Review of Annie McKie’s Writing Retreat


Earlier this year I decided that I needed a couple of days away just to concentrate on my novel. Usually when I go on writing holidays it’s because I want to write but also want to have other people to socialise with. I like the balance between being productive and being sociable that writers retreats usually give. However, on this occasion I booked with Annie knowing that it would be a solo experience. I was struggling with the plot for Deadly Dreams and needed to just get away and have space to think.

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I took the train to Lydney and Annie met me there. For no extra charge, she drove me from and to the train station. Annie was really friendly and she made me feel so welcome. On the first evening I was invited to eat with Annie and her husband and they were delightful company. Every other meal after that was taken in my room. All of the food is vegetarian and I enjoyed every single meal that Annie made. There was always plenty of it and it was so healthy.

 

 

As the only guest at this retreat, you can choose what time you start your day. Annie would always ask me the night before what time I wanted breakfast and I was able to choose what I wanted to eat (for breakfast, other meals are set). Annie’s retreat is the perfect place to get away on your own. You get your own room with an ensuite shower room and balcony. It has it’s own entrance which I thought was great because it meant I could come and go as I pleased. The room is spacious and comfortable. It has a nice double bed, a desk, a wood burner, and a little library of books.


Unlike other retreats that I have been on, you literally just have your room, which suited my needs perfectly. I think I would probably struggle for longer periods because it really is a solitary experience (perfect for a couple of days, but even an introvert like me needs company after a while) and there is nowhere else in the house to go. There are, apparently, beautiful walks in the area but my fibromyalgia was flaring up pretty badly at the time so I didn’t make it far. There is also a pub close by if that is your thing. Annie was lovely enough to pick me up some things from the local shop so I had plenty of snacks, lovely meals three times a day, a beautiful view and wifi. For me this meant  there was no need to go out! I had everything I needed and was very content to alternate between my room and the balcony.


My time at the retreat was very productive. There are no distractions except for the beautiful views. You don’t have to worry about food because it’s all provided. The room is comfortable. It’s peaceful. There’s a little fridge in the room to store cold drinks and tea and coffee is provided, along with fruit and cereal bars for snacking. It certainly gave me the time and space that I needed.


I would recommend this retreat to anyone who needs some time on their own, regardless of if you are a writer. Annie was lovely and a wonderful host. It was a beautiful place to visit and the views were inspiring. I think the photos speak for themselves!

Cost: £140 for two nights.

Website: http://www.anniemckie.co.uk

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Swanwick 2016: Day One

Last year I attended Swanwick Writers School for the first time and I had one of the best weeks ever. I made great friends, had a lot of fun and learned a lot about writing. So here I am again, slightly tipsy, very tired and happy to be back at Swanwick.

My first day experience couldn’t be more different than it was last year. Last year I was so overwhelmed that I missed almost everything on the first day and was in bed by ten. This year I met a friend from last year at St Pancras and we travelled here together. Instead of the anxiety that I felt last year, I felt excited and relaxed. Swanwick Writers School could not make the journey any easier. We got off the train and there were people waiting to direct us to the bus to the Hayes (where the conference takes place).

We didn’t have long before the welcome talk but actually this year it wasn’t much of a problem because the check in process was so much quicker and more efficient than last year. The weather was lovely and the grounds of the Hayes are beautiful so after the talk we sat on the lawn and drank coffee (which is included in what you pay for the week,the week is literally all inclusive). We had a chance to catch up with friends from last year and meet some new people too. First timers have white name badges instead of yellow ones so it’s easy to see who they are. It was nice to be the person approaching newcomers rather than the person hiding in her room.

At dinner I sat with people who I had never met before which was great. I think it’s the nice thing about Swanwick, you can literally talk to anyone and you’re almost guaranteed that they will be friendly.

When I got back to my room after dinner,  I found that one of the pipes in the bathroom had broken and there was a really huge leak. The water was coming out of the door. The people at the Hayes were so nice about it. They’ve had to put me in another room (with the possibility of having to change again tomorrow) but they gave me free fudge so that makes up for it!

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I have now eaten the fudge.

The evening speaker tonight was John Lamont who gave an interesting (and evidence based) talk on how the way that we think influences outcomes. It was very thought provoking and an excellent way to start the week.

After a few drinks in the bar with new and old friends, I went to an informal session called What Are You Writing Now? Each person has the opportunity to stand in front of the group and talk for three minutes about what they are writing. Although public speaking is a huge part of my day job, outside of work I hate talking in front of a group of people. However, everyone else had done it and I thought it was only right that I should too. It was so interesting to hear what other people were doing, where they were at with their writing and how they had gotten there. I think the great thing about the session is that it really encouraged people to talk to each other afterwards and gave you something to talk about (not that having anything to talk about is an issue at Swaniwck, conversation just seems to flow here).

So day one has come to an end. I’m tired but happy to be back at Swanwick.

 

 

Cleveland Rocks Romance Competition: First Place, Paranormal Romance

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Earlier this year I started entering various competitions for unpublished novels through the Romance Writers of America. Many of the chapters have competitions where you can enter part of your novel (usually your first chapter). The first round is judged by members of the RWA and then if you are a finalist your novel is then judged by industry professionals, which is of course a great opportunity.

I started entering the competitions after volunteering to judge one. As I was writing feedback for the entries I was judging, I realised that it would be really helpful to me to have feedback on my first chapter too. I have a great critique partner but I think it’s useful to get as much feedback as possible. I’ve entered quite a few of the competitions now. The quality of the feedback has been variable but overall it has been totally worth the entry fees. Each competition I entered gave me something to work with and each time I would go through the first chapter and make edits based on the feedback I got. Like with any feedback, some I took on board and others I considered but ultimately didn’t use. One thing I found was quite consistent was that judges didn’t understand how things are in the UK (which is understandable as it is the Romance Writers of America). For example I got a lot of comments regarding why my characters didn’t have guns. Obviously that’s something that I wouldn’t change in my novels because it’s set in the UK. I’m not saying there will never be a gun in my books but it doesn’t fit with the setting that all characters would have guns or that they would be issued as standard (especially in a world where guns do not kill everything, but that doesn’t come in until chapter three or four).

I never expected that my novel would actually win one of the competitions. Having judged some myself, I know that the standards are high and I was really just in it for the feedback so that I could improve my novel. Obviously it must have worked because I found out yesterday that Deadly Dreams won first place in the Paranormal Romance Cateogry in the North East Ohio Romance Writers of America’s Cleveland Rocks Romance Competition.

Thank you NEORWA. Thank you to all the judges (first round and final round) for rating it highly. And thank you especially to all the judges who have given me such useful feedback on Deadly Dreams in all of the competitions that I have entered.

 

Secretly Submissive in From Top to Bottom

My short story, Secretly Submissive, has been published in LadyLit’s anthology, From Top to Bottom: Lesbian Stories of Dominance and Submission. It’s available from most major ebook retailers and is already an Amazon best seller. If you prefer to read physical books, the print version will be available soon.

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Brace yourself, because there will be pain—but of the oh, so pleasurable kind. There will be begging and there will be bruises, but all leading to an obliterating climax. The fifteen lesbian stories of dominance and submission contained within the pages of From Top To Bottom will make you flinch like the characters do, will make you squirm and want to turn the pages faster and faster. You will find first-time players and long-term couples. A plethora of paddles and the occasional flogger—and a great number of sore backsides. Be warned.

With stories from experienced writers at the top of their game and thrilling new talents alike, all of them exploring power dynamics from top to bottom, this collection is kinky, daring and, at times, deliciously violent. Read at your own risk.

Caution: This title contains graphic language and rough lesbian sex and is suitable for adults only.
Table of Contents
Chasing the Dragon by S.E. Hill
Dance for Me by Janelle Reston
Serious Swimmer by J. Belle Lamb
Call for Submission by Elna Holst
Tell Me by Robyn Nyx
Taking the Lead by Lauren Jade
The Antisocial Sister by Lucy Felthouse
One Hundred Strokes by Sinclair Sexsmith
The Encounter by Eden Darry
Secretly Submissive by Brooke Winters
Inside by Leandra Vane
Vegas Mistress by Samantha Luce
Hit The Top by Robin Watergrove
Not Yet by Harper Bliss
Latin Lessons by Lise MacTague

Click here for more information.

 

2015 in Writing

I start 2016 feeling pretty good about things. 2015 was, overall, a good year for me. Here are my low points and my high points.

The Lows

There have (thankfully) been very few lows this year. Of course there have been plenty of rejections but isn’t that to be expected?  Each rejection feels slightly easier than the previous one so in many ways the rejections are good too and they make me appreciate it when I get an acceptance.

The real low for me this year with regard to writing was receiving some really bad advice at the beginning of the year from two separate sources. The first was during a writers retreat. I paid to have a one to one session with the writer in resident who spent the majority of the session talking about herself and promoting her own books and then advised me to change the genre of my novel. I am a romance writer. I write romance and not fantasy because I want the relationship to be the primary focus of what I write. Romance is what I enjoy reading, it’s what I enjoy writing and it’s what I’m going to keep writing. Part of me felt amused by the session because I have met lots of really successful writers on the many writers retreats that I have attended who are (generally) all humble and incredibly generous with their time and advice while she was being paid to help me and was clearly just there to feed her own ego. The other part of me felt really low about the whole thing and it put a downer on what had been a really lovely retreat. However, it did make me put the novel down and write Mistress so that was a good thing.

The second piece of bad advice came from a company who I had previously had good experiences with. They had a new editor and I agreed to try him out. He sent back the critique of my novel late and it was just a critique of romance novels in general. He kept describing my novel as a supernatural thriller, even though I had said that it was a romance novel. He made bitchy comments about the kinds of women who read Fifty Shades of Grey and then explained to me what (in his opinion) women should want to read and why romance novels oppress women. That’s right, an editor mansplained to me why women should not read romance novels. The company gave me a refund so at least I didn’t lose anything financially. This really highlighted for me the importance of getting feedback from the right people. Romance is a distinct genre, it doesn’t play by the same rules as other genres and there is absolutely no point in getting feedback from people who don’t understand it. Like everything though, something good came out of this. It prompted me to join the Romance Writers of America.

The Highs

There have been so many highs in 2015:

  1. Getting Mistress Published
  2. Joining the Romance Writers of America
  3. Finding a Great Critique Partner
  4. Casa Ana Writers Retreat
  5. Greenacre Writers Retreat
  6. Swanwick Writers School
  7. Having Secretly Submissive Accepted for Publication
  8. Finally Letting Someone I Know Read Something I Wrote

 

Mistress and Secretly Submissive

Earlier this year my short story, Mistress, was published in Summer Love, an anthology of lesbian romance stories published by Ladylit. This was so exciting for me. It was the first story that I have ever had published and I got to see my name (not my real name of course) in print. And one of the reviewers on amazon said nice things about it. In my excitement I allowed two people who I know in real life to read it. The first was a writer friend whose own style of writing had inspired me to write in first person so it seemed natural to allow her to read the result. The second was a friend who convinced me to send her the story while I was drunk. I woke at 3AM, sobering up and in a panic. I may never look at her without blushing again.

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I usually write paranormal/urban fantasy romance. Mistress was the first  contemporary romance story that I have written and I enjoyed writing it, getting it published and working with Ladylit so much that I just had to submit something for their next anthology which just so happened to be a BDSM themed lesbian romance anthology. I wrote Secretly Submissive and that was also accepted for publication and will be published some time in the new year. Sadly, there are currently no open calls for submissions from Ladylit so I am back to working on my novel (which is a good thing of course!).

Romance Writers of America

I think that joining the Romance Writers of America is probably the best thing that I have ever done as far as writing goes. As I said earlier, I love romance. Lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, monogamous, polyamorous, fantasy, historical, contemporary…if it’s romance then I am interested. When people meet me it’s not what they expect of me. I am a professional, I am analytical and straight speaking, I like facts and statistics, research and evidence based practice. I like talking about politics, the care system, public family law, domestic violence and disability. I am an introvert through and through and the things that I enjoy talking about often lean to the darker side. People assume that my taste in fiction reflects those interests. I used to tell people that I read non-fiction, which is a half truth. I read non-fiction and I read romance. Nothing else. Now I tell people the truth, I love romance novels. I like reading something with a happy ending. I like creating stories where no matter what happens you know that everything will be alright in the end. Other people do not always get that.

Other members of the RWA do get it. It’s a whole organisation of people who love romance as much as I do. Everyone there takes romance seriously, no one there suggests that I should take out the romance and turn my book into a fantasy novel. It feels like a safe space full of people (mostly women) from diverse backgrounds who all love romance and in general are very supportive of other writers. Writers in general are supportive of each other, romance writers especially so (I could be biased).

The RWA is of course not just a safe space for romance writers, it is also (and perhaps primarily ) a great resource for romance writers. There is so much information on their forums and their website and I have found it more useful than every other writing website that I have used combined. As I said earlier, romance is a distinct genre and sometimes the advice and information available on general writing websites just isn’t relevant.

One of the best things about being a member of the Romance Writers of America is their critique partner match up. I found my wonderful critique partner Sharon Buchbinder on there. After the bad experiences that I had at the beginning of the year I was quite nervous about letting someone else read my novel but she has been amazing. She is honest but encouraging, she gives great advice and sympathy when needed. I think I have learned more from her about writing than I have from anyone else and I feel so blessed to have found her. However, probably the best thing about having her as a critique partner is that I get to read her stories too. If you haven’t read them I would highly recommend doing so. Kiss of the Silver Wolf was one of my favourite books of 2015.

Writers Retreats

My first retreat of the year was to the wonderful Casa Ana. Casa Ana is in a tiny village in Spain. There are no distractions, just lots of supportive writers, good food and beautiful views. This retreat was a really productive one for me. I did a lot of editing, met a lot of great people and  ate a lot of great food. For more information about the retreat, read my review.

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My second retreat was the  Greenacre Writers Retreat. Greenacres Writers Group have regular retreats at St Katharine’s. I plan to write about it in detail at some point soon. It was one of the most enjoyable retreats that I have attended. I can’t say it was the most productive because I spent so much time talking to interesting people that I didn’t get as much done as I had hoped. I didn’t feel bad about this though because I got so much out of talking to the other writers. I am really looking forward to attending more of their retreats in the future.

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Swanwick Writers School

When I attended Swanwick I planned to update my blog daily with information about my day but by day three I was having so much fun (and drinking so much wine) that I didn’t actually manage to update my blog after that. I had also planned to write a review after but the week was so full that writing a review was too overwhelming. It really was one of the best experiences of my life. To quote a friend, “The flowers are too bright, the people are too nice and nothing here seems real.” It really does feel like stepping out of the real world into some kind of writing utopia. I can’t wait for next year.

2016

I am so excited for 2016. I know that this is going to be another great year and I can’t wait to see what it holds for me.

Happy New Year!

Writing Retreat: Casa Ana

In February of this year my search for the perfect retreat for writers took me to the beautiful Casa Ana. I found it on google and was immediately drawn in by the photographs of what can only be described as paradise. Of course, I conveniently forgot about my fear of heights and ignored the fact that this beautiful house is on a mountain. Casa Ana is a 400 year old family home that Anne (the owner) has restored to it’s former grandeur. Although the house has been modernised, it has been done in keeping with the historic feel of the village. Casa Ana only runs three writers retreats per year. For the rest of the year it offers bed and breakfast accomodation, walking holidays and (new this year) cookery courses. 

Getting There  

Casa Ana is located in a tiny village called Ferreirola on La Alpujarra (the southern slope of the Sierra Nevada). When I say this village is small I am not exagerating. Many of the buildings in the village are empty. I can’t remember exactly how many people live in the village but it is less than 50. This makes Ferreirola the perfect place for a writers retreat. Quiet, isolated, peaceful. You have to search far and wide for distractions!

  
Casa Ana is located 90 minutes from Grenada Airport and two hours from Malaga Airport. There are buses that go to nearby towns and villages but no public transport going directly to Ferreirola. Anne is able to arrange taxis for an additional cost and I booked a taxi through her.  The taxi was provided by Kitty. She met four of us at the airport and drove us up the mountain to Casa Ana. I was very grateful for her slow, careful driving when it came to the narrower roads, which also seemed to be the roads with the steepest drops.

    

The House
I booked the smallest room in the house so I was surprised to find myself in a spacious single bedroom with a decent sized ensuite bathroom. The room was clean and comfortably furnished. Many writing retreats do not seem to have ensuite bathrooms so I was pleased to find one that did. The ensuite consisted of a shower, toilet and sink and like the rest of the room was a good size. There was plenty of storage in the room with a wardrobe, some shelves and a cupboard in the bathroom.  

The bedrooms and bathrooms all have underfloor heating. In addition to this, electric heaters are available in the rooms. Wifi is available in the common areas and in some of the bedrooms (including the room that I was in).

  

 Most of the bedrooms open directly onto the courtyard and do not connect to the other rooms in the house. I loved this because it made it feel more private. Some writing retreats can feel like everyone is on top of each other but this is absolutely not the case at Casa Ana. 

  I don’t know why this photo is so small but this was the entrance to my bedroom. 

In addition to having your own bedroom with a writing desk, there is a dining room with a big table that is good for writing on, a guest lounge and kitchen (with breath taking views) and lots of outdoor areas to write or relax. Tea and coffee is available in the guest kitchen and there is a selection of soft drinks, wines, beers and chocolate available for purchase. There is space to store food and drink in the fridge or cupboards.

     The Retreat Experience

The evening that we arrived at Casa Ana, Anne gathered us all in the guest lounge and we had nibbles and prosecco. This was such a lovely welcome to the retreat and it gave everyone the chance to get to know each other and to get to know Anne. Wes, Casa Ana’s chef, cooked dinner three nights each week and one of the nights was the first night. It is worth visiting Casa Ana just for the food! If I liked cooking i would definitely be booking myself onto one of his cookery courses. It was like having a michelin stared chef preparing a private dinner. 

Breakfast and lunch is provided every day. Our meals were prepared mostly by Christof and I think that his cooking rivals Wes. Meals are at set times but on the few occassions that people missed meals, it was easy enough to just put some food aside for them. Breakfast and lunch are both big meals at Casa Ana and there was often food left over for us to eat in the evening.

The retreat is very well structured with set times for quiet writing time, broken up by meals. Twice per week there is the option to read your work to the group. I only took part in this once but really enjoyed it. It is completely optional and there was no pressure to join the group or read anything if you do join the group. The group that I was there with was very supportive but obviously this will depend on who else is at the retreat. 

On the evenings when meals aren’t provided there is the option to walk into Mecina, a slightly bigger village with a disproportionate amount of restaurants, including a vegetarian one. The walk to Mecina terrified me. It is dark (the kind of dark that you don’t get in cities) and it is on a mountain (did I mention that I’m scared of heights?). Food there is really reasonably priced (you can eat for 5 euros) and you will receive a warm welcome at whatever restaurant you choose. When I go on retreat I prefer to stay in the retreat and not go out for something to eat (although I did really enjoy my trips into Mecina) and in the future I would be better prepared and bring more food with me. There is plenty of space to store food and there is access to cooking facilities on the nights that Wes doesn’t cook so it is possible to remain at Casa Ana and eat there. There is a supermarket but it is about an hours walk (I didn’t go there so this is based on what other people told me). Taxis can also be booked.

You can have laundry done once per week during your visit. The room is cleaned three times during the two week stay. There is an accessible room available. If anyone has dietary needs these can be catered for. 

My two weeks at Casa Ana were incredibly productive. I completed the second draft of my novel and wrote a short story while I was there. I made some great friends and met some inspirational writers. 

Costs

Rooms cost from £300 per week for a two week stay. This includes breakfast and lunch.

Taxi prices depend on if you share or take a taxi alone. From Granada it costs up to 65euros and from Malaga it costs up to 105euros.

Dinners prepared by Wes cost 60 euros per week.

This is probably the best value writers retreat that I have found so far. 

The Perfect Retreat?

This is certainly a perfect retreat. If I could pick Casa Ana up and put it at sea level, it would be my perfect retreat. There is nothing (other than the height) that I didn’t love about this retreat. It was well structured, the facilties were of a high standard, the food was excellent and there was chocolate available at all times. 

The next retreat is in November. Book now, places go quickly.