A Safe Haven for Writers

Hi, I’m Mia and I’ll be running the Re:treat Retreat blog for the next few weeks.

The wHole Story – 26th March 2021

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 – 20th March 2021

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 – 26th February 2021

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”

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