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Retreat Blog

The latest in what's interesting

Year of Indie Debuts: 183 Times A Year by Eva Jordan

June 29, 2016
Today’s Indie Debut star is Eva Jordan, whose novel 183 Times A Year is about mothers and daughters, a relationship that always has a lot of material to mine!  Firstly, I’d like to thank the lovely Amanda, fellow Urbane author, for having me on her blog today. Amanda suggested I write a post about the themes discussed in my debut novel. Write what you know, I was advised. So I did. Inspired by the women in my life including my mother, daughters and close friends, 183 Times A Year is a humorous observation of contemporary family life. Love, loss and friendship weave their way throughout this amusing and sometimes tragic story, however, in the main, 183 Times A Year is a poignant, heartfelt look at the complex and diverse relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter. Our history books are littered with notable mother­-daughter relationships including Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Marie Curie and Iréne Joliot­ Curie, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane and Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst to name just a few. The actress Jamie Lee Curtis said of her mother and fellow actress, Janet Leigh, “My mother was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. There are moments when I remember her beauty, unadorned, unposed, not in some artificial place like a set or a photo call but rather captured outdoors in nature, where she took my breath away. When those moments surface, I miss her the most.” And to her daughter, Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland said, “Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else.” Seen from two points of view, 183 Times A Year is narrated through two very different voices, namely Lizzie and Cassie. Lizzie is the exasperated mother of Cassie, Connor and stepdaughter, Maisy, and the frustrated voice of reason to her daughter’s teenage angst. She gets by with good friends, cheap wine and talking to herself—out loud. Whereas 16-­year­ old Cassie is the Facebook­ing, Tweeting, selfie­ taking, music and mobile phone obsessed teen that hates everything about her life. She longs for the perfect world of Chelsea Divine and her ‘undivorced’ parents—and Joe, the gorgeous boy every girl fancies. Although I am both a mother and step mother and was therefore able to draw on many of my own experiences, as well as those of friends and family (when Cassie refers to Virginia Woolf as Canary Wharf and the current British Prime Minister as Cameron Diaz, I was actually drawing on fact, not fiction), I also carried out a great deal of research. I discovered (and suddenly remembered) that being a teenager isn’t easy. Nonetheless, being the mother of such isn’t always a bed of roses either. Whilst most five­-year ­old girls love their mother with an unshakeable conviction, it is often a different story by the time they reach their teens. The once adored mother who barely put a foot wrong is suddenly doing or saying embarrassing things and dumbfounded mothers discover their testing teens often feel criticised or judged by their well-­meaning actions or advice. Throw in step-parents and step-siblings to the mixing pot of today’s divided and extended families and you’re probably

Year of Indie Debuts: Paris Mon Amour by Isabel Costello

June 13, 2016
I’m very happy indeed today to be featuring Isabel Costello in the Indie Debuts spotlight. Isabel and I have been friends for several years now and have been supporting each other on our journey to publication so I was thrilled for her when her novel, Paris Mon Amour, was picked up by exciting new publishers, Canelo. Published today, it is beautifully written, thought provoking and very sad, while also being filled with hope, and I highly recommend it.  So it was great to get the chance to ask Isabel all about it for the blog. There is quite a history to it! Paris Mon Amour started life as a short story four years ago, a kind of personal response to the depiction of female sexuality in Fifty Shades of Grey, which wasn’t one I recognised. It was a natural choice to make the protagonist closer to my own age, not least because it’s relatively rare to find a woman over 40 centre-stage in a novel. Although it’s unusual for me to start from an agenda, the premise soon came to me very vividly. Even in its original short form, it was a game-changer which sparked some extremely positive developments. The judges who shortlisted it in the Asham Award called the story ‘novelistic’, which was a challenge and an inspiration. I wrote the novel with a fire burning, and with the invaluable support and guidance of my agent. In Canelo, I’m lucky to have a publisher who love it for what it is and don’t care whether it follows trends. My feelings about this are an extension of my general frustration with sexual inequality and double standards, particularly when it comes to relationships, ageing, looks, etc. For those attitudes to be challenged it takes women of all ages to say we are not silent, we are not invisible. Of course there have been huge, hard-won advances in women’s equality but the continued extent of discrimination and sexism in the 21 st century is astounding – in some respects it seems worse than ever. In fiction, ‘older man/younger woman’ is a tired trope but I was conscious that the reverse isn’t exactly original either (‘Mrs Robinson’ gets mentioned a lot). That never worried me as my aim was to get so deeply into the characters that the story could only be about Alexandra and Jean-Luc – and her husband Philippe. And considering that her lover is the son of Philippe’s best friend, the age gap was never going to be the only issue. Far from it! Guilt is something most women can relate to, and it manifests in so many ways in Paris Mon Amour, in different threads of the story, that I couldn’t give you a straight answer if I tried (certainly not without spoiling it)! I like to leave space for the reader to formulate their own response to Alexandra, but I’m not averse to making it a bit uncomfortable. I take a situation to which many people would have an instinctive reaction – infidelity is wrong/I would never do something like that – and blur the lines. I don’t like moralising books and there was never any danger of

Guest author: Helen Victoria Anderson – A Way Back

June 8, 2016
Welcome to Helen Victoria Anderson today. Her guest blog is about writing as therapy and how it has helped her to come to terms with her young daughter’s death. Thanks for coming, Helen, and for sharing this lovely piece of writing with us. A Way Back I have been a firm believer in the therapeutic potential of writing since I started scribbling my way through a long, major depression when my children were younger. It started out as pouring my guts onto the page, which could get quite messy. Then, I was encouraged by mental health staff to attend Adult Education classes, and subsequently I went back to university to study for a Masters in Creative Writing. It is the best thing I have ever done: more than once, writing has saved me from the darkness which creeps up on me. In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King states “Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life” and I totally agree (I’m sure Stephen King will be relieved to hear that.) Aside from that initial spilling of emotions – resulting in puddles of stuff which may or may not be suitable for sharing – there is the satisfaction of shaping initial ideas into crafted pieces which will connect with fellow human beings. For me, until recently, these pieces had largely taken the form of poetry and literary fiction with autobiographical seeds. (No matter how much we might dress things up, deliberately or subconsciously, I think all writing ultimately comes from our own experiences of the world). In the beginning, I wrote about depression and struggles with not feeling good enough as a mother. I wrote some frivolous, jokey pieces from time to time but I really felt at my most fulfilled when I was sinking my teeth into subject-matter like mid-life crises and looming empty nests. Usually, I cowered behind fictional characters or narrative personae, because even that felt scary and exposing enough. But in a good way. At university, it was encouraged – in a safe, holding environment – to delve into painful experiences which came up. As well as being intensely cathartic on a personal level, this gave me plenty of compelling material to transform into powerful poetry and stories. I gained confidence. Writing made me feel more ‘myself’. Three years ago, a terrible tragedy struck our family and I once again turned to the page, in order to survive. When my fourteen year old daughter, Georgina, was diagnosed with Stage Four liver cancer in June 2013, I poured my awful fears and unspeakable feelings into my journal. I scrawled in notebooks, in between meetings with doctors and watching rubbish telly with Georgina at her hospital bedside. I wrote often, as the catastrophe of Georgina’s terminal diagnosis unfolded. And when she died less than four months after they found her tumours, I wrote about my grief and all the things I wanted to remember about her. As I felt my way through the first months after her death, I charted my journey by flinging down verbal crumbs and crusts (whole loaves, even) like some kind of crazed, writerly Hansel and

Win a place at the Self-Edit Your Novel Retreat

June 3, 2016
In November, Debi Alper and I will be teaching at the Self-Edit Your Novel Retreat. We’ll be back at the beach house in West Bay, Bridport. Debi will be running 2 classes based on her hugely successful online course, which I did a few years ago and it changed my writing forever. The course is great and Debi recently wrote a blog about the success rate of people that have completed it and gone on to get book deals. You can get all the info on the retreat here – it takes place from 4th to 8th November. There are 6 places to join us and I’m running a competition to win one of them. Deadline: 23.59 on 10th July 2016 Prize: 1 place at the 4 night Self-Edit Your Novel Retreat in your own room with all food, drink and classes included. Outside of the classes your time is yours to read, write, sleep, walk – whatever you want to do! Entry fee: £10 How to enter: Write a 500 word novel opener on the theme of a holiday at the beach. Send it in through Submittable using the button below with a short covering note saying why you’d like to win the place at the retreat and a bit of info on what you are working on. Good luck! Competition T&Cs £10 to enter You can enter as many times as you like as long as you pay the fee each time Do not put your name on your novel opening or your entry will be disqualified as judging is done anonymously Stories must be written in English, your own original work and unpublished online and in print Submit your stories through Submittable by 23.59 (BST) on 10th July 2016 Winner will be announced in July 2016 The judge’s decision is final By entering the competition you agree to attend the Self-Edit Your Novel Retreat and have your winning novel opening entry published on the Retreat West website The writer of the winning novel opening gets a free place at the Self-Edit Your Novel Retreat and the prize is not transferable

Publisher interview: Anna Hughes at The Pigeonhole

June 1, 2016
Recently, I spoke with Rajeev Balasubramanyan about his new novel, Starstruck, and in doing so found out about the exciting digital publisher, The Pigeonhole. I love the idea of returning to the serialisation of novels for the digital age and providing an experience around them, so spoke to the founder and editor, Anna Hughes, to find out more about it. Anna, can you tell us what inspired the idea of serialising novels and providing other content around them? The Pigeon’s foundations were formed from a desire to bridge the yawning gap between authors and their readers. The plan was to use the dynamism of a digital launch to offer authors a fresh new platform from which to shout about their works and, really, themselves. The serialisation bit actually came from my business partner Jacob. His original pitch to me, over many drinks and a sketch on a napkin, was Dickens done digitally. I was sold. The idea of using delayed gratification to create an online water cooler moment around books, one championed by the great man of English Literature, such an idea. In today’s world, we are doing so much more. Dickens changed the way that people read books, by giving literature to the everyman. He made printed stories accessible and relevant. Now we are using the same method to help people fit their reading back into their lives, no matter how busy you might be. Serialisation to an app means that your book is ready for you whenever and wherever you have the time to read, because really, when are you ever without your phone? The extra content was merely another device to introduce a writer to their audience. What’s evolved from that is multi-media to give a fully rounded look at the book, as well as offering little talking points and rewards for finishing a stave. How do you recognise when a book will work well as a serial? I’m not convinced that all books can or should be serialised. The key to what we do is curation. Non-fiction has long been popular on our site. I suspect this is largely because people are used to reading non-fiction on their phones. We love doing it; it lends itself so well to extra content and discussion. We’ve published a wide range from classics such as Art of War, to commissioned travelogues and 3-minute summaries of top non-fiction books in partnership with Blinkist. When it comes to fiction, we are open to everything, just so long as there is a strong narrative drive and brilliant storytelling. Short stories are obviously a dream for us to publish, and a pet-passion of mine. As is genre fiction. We recently launched a disappearing book with Head of Zeus. Every day for two weeks we released a new stave of Stefan Ahnhem’s extraordinary thriller – Victim Without a Face – and at 5am the next day, we’d steal it away. The readers went crazy with their comments. By the end of the serialisation we had readers yabbering away at each other, and the author as well, it was a joy to see. You’ve created a global community of readers and writers – can you tell us a bit