I think that this year was my favourite retreat (but then I think that every year).
For some years now my writers group have attended an annual writing retreat. I so look forward to this every year, right from the planning stages where I’m deciding what I’ll work on while I’m there through the whole retreat itself. This time away is a chance to write interrupted for periods of time, to explore and to think. We work hard, we plot, we brainstorm, we break down scenes from our novels and agonise about writing a synopsis. We eat out at night, satisfied with what we have achieved during the day, and talk incessantly about anything and everything.
This year we opted for a new location and rented a house at the top of Mt Tamborine. A change of scenery is always good for inspiration and our accommodation was fantastic. It was perfect for our needs and had the most incredible view of both the mountains and the ocean. One of my favourite things to do was to make a coffee and sit out on the deck just after dawn, soaking up the very first rays of sun as it rose over the ocean. The air was crisp and fresh and the birdsong was extraordinary. While I sipped my coffee I learned which tree was favoured by most of the birds and I loved it when the magpies and mynas landed on the railing scouting for food. This is when I would think about what I was going to work on for the day or just allow my mind to wander and day dream in general about having a weekender on the mountain.
I’ve been battling with several scenes in my novel and I know I’ll get them right eventually, especially with the help of these wonderful women who I can always count on to set me right when my story wanders off in the wrong direction. We are very different people but we have formed great friendships over the years and I especially love how our minds work when we come together over our love of writing.
I think that this year was my favourite retreat (but then I think that every year).
I’m sharing the playlist of songs I’ve been listening to while working on my novel (as promised two blog posts ago). I often listen to music when I’m writing. I also listen to the playlist when I’m driving to and from work, which is when I’m usually thinking about writing. Songs inspire me in so many different ways—sometimes it’s the lyrics and other times it’s the music itself, something about the tone, whether it’s haunting, sorrowful, or brimming with anger and destruction like Bulls on Parade. I’ve been listening to that song over and over while working on a scene very close to the end of the novel and it (hopefully) helps express onto paper what is going on in my character’s head. The list is pretty well made in the order of how they appear in the novel and this is either because it is mentioned in the novel or because it was inspiration on my part while writing that particular scene.
Hey Hey, My My Neil Young
Headbanging in the Mirror Ducktails
Love Interruption Jack White
World on a String (unplugged) Neil Young
Bird on a Wire Sarah Blasko
Steady, As She Goes The Raconteurs
Ramble On Led Zeppelin
Queen Bitch David Bowie
Lost & Defeated Sarah Blasko
Songs from the Wood Jethro Tull
Moonage Daydream David Bowie
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue Bob Dylan
No Surprises Radiohead
Rocking Horse The Dead Weather
Locomotive Breath Jethro Tull
Hey You Pink Floyd
Man in the Box Alice in Chains
Love Sick Bob Dylan
Temporary Ground Jack White
I Put a Spell on You Credence Clearwater Revival
Bring it on Home to Me The Animals
Bulls on Parade Rage Against the Machine
Put Your Lights on Santana feat. Everlast
It’s a week today until I leave for a writing retreat with my supremely wonderful crit group. We are staying at a house in the mountains and I am very much looking forward to the time up there to edit this work and discover new inspiration in our surroundings. I hope to bring home a much deeper understanding of the motivations of my characters and also, many new photographs filled with inspiration for this story and for future stories to come.
It’s March already and I am only just now writing/posting my first blog post for the year. I have been thinking about writing this post since early January but I have allowed just about everything to get in the way. January and February in my day job are supposed to be quiet months. Supposed to be. If it wasn’t for the four hefty litigation matters we are currently juggling I guess it might. Right now I can feel the workload slowly encroaching on my lunch breaks. Usually I’ll do anything to protect this time. It’s one of my allotted writing times. Aside from the occasional lunches with friends this is when I push everything aside and escape to a local café and write. Or edit. Or think. Or plot. Or daydream.
Among the chaos of work and writing and setting goals for the year, there are the ongoing renovations. We are back in the house but work goes on around us. We will finish one day but there are still days where it feels a little overwhelming and on those days I dearly wish it was completely finished. Most of the time though I’m in awe at what we’re achieving. We’re behind schedule due to delays with materials and tradesmen, our own time being limited by our full-time jobs and my own ill-health. Among this chaos we live our lives. It’s good chaos though, and through it all we laugh and plan and build and escape for the odd weekend to have a break from it.
Sometimes, when I am overwhelmed by everything that is going on, one of my favourite things to do is sit out on the deck in the late afternoon or early evening, sipping a cold drink with my loves, listening to birdsong. There is something very special about sitting on the deck that my husband built with his own hands. It was while I was sitting out on the deck a few days ago that an idea came to me for an upcoming story anthology. It is to do with renovations but its dark and horrific and far unlike anything we’ve been through. Nothing like taking a snippet from your own life and crucifying the characters in the fictional version.
My writing goals for the year are set and some of them are already half way to being met. As we did last year, we plan to take numerous road trips to explore the countryside, breaking the monotony of work and the renos. Also, there’s the discovery of new places, taking photos and making notes to look forward to. And reading. There’s always time for reading. It’s a fantastic way to unwind and relax, and nine times out of ten I choose reading over television. I need to read, I love to read and it makes me infinitely happy to read. I read more books last year than I think I’ve read in any preceding year and looking back, some of them were among the best books I’ve ever read.
My year ahead looks great. I can’t wait for each and every day to come.
While I snatch whatever snippets of time I can from my day in order to write, I often think about what it might be like to experience the joy of being able to write full time.
Recently, I met some lovely people at the book launch for the Lighthouses Anthology in which my story, Trepidation, is featured. On chatting to two new friends, a comment was made by one of them along the lines that if we had all the time in the world to write (i.e., no need for a day job in order to pay the bills), we might not discipline ourselves as fiercely to write as we do now with the narrow window of time we have.
I found myself agreeing for the very reason that I protect my writing time as much as I can. I write in my lunch break just about every day of the week. Quite often I go to a local café with my work in progress and I sit, with coffee or a pot of tea, and I work. I go there without my phone, meaning I have no Internet and no ability to procrastinate by checking emails or Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. I spend a solid hour writing or editing, stopping only occasionally to observe others coming and going from the café.
Some days the words come easy and some days they don’t. On those days I do a lot of thinking. There are days I want to set my manuscript alight and be done with this cursed idea of writing a novel, and then there are days I look at it and think it might actually be okay. But in spite of how I may be feeling, I'm always happy delving into the troubles and wonders of my characters.
I find it harder to concentrate at night, at home, because it’s the time I love to spend with my family. Also, at the moment I have no actual designated writing room, and though I miss my own solitary space and being surrounded by my books, I know that I can write anywhere. So I curl up on the couch with my manuscript and I work on it every little chance I get. Because I love to write. I need to write. It’s part of who I am.
Next post I will share my writing playlist for the novel I'm working on. For now though, I share a link for the lovely folk who would like to support by purchasing a copy of the Lighthouses Anthology, featuring my story, Trepidation. For those who have already read this anthology filled with dark and twisted tales, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
It is now less than two weeks until the launch of the Lighthouses Anthology (Black Beacon Books) in Byron Bay. The anthology features my story, Trepidation, and I am very much looking forward to attending the launch in such a spectacular location and also to seeing this publication in print. Copies of the anthology will be available for purchase at the launch (details can be found on Facebook), however, I will update here shortly as to other forms of purchase.
Light House, Dark House Greg Chapman
Scrimshaw Duncan Richardson
Horror at Hollow Head Cameron Trost
Psychopomp Mark McAuliffe
Trepidation Danielle Birch
Cloak of Madness Matthew Wilson
The Cape B. Michael Radburn
The Last Keeper Linda Brucesmith
In Search of Jimmy David Dolan
Into the Light Alice Godwin
The Crystal Lighthouse Sam Muller
To Keep the Lamp Alight Steve Cameron
The Tower B.T. Joy
Will o’ the Wisp Deborah Sheldon
I love researching a new story. The stickybeak in me thrives as I amble about the countryside (or the Internet) for every little skerrick of information I can lay my hands on. Sometimes I get carried away and delve far further than is required, but in this case I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having too much information. I’m a visual writer so I’ll take hundreds of photographs and sort through them, deleting some and finding inspiration in so many. I look at them over and over, print them out and stick them on a board, forming a collage of the story that I can sit and stare at. I also tear pictures out of magazines and books as well but it’s the photographs I love best.
These are a handful of photos that I’ve taken relating to my novel. There are so many more but these are some of the landscape in a part of Queensland that I love so much. I’m a regular visitor to this area where I’ve had many happy times and it was the logical place for me to set my novel and to create a fictional town called Indigo, nestled at the base of the mountains beside a lake I've named Lake Superstition. Ironically, my main character despises everything about Indigo.
It’s halfway through the year already and I’m nowhere near the point at which I’d planned to be. But you know what they say…the best laid plans, etc, etc. Am I behind with my novel? Yes. Are we behind on renovations? Yes.
I am learning to be okay with this. I am learning that I cannot always have complete control over what is going on in my life, that things will go wrong and we have to deal with them. I should know this by now, but it’s still a learning curve and something I think I will always grapple with. I also need to start taking my own advice and be more zen about the shite that life throws at you. Easier said than done. I do know that I’m very lucky in that I have a husband who rocks. He is my partner in every way, my best friend, and he always makes me laugh. We’ve had to cope with a lot in the last few years and I believe we are so much stronger for it. I think of that, of the love and support we’ve had from family and friends and it helps inspire me. It pushes me forward, fills me with positivity. It helps me discipline myself to write, to make the time to write, even when I’m too exhausted or my muse has vanished to some dim, dark corner. Because writing is what I love to do. And yet I let myself become distracted and allow my writing time to be swallowed up by everything else when I should be protecting it.
When I look at my overall goals for the year though, it doesn’t seem that all is lost with my productivity. I had intended to write two short stories and sub them. I’ve actually written three (and subbed them). It’s the novel that is my bug bear, but it’s this novel that I’m focusing on. I love it and in turn I (sometimes) despise it. The story is close to me, as are the characters, and I feel very strongly about it and them, yet there are times when I feel as though I’ve hurled a mass of words into a vortex and none of it really makes any sense.
In saying this, although we’re halfway through the year, it is just that—halfway. I still have a whole six months to achieve the remainder of my writing goals. Yes, I have a shorter amount of time to attain them, but if I focus (and spend less time procrastinating on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) I might just come out ahead.
1. the act of withdrawing, as into safety or privacy; retirement; seclusion;
2. a place of refuge, seclusion, or privacy;
3. an asylum, as for the insane.
As a writer one or all of the above may apply, but it’s the second one that speaks to me the most when I think of going on retreat. Not to say I’m running from anything or have any great desire to be alone, it’s just the unquenched desire to have huge blocks of time where I can sit and lose myself in my novel. The fact that I also get to spend time with my crit group - my dear friends who inspire me - who make me laugh and make me push past the invisible boundaries I sometimes build around myself, is another plus. One of us made the comment, “Five people in a room happily ignoring each other. What could be better?” It’s true. We work well together, silently, furiously typing, crafting, creating, and then we sit back and talk about it. We’re very different people but somehow we’re in sync. We’ve known each other for over ten years and we know how each of us ticks. We certainly know how to get the best out of each other and that’s one of the things I love about us most. We push and shove and nudge each other (in the best possible way) to succeed.
In the time we were away we collectively wrote (working on separate novels) over 15,000 words. This does not include the plotting (for our own future works) and research and also does not include the novels we plotted over dinner. We went back to a great little Italian restaurant where we had dinner last year and were recognised by the woman who runs it. She was pleased to see us and all too happy to have us write all over the butcher’s paper on the tables. In between courses we took turns plotting out a novel, scene by scene, with or without dialogue, that had us in stitches with laughter. We had so much fun we went back the following night and plotted another novel.
I wrote mainly in longhand over the weekend because I’m still getting the feel of this novel (having written the first draft very roughly last November during NaNoWriMo) and I love to fill notebooks rather than stare at a computer screen when I’m still in the early stages. I have pages and pages of notes and partial scenes in my notebook that I can’t wait to go over and fold into the current draft. I also plotted most of a novel from a workshop we did on Saturday morning. When the workshop started my aim was just to play along and have some fun. I had no intention of plotting another novel. Four sentences in I knew this was going further. I spent about an hour on Saturday making notes for this story which I will put away to be unearthed down the track.
This group of women means a lot to me. I have learned so much from them and with them. There is nothing we cannot discuss if we choose. No question is too graphic or personal or just plain wrong. People who overhear us are sometimes amused or alarmed or downright frightened, but they’re always intrigued about what we’re doing.
And the scenery at our favourite location for retreat is a visual smorgasbord. We stay on level 14 of an apartment complex overlooking the ocean at Caloundra (in Queensland, about 1.5 hours north of Brisbane for any overseas readers) and have incredible views. Most of my pictures this year are of the landscape. I sat and thought, stared at the mountains, at the ocean, at the trees, and all of it inspired me.
Below are just two of the photos I took. One of sunrise and one of sunset.
I can’t wait for next retreat.
My day job is pretty much a sedentary role. I’m a paralegal and I’m stuck at my desk for long periods of time. It’s similar with writing, although the subject matter is far more interesting. When it comes to renovating our house, I get to do something completely removed from the drudgery of law. I get to labour. I lift and carry and assist wherever and whenever I’m required. I use power tools (LOVE using the nail gun) and I paint. Painting is time consuming but I enjoy it because I can see the progress as it happens and I can stand back and look at a finished room (and then of course I am mentally furnishing it, which is the fun part, right!). We spent the entire four days of Easter painting interior walls and despite it being hard on the neck and shoulders (painting the ceilings is not my favourite part) I loved it. The sense of achievement is foremost but also, it gives me time to think. And when I think I retreat into one of my favourite pastimes.
I love to day dream. I’ve always been a day dreamer. It’s even documented on my school report cards although not in a positive notion as I consider it. Over the four days while we rolled paint onto the ceiling and walls, I plotted a new short story (I’m still working on the novel but put it aside for the Easter break intending to do some reading).
It was during the undercoating process that I looked around, admiring the bright open space, and considered how such a space might have the effect of making someone feel overwhelmed. I love bright, open rooms but I wondered how someone would cope if so much space intimidated them and led them to crave a more compact living area. I suddenly had this vision of a person standing in the middle of their lounge room one morning and when they look up they can’t bear the distance between the floor and the ceiling and the width from one side of the room to the other.
I kept asking more questions as I painted. In between the first and second coats I started making notes. And what emerged was a new, strange but interesting character who all but fell over her own feet to tell me her story. That was how The Unbearable Darkness of Sound was born.
I’m very excited to announce that my story “Trepidation” will be published in the Lighthouses Anthology with Black Beacon Books. They’re a local Aussie publisher and I’m really chuffed to be a part of this project. The release date is later this year but I will update here when I have an actual date and also a cover to share. I can confirm that the anthology will be released in print and ebook form.