The Blog

Whose Line is it Anyway? – posted 13/10/21

Gone are the days when we believed the camera was neutral – we’re more aware than ever that whoever holds the camera controls the narrative. Maleficient is one great example of how our understanding of how a story can change depends on whose eyes we are seeing the story through. I remember coming out of the cinema with a sense that I had been lied to my whole childhood, that I’d been hoodwinked into believing in stereotypes that, with hindsight, never matched up to real life experience.

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent

November’s masterclass is all about how we can control our readers’ experience of a story by experimenting with point of view. We will be looking at the pros and cons of the first person, the authorial and the omniscient and how voice can add both tone and texture.

No matter how long you’ve been writing, point of view can still throw up challenges. What’s the difference between the deep third as opposed to the single, dual or multiple third? Is there ever any place for the authorial? Can a viewpoint remain neutral? All this and more will be answered during our opening masterclass. We’ve also got Martyn Bedford, award-winning novelist of international repute joining us in the guest author hotspot. Email to book your place!

Monthly Masterclasses begin again – posted 23/9/21

The monthly masterclass starts up again on 1st October and the theme for the first one of the new academic year is Beginnings. How and where to start? The first line of a novel or a story can often be the hardest one to write, because we put so much pressure on it, especially in these modern times of shortened attention spans.

How do you not only hook your reader but keep them turning the pages? I keep thinking of that phrase hook, line and sinker, which was originally a fisherman’s term for when a fish didn’t just nibble at the juicy worm – it swallowed the hook, the fishing line and the lead weight at the end. This meant there was no escape for the poor fish – its fate was sealed.

This is of course, what we’re hoping for our reader – we want them trapped, unable to free themselves – compelled to read to the end of our story.

And it’s an apt metaphor, because there are three parts to capturing our reader and if we address each part in the opening of our story, we can’t fail to land our fish!

Writing By The Sea – posted 31/07/21

Just back from our first physical writing retreat in two years and what a treat it was. Our theme this year was recharging our creative batteries. It felt like the right time to try and put some of the uncertainty of the last fifteen months behind us and make space for some creativity.

It was our first time at Cober Hill and we discovered what a special place it is. The grounds are amazing, with a croquet lawn and a secret garden and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. On one of the afternoons we went on a silent walk, followed by a silent writing session. I realised I use words like shields – as a means of defence.

The workshops were themed around the idea of creative rejuvenation – Ali Harper’s Slave to the Rhythms reminded us to work with, not against, our natural energies whilst Anna Chilver’s inspiring Where The Land Meets the Sea discussed the creative potential of places where different worlds collide.

The open mic night was headlined by award-winning poet, Wendy Pratt, who also gave a couple of workshops – including one on the animal body. In this she challenged us to imagine our self as an animal, a role we’d perhaps been pushed into by other people, and then to reclaim the experience, to own the best bits of it.

The best bit though was being in the company of other writers after such a long, enforced break. Writers need writers and we’ve been having to make do with Zoom calls and Teams meetings this past year. It was great to finally get together, in such a beautiful location, with tons of sunshine and a sea breeze. Just what the doctor ordered!

The wHole Story – a writing masterclass posted 26/3/21 by Mia

If the scene is about what the scene is about, you’re in deep shit.” This month’s masterclass focused on the importance of creating subtext when writing a novel. There should always be a meaning hidden behind everything being written, but that doesn’t have to be revealed right away. The most interesting stories are the ones that use subtext effectively to intrigue and connect to the reader.

For the group activity segment the task was to read Hills like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway. If this short story was taken literally, it would make no sense! By analysing the deeper meaning, it was interpreted that those elephants in the distance actually symbolise the female character’s dilemma as to whether she should get an abortion or not. The group concluded that it wasn’t an easy read, and there’s definitely a fine line between the perfect amount or over-doing it when it comes to subtext.

This month’s guest was Helen Cross (author of My Summer of Love (2001), The Secrets She Keeps (2005) and Spilt Milk, Black Coffee (2009). Cross explained the process of having her novel translated into a film, and what she had learnt from that journey – including the downsides. Cross also gave us a physical example of subtext with magnets! Something that can’t be seen is pulling the magnets together, and without that force magnets are just rocks.

Hull Noir – posted 20/3/21 by Mia

This was a great opportunity, for anyone wanting to write a crime novel! Ali Harper (one of Re:treat Retreat’s founders) interviewed three well-known crime authors; Nick Triplow, Alan Parks and Nick Quantrill. They shared their experiences of creating an engaging story in this genre and it was so interesting to hear their unique journeys, and what they had chosen to focus on most whilst writing.

The chosen setting is obviously important for any novel. However, for a crime novel you need a dark and mysterious background to reflect the story’s events, Nick Quantrill described this as ‘a rich background.’ The atmosphere is a crucial aspect to consider, would you write story about a serial killer living in a town where the sun shines all day?

The inspiration for these crime novels could come from personal experiences, the news or simply wanting to write about something deep and captivating. Nick Triplow gave us the titles of his favourite ‘crime films’, ‘Get Carter’, ‘Lovely Friday’ and ‘Night in the City.’ Triplow’s biography of Ted Lewis (creator of Get Carter) shows how much impact that film had on him, and his career.

Alan Parks shared his thoughts on characterisation, that the concept of there always being a hero and villain is very true when it comes to these novels. In his novel The April Dead, Parks explores the darker side of the ‘goodies’ (in this case, the police.) Having three authors share their characters, it’s clear that boundaries don’t exist, and the unexpected/unpredictable characters make for more gripping storytelling.

The Plot Thickens – posted 26/2/2021 by Mia

Re:treat Retreat’s very first masterclass started with a fifteen minute introduction, where everybody could share what stage of their novel they had reached. Some individuals were on the planning stage whilst others, were in the process of writing their final drafts. Ali Harper then took the group through the plot that every novel usually follows; the status quo of the character, an inciting incident, how they are changed by the incident and how this is resolved. The structure was presented in a clear way ,and Ali went through this slowly so notes could easily be made. Independent work was then introduced, the task was to analyse one’s novel and outline the subplots shown throughout.

The group of sixteen was then separated into breakout rooms of four, (not too intimate whilst not being overwhelming.) Each group was given a hour to share their subplots with each other. By one person reading their extract, the others could note down any questions they had. While someone was talking, curiosity rose in the other participants. There were so many different genres being shared and everyone remained respectful and intrigued, even though the extract may not have been their favourite genre to read.

The day ended at 19:30 with, guest author of If I can’t have you Charlotte Levin taking any questions on her journey to becoming published. Levin shared what works best for her, and what she’s discovered such as, “When I’m writing the book, the characters become one of their own.” Listening to her journey was fascinating, and incredibly helpful for anyone hoping to get their novel out there. However, even with a published book, she recognised there’s always room for growth stating, “I want to learn all the time.”