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Guest post: The Perfect Writing Retreat by Helen M Hunt

Tonight’s special guest blog post, on the topic of writing retreats, is brought to you by short story author and creative writing tutor / columnist and interviewee Helen M Hunt.

The Perfect Writing Retreat

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with your writing, and sometimes it’s good to remove yourself entirely from your home surroundings and distractions in order to refocus on your creativity. If you can get away from the washing up, the kitchen floor that needs mopping and the lawn that needs mowing, you’ll be able to clear the space in your mind that you need to concentrate on your writing.

At the end of last month I had the opportunity to attend a course at a writing retreat in France, and I had a wonderful time.

Chez Castillon is an amazing 18th century townhouse in Castillon la Bataille near St Emilion, and Mickey and Janie Wilson, the proprietors, have turned it into the most fantastic retreat for writers and artists.

What makes a perfect retreat?

  • Beautiful surroundings – Inspiring surroundings make a huge difference to the success of your retreat. From the town of Castillon with its bustling market, to the River Dordogne and Bordeaux wine-making region, Chez Castillon couldn’t be in a better location.
  • Hospitality – Not having to stop writing to cook and wash up is a huge advantage. Mickey and Janie are the perfect hosts and the food and drink on offer is fantastic.
  • Comfort – It’s vital to have comfortable surroundings in which you can relax and get on with your writing. Chez Castillon has beautiful guest bedrooms (all named after different wines), but there is also a brilliant self-contained classroom, a luxurious salon and a plush library. It even has a swimming pool if you’re feeling energetic.
  • Great tuition – A course leader to inspire and instruct is when I was there, we were lucky enough to have crime writer Adrian Magson as our tutor. Adrian led sessions throughout the week on various aspects of writing and gave us exercises and prompts that were helpful inspiration for free writing sessions.
  • Support of fellow writers – one of the great things about going on a writing retreat is meeting other writers, being able to share ideas and support each other. I was lucky enough to meet a great group of fellow students at Chez Castillon and we are keeping in touch and continuing to support each other by email.

Adrian Magson, our tutor, said: “I have to confess that Chez Castillon was my first ever writing retreat-style session, and I found it surprisingly easy to actually put down some ideas, even though I wasn’t there specifically for that, but to lead the course. Perhaps it was mixing with wonderfully funny, like-minded people, being relaxed, away from the phone, away from the normal daily round of things to do – maybe having mentally crossed that misty line into a semi-holiday mood, which released some constraints and allowed the mind to wander.”

A lot, though, in fact most, had to do with the location; the house itself, which was incredibly roomy and atmospheric (and that library, a writer’s paradise, which I wanted to take home with me – where was Calvin’s transmogrifier when I needed it?), the garden (with swimming pool), which was beautifully secluded, even though it was right in the middle of a small town. And the food! (God, I could go on a lot about the food. And the wine. And the food. And if that wasn’t enough, the Palace of Sin which was the combined chocolaterie / patisserie RIGHT ACROSS the street and I mean about 30 yards away.) Waistline alert!

Mostly, though, any location like this needs good hosts who understand what a retreat is all about. And we didn’t simply get good ones – we got great ones in Janie and Mickey, without which it would have been just a large house in a small provincial French town. Magnificent.”

How do you get the most out of a writing retreat?

  • Go with an open mind.
  • Be prepared to think and write outside your comfort zone.
  • Participate and contribute as much as you can in sessions. The more you put in the more you’ll get out.
  • Don’t forget, you can learn from your fellow students as well as your tutor.
  • Make sure you take some breaks from writing while you’re on your retreat. Allow yourself to be inspired by your new surroundings and by talking to different people.

Mickey and Janie, who run Chez Castillon, said: “We think that one of the most important things about Chez Castillon is that from the moment you step through the blue door into the hallway you can abdicate all responsibility – everything is taken care of and you can concentrate solely on what you have gone there to do. Breakfast lunch and dinner are all provided and the only decision you have to make is what colour wine to drink!

All the bedrooms are en-suite and large. Equipped with tables and chairs, toiletries and even a kaftan for lounging around the pool. They have glorious views over the back garden or the charming street at the front. Every room has WIFI.

Lunch and Dinner provide you with the chance to chat to fellow scribblers… and the terrace echoes with the sound of laughter. To give you a break (and further inspiration) we are happy to organise wine tastings; trips to nearby St Emillon and any of the surrounding market towns.

There is a very special feel to the house, it is a magical place which is why we fell in love with it in the first place and what makes subsequent visitors feel the same.”

Previous guests said:

“Fantastic! The perfect place to be creative and inspired.  There is time to work, to rest, to play.  Come here, you will achieve so much and yet go away feeling as if you’ve been on holiday.” Katie Fforde

“I have had the absolutely best time with the absolutely best people…let me come back.” – Judy Astley

“I am supposed to be good with words, but I don’t have the right ones in my lexicon to describe how I laughed…had fun…wrote…drank…ate and enjoyed myself.” – Kate Lace

“I had now idea it would be this fantastic…I have had a wonderful time.” Jane Wenham-Jones

You can find out more about Chez Castilon here.

They’ve got an array of writing courses coming up, including:

  • ‘Writing Commercial Women’s Fiction’ with Veronica Henry – Saturday 9th June to Friday 15th June 2012
  • ‘Writing Romantic Fiction’ with Louise Allen – Saturday 29th September to Friday 5th October 2012
  • ‘Is There A Book In You?’ with Jane Wenham Jones – Saturday 6th October to Friday 12th October 2012

In addition Katie Fforde and Judy Astley hope to return to lead a retreat, and people are also welcome to organise their own group and then just sort out dates with Mickey and Janie.

Now where did I put my passport? :) Thank you, Helen.

Helen Hunt writes short stories and features for magazines. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, The Weekly News, People’s Friend and Take A Break Fiction Feast in the UK, and That’s Life Fast Fiction in Australia. She also writes articles for Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine and runs short story writing courses, including a totally flexible online course. You can find her website at www.helenmhunt.co.uk

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with YA fantasy / paranormal author L Filloon – the three hundred and seventy-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & Noble, iTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2012 in events, recommendations, writing

 

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Guest post: ’Tis The Season To Write Short Stories by Helen M Hunt

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of writing seasonal stories is brought to you by short story author Helen M Hunt.

’Tis The Season To Write Short Stories

Women’s magazines all want stories that mark special events and occasions – both annual things such as Christmas, and one-off events such as the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. It means they get the chance to offer their readers something relevant to the season and topical which will chime with what their readers are thinking and talking about.

For the writer there are lots of positive opportunities here, as well as a few drawbacks. Let’s start with the positives.

Writing a story to fit in with a season such as Christmas gives you an opportunity to add an extra element to your writing that will make your story sparkle. A very simple ‘boy meets girl’ plot can be lifted out of the ordinary if they meet in Santa’s grotto. Or maybe they meet in a shelter for the homeless where they’ve both given up their own Christmas to help others. Or maybe they’re both nurses and they’ve pulled the short straw and got night duty on Christmas Eve. The possibilities to add poignancy and raise the stakes of your story are endless.

If you’re going to write seasonal stories, you need to remember that magazines work well in advance. How far in advance depends a bit on the magazine, so you’ll need to read their guidelines, but typically several months. This means one of two things. Either you write your Christmas stories in the middle of the summer when everyone else is sunning themselves and drinking lemonade by the pool, or your write your Christmas stories now while you’re still eating your way through the leftover turkey and picking tinsel out of the carpet, and then sit on them for a few months. Different writers work in different ways so the choice is yours.

There are some drawbacks to writing Christmas stories, or stories written for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Easter. What happens if you don’t place your seasonally sensitive story?

Don’t worry; all is not lost. If you don’t sell your Christmas story in 2012, you can hang on to it and send it to a different magazine in 2013. Don’t forget, in women’s magazine writing selling a story can sometimes be a very long game. In fact, last year I sold a spring story just as spring was coming to an end. The story had missed the slot for spring 2011, so now it’ll be published in spring 2012 – getting on for eighteen months after I wrote it.

But what if you don’t want to wait that long? Or even worse you’ve written a story for a one-off event, such as the London 2012 Olympics, that isn’t going to happen again?

In that case your only option is to see if you can deconstruct your story. How integral was the event or season to the plot? Would it work if you pegged it to another event? Or what about if you can find a more universal activity or theme to pin it to? Could you rewrite your spring story, taking out the daffodils and replacing them with autumn leaves? Sometimes a bit of ingenuity is required to rework a story that might otherwise have reached the end of the line.

The other thing to remember is that if you’re going to write a Christmas tale, or any other seasonal stories, you need to avoid the clichés and well-worn themes around that event. Magazines are looking for a new take on the subject, so try to avoid being too predictable. We’ve all read stories featuring the turkey being burnt, the dog eating the presents and the fairy lights fusing, so see if you can come up with something a bit different. It’s often useful to jot down all the ideas you can think of that fit in with your theme, and then discard the first six or so. The more obscure ones you’ve come up with are much more likely to produce a story that is fresh and different.

Last year I sold a ‘Christmas’ story called ‘A Second Christmas’ which was set a few days after Christmas. Setting it just after Christmas took it out of the normal run of seasonal stories and made it different enough for the Fiction Editor to accept it and run it in the first issue of the New Year. Try to think laterally and it might just pay off!

But whatever you do, try to keep your short story writing fun, and above all inventive, that way you’ll be coming up with stories that are a pleasure to write and also a pleasure to read, no matter what season it is!

If you’re interested in writing short stories for women’s magazines you may find some of my courses helpful.

New for 2012 is my online short story writing course, the ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ course. You can find details on my website www.helenmhunt.co.uk.

You might also be interested to know that I run workshops for people who are interested in writing for the women’s magazine market. (Dates for 2012 will appear on my website soon.) And I also offer email short story critiques.

You can read two of my stories, along with stories by other writers including novelists Cally Taylor and Tamsyn Murray and women’s magazine favourites Kathleen McGurl, Bernadette James and Karen Clarke, in the ‘Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After’ anthology which is now available Amazon for Kindle.

Thank you Helen, lovely to have you back!

Helen Hunt writes short stories and features for magazines. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, The Weekly News, People’s Friend and Take A Break Fiction Feast in the UK, and That’s Life Fast Fiction in Australia. She also writes articles for Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine. You can find her website at www.helenmhunt.co.uk.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with women’s / contemporary romance author, story development consultant and animation producer Shannon Muir – the two hundred and thirty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2011 in events, short stories, tips, writing

 

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Guest post: Writing Short Stories For Women’s Magazines by Helen M Hunt

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today by short story author, book review blogger and writing magazine columnist (and writing friend so I asked her to do this for me :)) interviewee Helen M Hunt.

Writing Short Stories For Women’s Magazines

The women’s magazine short story market remains one of the most competitive out there. Sadly, it is a shrinking market and because competition is so fierce, only the very best stories will make it to publication. There are still opportunities for those determined to succeed though, and in this post I’ve gathered together what I think is the most helpful advice for anyone who wants to make their mark!

For beginners

Patience is the key – don’t expect your first story to be accepted for publication, or your second or third. It can be a long process. Check submission guidelines for specific magazines carefully: there’s no point in sending a story that doesn’t fit the magazine’s requirements. I strongly recommend Womagwriter’s blog which has all the guidelines and contact details for the magazines you might want to submit to.

Initially you should concentrate on targeting one or two magazines – pick the ones that appeal to you most as a reader. If you try to research all the magazines in one go you’ll be overwhelmed. Remember that magazines are looking for stories that are similar in style and tone to the ones they are currently using, but at the same time they need to be different enough to catch an editor’s eye. That’s why you need to study the magazines really carefully and ask yourself why the stories in them work. Then ask yourself how you can bring something different to it!

Magazines aimed at writers – Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine are the big names – often have advice for beginner writers and also for short story writers. I’m writing some articles for Writing Magazine at the moment that cover different aspects of short story writing, so look out for those over the next few months.

For those with a bit more experience

Write as many stories as you can and keep sending them out. It’s helpful if you can set yourself a quota – but make sure it’s realistic. Once you are writing to a publishable standard, the more stories you have out there, the greater your chance of acceptance.

Never give up on a story! If one magazine rejects it, look at it again, revise it if necessary and send it somewhere else. Different editors have different tastes and I’ve sold a story on its seventh outing before.

Join a critique group if you haven’t already, either online or in the real world. Make sure that at least some people in the group are being published in the area you are aiming for. Ideally join a group that are just writing short stories as, although general creative writing groups are great for encouragement and inspiration, short story writing skills are very different from novel or poetry writing skills. If this isn’t possible you could use a critique service instead.

Women’s magazine writers are a friendly lot and always generous with their advice. There’s lots of online support out there for people who are aiming at this market.

In particular you might want to have a look at Womagwriter’s blog, Teresa Ashby’s blog and Della Galton’s website.

For anyone who prefers a book to refer to, Della Galton’s ‘How To Write And Sell Short Stories’ is the best book out there on this subject and I highly recommend it.

You might also be interested to know that I run workshops for people who are interested in writing for the women’s magazine market. You can find full details here. I also offer email short story critiques.

Thank you Helen! :)

Helen Hunt writes short stories and features for magazines. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, The Weekly News, People’s Friend and Take A Break Fiction Feast in the UK, and That’s Life Fast Fiction in Australia. She also writes articles for Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine. Helen is also a contributor to the ‘Tears and Laughter…‘ anthology.

You can find her blog at http://fictionisstrangerthanfact.blogspot.com. You can also read my interview with Helen here.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about – take a look here for the list of current topics and dates. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

 
 

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