It was April or May 2011 and I was pegging out the washing when it came to me. A retreat. A writing retreat. That was exactly what I needed to get my thoughts in order and to get some words down on the page. Peace, quiet, just me and my laptop and nothing else.
So I set about searching for the perfect place. I needed to be far enough away from home to stop me from taking the easy route out and hopping back in the car or on a bus and giving up. And I needed the freedom to do nothing but write without feeling guilty.
Google is a wonderful thing. Google found me my dream retreat. Nestled in the middle of the picturesque Devonshire village of Sheepwash, Deborah Dooley's house, a thatched cottage with the most gorgeous inglenook fireplace and the most comforting, welcoming atmosphere, is the place all writers wish they could be.
It took me a while to book it. My husband finally persuaded me (mainly by saying he would pay!). And it took me a while to get there. At least six months which, Deborah says, is probably the most far advanced booking she's ever had! I just had to make sure I was doing the right thing. With a young daughter, and a full time job, I had to be certain that this was okay.
And, of course, I have my routine. And like anyone with a predictable routine, the idea of having it shaken up and turned upside down is scary.
In the end I just had to do it anyway. For me, 2012 is all about taking chances, and leaving home (albeit only for four nights) to do something purely and utterly and completely for me is my first one.
It worked out really rather well.
The name Retreats for You is so very apt. Because it really is for you. Deborah (a journalist and writer herself) and her husband Bob offer their home and themselves to cater to you, to make you feel special and looked after. Hot water bottles placed lovingly in beds, wonderful homecooked meals (and scrumptious puddings!), lifts to and from the station (not a quick undertaking as the nearest station is an hour away - did I mention Sheepwash is in the middle of beautiful countryside?)... I managed to bring a cold with me, and Deborah happily dosed me up with vitamin C tablets each morning.
It was wonderful. I made myself a new routine: Breakfast at 8.30 (although this became more like 8.45 as the days went on!), and then writing until lunch. Lunch and a chat and gossip with Deborah, Bob, and Jackie (another writer on retreat), and a cuddle with Rosie the dog. And then more writing, until 6pm, when Deborah would bring a rather welcome glass of wine to my room (a treat for working hard) and I would stretch, save my work, and wander down the fabulous old stairs to the even more fabulous living room. And there I would sit and read, or talk, or doze, or read my work aloud to whoever wanted to listen, all in front of that incredible inglenook.
Since Deborah is a writer and knows just what it takes, she was on hand to offer critiques, and encouragement, and to help a rather confused and possibly overwhelmed would-be writer (ie me!) get a plan together which included a deadline for my novel's first draft, and a deadline to start sending it to agents.
She also talked to me about being a full time writer, and about possibly looking at women's magazines as a starting point. I hadn't really considered it before, but now I wonder why it hadn't occurred to me... So, as I type, I have a story idea brewing which I would like to send to Woman's Weekly (no, Victoria Wood, get out of my head now please! Actually, don't, that song always makes me chuckle). Why not? It's worth a go!
And so, 17,000 words later - a feat which would have taken me around three weeks at home - it was time to leave. There were hugging farewells and a delicious packed lunch for the train, and then it was over.
But I'll definitely be back!
If you are interested in finding out what a retreat with Deborah and Bob is really like, have a look at the Retreats for You website: http://www.deborahdooleyjournalist.co.uk/retreat.html. Do as little or as much as you want.
You won't regret it.