Writing Retreat

I have left London for a week and come here to mid-Wales, to be with my new book, Magic for the Living. I say ‘be with’ because I have found that although writing is part of what books require, they also need other forms of attention.

Magic for the Living is my fourth book and my second novel. Each experience has been different but all have had elements in common. It’s generally accepted that people ‘write’ books and of course I don’t disagree with that! Especially in terms of getting down the first draft, there is little to be done but to get on and write it.

But there is more to finishing a book than writing, than the actual process of putting words down one after another.

Sometimes, especially but not only in the early stages, I feel as if I am incubating the book. At other times, I’m wrestling – or mud-wrestling – with it. There are also periods when what seems needed is a respectful distance, allowing the book a little space.

Key to the process for me is listening to the characters, or peering for them in the mist, needing to wait for them to present themselves more clearly, to emerge and step forward. And sometimes, I’m asking them – telling them – that I need more from them, must be allowed deeper into their stories, past and present. Often, they are not who I thought they were.

It’s a luxury, to go away together for a short time. But being with the book can be challenging. It’s a relationship and like most significant relationships – it’s intense.

What is your writing process? I’d love to hear about it, if you feel like commenting.




4 Responses to Writing Retreat

  1. I have just been commissioned to write a book about the legacy of the First World war for mental health in Britain (based on a family tragedy) and have thought about ‘retreating’ with the idea for a while. Your experience of writing The Painted Bridge must have been very intense and I am conscious, following what you say here, that I have to nurture the story and find a way to allow the characters to speak to me, even in a work of non-fiction. Hard to find that space though!

  2. Congratulations on the commission, that is great news and the book sounds so interesting. I agree – even in non-fiction, the ‘real’ people have somehow to be created on the page as characters. They seem to stroll on in their own time… Best of luck with finding the space you need.

  3. I sometimes feel as though characters gain substance and depth in response to the quality of attention I have given them. If I turn away or leave them alone for too long a period, it feels as though they become ‘thinner’ or develop some odd delinquent trait that can put me off my stride. Even though characters are not real people, they are real. It is mysterious. I sometimes wonder what is happening to the characters from some of my abandoned stories – as though (having been written into life) they are out there somewhere, that they still matter to me.

  4. You’ve identified something I think is at the heart of it – the quality of attention, and sometimes patient waiting – the writer needs to give, without which the characters do not show up. And yes, it is mysterious. Thank you, Signs.

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