A retreat into writing… and lots more!

The view from my window... I'm feeling all Vita Sackville-West!
The view from my window... I'm feeling all Vita Sackville-West!

Today is the last full day of my writing retreat at West Dean College.  I won this nearly a year ago in the Myriad Editions Writer's Retreat Competition for the first 5,000 words of The Gift of Looking Closely.


West Dean and Myriad very kindly extended the dates within which I could take the prize – I was able to look forward to it the whole time I was busy having cancer and treatment. Now here I am! And in addition to having the all-clear healthwise, I have had the proof paperback copy of The Gift of Looking Closely to check.


West Dean has been fabulous, a real opportunity to focus on the proofreading and clarify my plans for world domination (write the beginnings of some publicity material, I mean!).


I’ve met some lovely, interesting people who have been doing some of the short courses here – Janice and Janet, Cynthia and Dudley, Sue, Allan, Erna… and have thoroughly explored West Dean College and gardens. No wonder people get addicted to this place, coming back again and again to learn or improve some fabulous art and craft skills. I was adopted by the ‘Atmospheric Watercolours’ class taught by Wendy Jelbert  and have learned the little miracle of sprinkling salt in watercolour to create stars and leaves. I was also invited to pop in and see how Gaudi’s designs were inspiring extraordinary machine embroidered pieces in a class run by Wendy Dolan. Amazing.


On Wednesday, I visited the Tapestry Studio, where I met Philip Sanderson and Katharine Swailes, who undertake commissions to produce extraordinary work – for example, translating the art of Tracy Emin and Henry Moore into tapestry.


The West Dean gardens are fantastic, too – I did the two mile walk over the green shoulder of the hill amongst bleating lambs up into the scented woods, then visited the kitchen garden to discover that peonies can smell like honey and ice cream. Who knew?!


And what about writing? Well, I made a schedule and stuck to it. Proofreading the paperback; answering questions from a local (Brighton) journalist; researching publications and websites that might be willing to review my novel; putting together some material for book groups who would like to read it; writing a Press Release about the paperback; developing writing exercises for my next workshop… I got LOADS done!


So. Many, many thanks to Myriad Editions and West Dean College for a really valuable prize. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me – this level of space and attention simply wouldn’t have been possible within the parameters of my ordinary life. It means The Gift of Looking Closely will be available through Amazon as a paperback so much sooner – within the next couple of weeks, in fact!


I am hugely grateful.


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