Tweet chat 24th September 2021 Writing retreats and writing festivals

The Frinton Writer’s Group annual retreat 2019

Participants: Gerald Hornsby, Anita Belli, Beth Hudson, Rik Lonsdale, Maria Johnson, Kathleen Marple Kalb, Andy Roberts, Cheryl Whiting, Ellie Hawkes, Marian Thorpe, Deborah Klée

Please introduce yourself and tell us about any writing retreats or festivals that you have or regularly attend.

Deborah: Hi I am Deborah your host. I have just returned from my writing group’s annual retreat. I have also attended other writing festivals including The Winchester Writers Festival. I love them.

Rik: Hi I’m Rik in Dorset UK. I visit @swanwickwriters for a week in August every year. Great writing event, great fun, great people, and a bar. 250 people who all get what being a writer means.

Gerald (to Rik): Also, there’s a huge variety of workshops and courses on offer. I also love the informality of it.

Anita: I’m Anita writing in North Essex and I left the writing retreat in the picture at 9.00 this morning! Frinton Writers try to get away every year. A very special time.

Maria: Hi, I’m Maria! I write historical fiction & fantasy. I’ve never been to a writing retreat/festival but would really love to try it. Most of my writing stuff has been virtual apart from a couple of book events at church.

Deborah (to Maria): Hi Maria. I can recommend them! Feeling refreshed and focused after my few days away with writer friends. I wish we could all meet from #FriSalon for a retreat.

Maria: Yes, I love the idea of them! My writing circle is largely online so I don’t have a physical writers’ group to go away with on retreat. Would love to one day! I would so be there for a #FriSalon retreat! Sounds amazing!

Cheryl (to Maria and Deborah): What a great idea! I’d love to meet other authors, passionate writers and the like! – happy to help organise!

Maria: Yeah! I’d love that! We’re pretty far spread across the globe so maybe a virtual retreat/social on zoom or something too?

I am having a think about how we might do this. Thank you Cheryl and Maria for your offers of help.

Gerald: Hi everyone! I’m Gerald, and I’m in North East Essex. That’s me in the picture, holding up my @EfficientNovelsbook during a quick workshop at our group’s annual retreat. I also (like @LonsdaleRik) attend @swanwickwriters and I’ve also been to @NOIRwichFest twice.

Beth: Hi! I’m Beth Hudson, fantasy author from the American Midwest. I don’t attend writing retreats, but I am a founding member of the I.O.W.A. writing event, and am one of the writers who attends ICON every year as an author (as well as a fan). I.O.W.A. stands for “Imagine Other Worlds with Authors” and was originally created in 2016 to showcase the works of Iowa-based writers. It changed hands two years ago, adding things like panels, etc. and becoming a two-day event. Last year and this year it is virtual. 

Funny story: the first year, we were in a mall with a malfunctioning pop (soda/soft drink) machine, which played 4 notes on a 3-note loop for 9 straight hours. Several of us wrote stories about killing the machine (or having it kill) which were collected by one group member and published by another under the title “Death of the Demon Machine.” It came back out again this year.

Marianne: I have never enjoyed a writing retreat but have participated in workshops and online discussions. It would be lovely to get away and meet with other writers but Covid has limited opportunities.

Kathleen: Hi! It’s Kathleen from Connecticut. I write mysteries…but I’ve never been to any events, so I’ll be lurking and learning today!

Cheryl: Hi I’m Cheryl, never been to a writer’s retreat before. Spent the last week researching local writing groups. Now that the world is opening up, I’d really like to come face to face with others who write.

What are the benefits of a writer’s retreat? Going away with other writers or alone for a few days to focus on your writing without interruptions from the outside world?

Beth: I’ve never been to an actual writer’s retreat, so I’m not sure of what the benefits are. Between finances and me not driving (a major hurdle in the US) I’m not likely to have the chance any time soon.

Deborah: A lot of writing retreats are now running virtual events as well as IRL since the pandemic. But I appreciate cost is also a factor for many.

Rik: I’ve used Arvon at Home a couple of times, but mainly for courses rather than retreat.

Deborah (to Rik): Was it helpful?

Rik (to Deborah): Very much so. Particularly a course by Jon McGregor on revision and feedback.

Rik: Some people organise retreats for themselves. I think @elspells13 is planning on this.

Ellie: I am indeed! Fingers crossed I get to go – a couple of days on my own to really crack on with this draft is just what I need!

Gerald: I know people who go away for a ‘proper’ retreat, but they generally go when they’re up against a deadline, and they go alone. All of the ones I’ve done have had a strong community element to them. Writing becomes secondary.

Rik: Primarily I think it’s about meeting a lot of different writers. I always come away with fresh ideas, but do hardly any writing at all!

Deborah: For me it is about having the mental space and time to focus on writing in an environment that stimulates creativity and soothes the soul.

Anita: It is a mixture of things. Frinton Writers is about writing and socialising with like-minded author friends. @swanwickwriters is a summer school so we go there to learn more about writing, talk about writing and meet new writers. I rarely write anything at Swanwick.

Andy: At Swanwick, I like networking with other writers and taking home pointers from engaging courses. I went to an Arvon retreat one year as well, but that was more focussed on writing.

Maria: My ideal writers’ retreat would be with a group of people I know already – I’d actually love the opportunity to meet some wonderful writer friends I know online in real life. Then a mix of time alone to write plus time to hang out together. Plus, good food & wine.

Marianne: I’m curious. Do you write on your own topics or does a coordinator suggest writing prompts? Also, do you read your work to the group? I would think that sharing your ideas and writings would be energizing.

Deborah: At the Frinton Writer’s retreat we work on our own projects whatever we choose to focus on. However, we bring a short story for the competition which does have a topic. We read and vote but do not know who wrote the story until after the voting. It is fun.

Have you made any important connections at writers’ festivals or retreats that have served you as a writer? How do you maximise the benefit of meeting with other writers?

Rik: Yes, to this, and I’ve made some long-term friends. I’ve also met Gerald Hornsby.

Andy: Well, for a start, Swanwick inspired me to go to university and study Creative Writing. I also got involved in the Reading Between the Lines blog tours via a connection at Swanwick.

Anita: I have met some wonderful people IRL and have continued the relationships online, which has broadened my network to include people they also know. The main benefits are the conversations and inspiration from other authors.

Beth: I’ve met a number of people through I.O.W.A. or ICON (Iowa SF convention) that have been tremendously helpful for me as a writer. We’ve got a thriving writing community in this area, and it’s been wonderful getting to know people, do signings with them, etc.

Maria: Not physically yet, but I’ve hugely benefitted from connecting with my online writer friends. I count the #FriSalon as one writer group & another is the lovely hosts/chatters of @ChristIndieWrit. Their podcast is just before this chat so Friday is writing friends day.

Gerald: “Important”, as far as my writing career goes, probably not too much. I can see if you go to a ‘Meet The Agent’ type event, you could do. Most of my events concentrate on the social side, although I do get the chance to talk about writing craft to help other writers.

Kathleen: I belong to my local and national Sisters in Crime chapters, and we do virtual events. I really value the connections, because they’re going through the same things we are.

Have you joined any on-line writer’s conferences/festivals since the pandemic? How do you think these compare to attending in person? Is this something that might continue beyond the pandemic?

Anita: It means you are able to meet people globally whom you may never have met otherwise. But a real live meet-up still gets my vote! I realise how fortunate we are to have Frinton Writers and to live in a smaller country where meeting up means less distance to travel!

Deborah: The Winchester Writers Festival has been on line for the past two years, although I did not attend.

Rik: Not conferences, but certainly courses. One from London LitLab, some from Arvon. And my writers’ groups have been on line during the Pandemic. I think they are a different animal and not comparable to IRL events. They certainly lack the social aspect.

Maria: I’ve joined my regional Nanowrimo group since the pandemic which so far has only been virtual. Great to meet local writers – I might meet them physically next year! Then getting more involved with #FriSalon & my Friday podcast communities.

Gerald: A lot of my oldest writer friends (and my partner @anitabellibooks) have come through membership of a local @NaNoWriMo group. I’ve always enjoyed our Write-Ins – a lovely mix of focussed writing and socialising.

Anita: Nano is a great way to meet people locally, isn’t it Gerald?

Maria: I’ve heard it is, but because of covid it was all online last year – and will be online this year! I did try a physical event in a different local region the year before but nobody talked to me so I didn’t have the best experience virtual was a nice way to try again.

Beth: As I said, the I.O.W.A. event was virtual last year and still going virtual this year. Not as good as in-person, but our governor has the nickname “Covid Kim…” ICON was virtual last year, but will be in-person this year. I might look into more virtual events.

Andy: I took part in the first @WknightWriters virtual conference around this time last year, running a workshop I’d initially planned to run at Swanwick until it got postponed.

Kathleen: I’d love to meet other writers in person…but virtual meetings have saved me during the pandemic. I suspect they’ll continue at some level in the future.

Cheryl: I’d love to meet other writers in person…but virtual meetings have saved me during the pandemic. I suspect they’ll continue at some level in the future.

Deborah: Thank you Cheryl but you are right it is the inclusive way this group respond to tweets and support/encourage one another that makes it a success.

Are there any writing festivals, or retreats that you would like to attend but have not yet managed to do so? If finance, time, or location restrict you, are there other ways that you can meet this need for time out with other writers?

Cheryl: In #cheltenham we have the literary festival. Lots of other events, associated with plays, writing and literature too, in and around the town at the same time too. I “did” the entire BA syllabus in English Literature in an hour it was lots of fun!

Gerald: Anita and I are on the committee for the @FrintonLitFest. It’s always exciting to meet some of our heroes, and because we’re a local festival, it feels more intimate. We had that Lynda La Plante here a couple of years ago. She was a hoot.

Beth: There is a north Iowa book event that I’d like to have a chance to go to. I’m not sure of their virtual/physical status at present, but I know they’re picky about who they take, so I might not qualify. The other issue is transportation for me: it’s about 3 hrs. away

Rik: Can you find an online buddy who might be passing by?

Beth: I actually have a friend who could take me, but she’d be stuck for the whole time I was there. It’s potentially doable, just not super practical. I think I’m going to try in a non-pandemic year.

Anita: I honestly don’t think there is a substitute for meeting IRL. Zoom conferences and meetings are very different and don’t fill the same gaps. The excitement of a festival or the camaraderie of a retreat is not comparable to meeting online

Rik: I agree, Anita. But I see online meets as additional. And you can meet people who couldn’t travel or are too far away. Having said that @swanwickwriters has had delegates from North America, Japan, Australia etc.

Anita: That is so true. @swanwickwriters is worth travelling the globe for. But it wouldn’t be the same if it was virtual

Rik: I would like to do an Arvon week, but the commitment to work and the absolute transparency to others terrifies me and triggers imposter syndrome big time.

Deborah: I bet the other writers would be supportive. I met some wonderful writers at The Winchester Festival and have stayed in touch with a couple of them.

Gerald: One day, I would love to go to the Harrogate Crime Festival @HarrogateFest. I know a number of people who’ve gone, and they always seem to have a nice time. And yes, alcohol always seems to be involved there, too.

Maria: My biggest restriction is that I don’t have a physical writing group/network to go on retreat with, as most of my writer friends are online. As mentioned, I love the connection & encouragement with my writing friends & would love the chance to meet them physically.

Deborah (to Maria): Even a face to face gathering on Zoom would be something.

Maria: Yeah! I do a hangout call with some writers during the week & it makes a big difference, especially if you work from home as it would be quite isolating otherwise. Feels like having colleagues/a virtual office.

Kathleen: All of my Sisters in Crime meetings have been Zoom so far — but I still get the connection and support.

Deborah (to Kathleen): I love the name Sisters in Crime! Even here with our Twitter chats I feel as though I have a group of supportive writer friends. Of course, I have the advantage because I am chatting with you all on Castaway Books too.

Kathleen: Yes — and #FriSalon itself is a wonderful supportive environment too! (The Sisters in Crime aren’t all women — all genders are welcome — we support all writers who need their voices amplified.)

Marianne: I must look up writing events in Toronto (Canada). There must be several. My only barrier would be the traffic. Driving in Toronto is taking your life in your hands. I’d have to hitch a ride.

Marian (to Marianne): Word on the Street’s the big one. On line last year. Eden Mills Writers’ Festival I assume you know? BookBash in Guelph will be virtual this year too. FOLD in Orangeville; also, virtual as far as I know – it’s in the spring so maybe RL in 2022.

Word on the Street (happening right now): also Festival of Authors: Eden Mills Writers’ Festival: FOLD: Bookbash (nothing happening yet):…

Kathleen: I’d love to meet other writers in person…but virtual meetings have saved me during the pandemic. I suspect they’ll continue at some level in the future.

Andy: I took part in the first @WknightWriters virtual conference around this time last year, running a workshop I’d initially planned to run at Swanwick until it got postponed.

What would be your ideal location for a writing retreat and who would you invite to join you?

Beth: I’d want a retreat in the beautiful North Woods area of Minnesota/Wisconsin near the Canadian border (or just over). I’d invite my workshop and some of the wonderful people I’ve met via Twitter.

Deborah: Sounds wonderful. Can I come? I’d like a log cabin with a woodburner too.

Beth: Absolutely! The shores of Lake Superior are some of the most beautiful in the world, IMHO, and there are a lot of lakes and waterways hidden in folds and stands of pine, aspen, and paper birch.

Kathleen: How about the whole #FriSalon crew in a beach house…with lots of good food and wine?

Deborah: Perfect! A beautiful American style house right on the beach. Like in the films.

Maria: Maybe in the Lake District, but I’d consider going to lots of different places to meet up with wonderful writing friends. I’d invite the #FriSalon gang & maybe a separate one for my @ChristIndieWrit fam (that one might well be in the US which would be amazing)

Anita: Somewhere tranquil, beautiful, calm and inspiring. All meals provided and a good social space to meet when not writing. So, Swanwick in a tropical setting sounds about right! And some of the people from there, plus Frintonians. And definitely with @AuthorGerald

Gerald: I’d love to have a crime-writing retreat with all my favourite crime writers. Oh, the discussions we’d have! And location? Somewhere not too far away for travelling, but away from the world.

Deborah: It sounds like the perfect setting for a crime.