Going away for a writing retreat has been a long-held dream that I’m happy to say was realised at the beginning of 2017. Last year, I entered the Myriad Editions First Drafts prize for the opening of a crime novel with 5000 words of my new psychological thriller Reunion. The prize was a week’s writing retreat at West Dean College, plus mentoring from one of the judges. I never expected to win – I didn’t expect to be shortlisted. But I got the email to tell me I was on the shortlist of eight writers, inviting me to a prizegiving event in London, at Waterstones Piccadilly, where I’d have the chance to read an extract and hear feedback from the judges, bestselling crime writers Peter James, Elly Griffiths, Lisa Cutts, Lesley Thomson and Elizabeth Haynes.
This opportunity seemed like a prize in itself and I went there, meeting Laura, Sue and Jan for a fortifying cocktail before (and several after) the event.
I’d been shortlisted for the prize before and was going along with no expectation of winning. But when Candida Lacey, the editor from Myriad Editions stood up to announce the winner, I almost fell off my chair when she said my name! http://www.myriadeditions.com/competitions/first-drafts/
Having to organise time off work and childcare meant it was a while before I could take up my prize so it wasn’t until the beginning of January that I got on the train and headed for Chichester. West Dean College in West Sussex is internationally recognised for conservation and creative arts. It has beautifully restored gardens perfect for winter walks, seeking inspiration and solving tricky plot problems. West Dean College is part of The Edward James Foundation, a registered charity originating from the vision of founder and Surrealist patron Edward James.
My prize was for a full week, staying in the beautiful 19th Century vicarage in the grounds, with views of the gardens and South Downs, a writing desk and access to the house, archives and library. I arrived with the hope of writing 20,000 words. I looked forward to hours of time to write in beautiful surroundings and not having to worry about school runs, work, cleaning and cooking. What I didn’t expect was to be made so welcome by Martine McDonagh, a writer and teacher who runs the creative writing MA there. I joined her and her students for several teaching sessions, sitting in on lessons about point of view and psychogeography. I was also lucky enough to be there for the first ever West Dean literary salon, enjoying a very entertaining talk from CWA Diamond Dagger winner Simon Brett.
Another part of my prize was the offer of mentoring from two of the prize judges, Elly Griffiths and Leslie Thompson, who both teach on the MA. I got to chat with Elly while at West Dean to talk about the form this mentoring might take and look forward to working with her and Leslie later in the year.
I was initially worried I’d spend too much time procrastinating and not enough time writing, but the week was both productive and inspiring. With no constraints on my time other than turning up for meals which I didn’t have to cook, I could write for as long as I wished and luxuriate in planning time, strolling around the gardens or sitting by the fire in the Oak Room. I finished the week with more than 22,000 words written and the rest of the book planned out. It was an amazing start to the year and I hope to visit West Dean again in the very near future. My aim now is to have a first draft of Reunion finished by the spring and for 2017 to be THE year I become a published writer!
Thank you to Myriad Editions and West Dean College for the wonderful opportunity!