Creative writing in France

Morgen: my piggies have gone to market and stayed there 😦

Jane Wenham-Jones

Room, indeed, for two little ones – or even two quite big ones (bedroom sizes generous).

Due to a cancellation, there are now a couple of places available at the fabulous Chez Castillon, where I am teaching “Is there a book in you?” in October. And I can’t tell you how lovely it is! (The place, not necessarily the tome lurking within, but we can work on that). Full details here.

The food is fab, the wine flows, the sun shines and I’ll be there (see footnote)… What’s not to like?

My entirely impartial verdict:

˜˜˜˜˜˜Worth selling your body or breaking  the piggy bank for. 

footnote 1  and the lovely Katie Fforde will be there too. Your chance to share a dinner table  with a mega-selling novelist. We might even persuade her to sing. See here.

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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

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.

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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.