News: During reading time – in which I was also thinking ‘where next’ for my character and story – I was struck by the ‘I don’t know what the hell I’m doing; I don’t know if this is the best way to tell this story; what the f**k is the story; hasn’t it all been done before’ stick. I lay on my bed and stared at the ceiling. Fell asleep.
There was also a minor drama with the Gingers. They have been staying with my mum for the past four days (she lives just down the road from here and we all travelled up here together) and were due to travel back to Brighton today, alone for the first time. They were cool about this – especially Ginger1, who was ‘in charge’ – the only minor worry was crossing London on the tube for the connecting train to Brighton. And then there was a strike … luckily, my mum got wind of this before popping them on the train at Chester. My parents are so lovely and my boys are very, very lucky – they will be driven back home tomorrow; train tickets in the bin. So all will be well and thank goodness they didn’t find themselves in London trying to navigate the buses from Euston to Victoria.
More Good News (because you should never close on a bad note): I have made contact with other writers! Lovely writers: an Irish woman from London working on her first novel; a Norwegian novelist with a deadline from her editor and a PhD student from Alabama, currently living in Edinburgh (when not here at Gladstone, natch). We have broken bread together twice and shared writerly woes and triumphs. I told them about my afternoon and the silent nods made me feel 100% better. No words required. After a couple more hours work, we’re meeting in the reading room to enjoy a glass or two of wine together.

I’ll end with gratitude to have happened upon such a smashing bunch, and noting how wonderful the staff here at the library are too.

Gladstone Library Retreat: Day Three

It’s been a good day, I think. It’s certainly been good, wordage-wise, at *whispers in case it doesn’t last * 2,000 plus. Scratch the whispering, it definitely won’t last and that’s OK.
Today, I took a road well-travelled; a safe option, after the experimentation of yesterday, and though I am not 100% convinced this is the way forward, it’s the right way for now and it’s allowed me to get a sense of the story, the event that sets the story in motion. I’ve written a chapter and a bit in the past tense and I’m getting to know my lead, which is comforting. And a way to blend the present tense section I wrote yesterday into the fabric of the narrative has emerged. It may well form the structure for the book. I’m surprised I didn’t think of this earlier given that I have written a novel which switches between past and present tense. The difference here is that the past and present sections are told from the same view point, that of my protagonist Flo. In Skin Deep there are two viewpoints: Diana and Cal’s.
11811577_10153279356965817_2095380639656622278_nWhat else have I done today? I’ve read a lot. A major character in my WIP is elderly and I’m looking at how other writers portray older people as well as mining my own memories and observations of my grandmothers. I loved Harold Fry and his wife, both of whom are rich, believable characters and Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing is a fantastic read. Here’s the man himself, William Gladstone. Well, a bust of him.
Tomorrow? I’ll aim to finish the chapter I began this afternoon and then review …