Another busy couple of weeks, but probably a bit more writerly activity than I reported last time – including actual writing! Reading back over my writing journal. I see that I didn’t touch the novel from 13th to the 25th of October. This is quite a long break when you’re working on a first draft, because you lose momentum and it becomes increasingly difficult to re-enter the ‘zone’. Fortunately, I’d booked a one day urban writing retreat for the 25th, so that forced me back into it. More of that in a moment. First, a quick roundup of my other writerly activities.

On Tuesday 21st  saw the launch of Watch & Wait, (Cybermouse multimedia). The proceeds from the sale of the book and from the launch are gifted to the Lymphoma Association – just over £1000 so far. My short story Day Tripper  appears in the anthology, which also contains stories from 19 other authors, including Marina Lewycka, Rony Robinson, Danuta Reah, Bryony Doran and Berlie Doherty to name but a few. The launch was a huge success. The room was packed, and it was such a pleasure to hear these wonderful authors reading from their work and talking about their writing lives. The evening continued with live music, drinking and chatting.

Saturday 25th started with the aforementioned retreat. I could only stay for the morning but just those three hours sitting in a room working quietly with other writers was enough to reacquaint me with my novel, so although I only wrote about 600 words, I felt so much better.

In the afternoon, I joined Danuta Reah for a book-signing at WH Smith in Fargate, Sheffield. This was mainly Danuta’s signing – I was the ‘support act’.  Danuta is a crime writer, and much of her work is set in Sheffield – I can highly recommend Bleak Water, which is set the around the canals. I’ll definitely be reading more of her work. We’ll be at WH Smith’s again on 29th of November, and this time, I’ll be the ‘main attraction’ with Danuta supporting me. So if you’d like a signed copy of one of my books, one of Danuta’s, or the Watch & Wait anthology – all great Christmas presents – pop along for a chat on the 29th.

On Saturday evening, I met up with six writer friends for one of our regular ‘writers dinners’. Writing is a solitary business, and you can feel very much alone when you’re wrestling with problems in your work, so it’s always great to reconnect with people who understand. My lovely friend Ruby, who I met 12 years ago on an Arvon course, stayed overnight and so we had lots of time on Sunday to chat talk about our novels (and to ‘do lunch’, of course.)

Some writers prefer not to discuss their work in progress, but I find it incredibly useful to talk about ideas and problems with other writers. This almost always helps to clarify things. After chatting with Ruby, I felt clearer about the problems, and I had a few ideas about how to move forward. On Monday, a phone chat with my lovely editor helped to complete the process and put me right back on track. Sometimes, the solution to a problem is staring you in the face, but you’re just too close to the work to see it. Discussing it with someone who knows what they’re talking about can really set you free!

This was all great timing, because on Tuesday, I headed off to the Forest of Dean for a few days’ retreat with the wonderful and inspiring Annie McKie. I went on a retreat with Annie in July and had a terrific breakthrough in my work. I find that being away from the distractions of home and not having to think about shopping and cooking – Annie is a fabulous vegetarian cook –  means I can really focus on my work in a way that’s impossible at other times.

I ate with Annie and her husband on my last evening, and these gorgeous roasted vegetables were part of the meal

‘My’ room – it has its own back door, an en-suite shower & loo and the most wonderful view

Annie is the perfect host – she leaves you to concentrate on  your work, bringing food when you need it, and she’s on hand with helpful ideas for when you get stuck. The retreat room opens out onto a balcony overlooking the Forest of Dean.

I’m really pleased with what I achieved in those few days – I wrote three completely new scenes and rewrote two others. I came back on Saturday – did more writing on the train – and now, as if the loveliness will never end, I’m off to Lumb Bank near Hebden Bridge for an Arvon retreat. I’m really hoping to build on the good work I did at Annie’s and come back next Saturday feeling significantly further forward with my novel.

In other news: Apple ibooks have picked up The Secrets We Left Behind For a special promotion, so for the next two weeks (from midnight 3rd Nov) the e-book will be £1.99 on iBooks.

A cheeky request
If you’ve enjoyed this post, I’d be so grateful if you’d Tweet the link. I never usually ask for RTs of my blog posts, but as I’m off to Arvon in a couple of hours, I won’t have time to do much Tweeting myself, and my poor little blog that I’ve worked on the morning will lie unread. Thanks in advance!

New Amazon reviews:
The Secrets We Left Behind: Two 5-star, one 4-star and one 3-star.
The Things We Never Said: Three 5-star, two 4-star and two 3-star.

If you’d like to keep an eye on what I’m up to, follow me on Twitter @sewelliot or ‘like’ my Facebook page You can visit my website here


If you’d like to catch up with this series, here are: WEEK 1 WEEK 2 and  WEEK 3

Tuesday 15th July
Busy day. Finished reading and annotating students’ work for short story tutorials tonight. Finished working on the ‘week three’ post, which I published at lunchtime, then edited after spotting errors. Spent time on Twitter and Facebook, replied to emails. I knew I probably wouldn’t get any writing done today because I’m busy finishing things off before I go on a writing retreat tomorrow. Typed up summaries of scenes I’ve already written to take to the retreat with me. I thought having an overview might help me decide how to move forward (if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll  know I’m really struggling at the moment.) Email from my editor, asking if I could send over a para or two about the main storyline so she can discuss it at a meeting next week. Ooh ‘eck. Sent a garbled reply, admitting that I was feeling pretty stuck, then crossed my fingers and headed off to teach the evening class. So impressed with the progress students have made over the last few weeks!  Word count 0
Wednesday 16thJuly
Lovely reassuring email from my editor, offering to meet up and chat through the problems. So pleased – talking it though is bound to be useful. Did some emails, updated my website and Facebook page with events coming up in September and October, then packed for the retreat. By the time I’d arrived and unpacked, there wasn’t much time before dinner, so I just wrote up this account of the day so far. This being my first night, I had dinner with my host, the writer and former Radio 4 newsreader Annie Mckie, who also offers writing support for those staying on the retreat. Annie cooked a lovely vegetarian meal over which we shared a bottle of wine while talking nineteen to the dozen about our novels. A thoroughly entertaining evening, but today’s word count? 0 (keep reading – it gets better!)
Thursday 17thJuly
Started the day with breakfast on the balcony, which overlooks the Forest of Dean.
I’d told Annie last night that I felt sick when I thought about my novel, so this morning, we had a brainstorming session. Annie’s insightful comments and suggestions have set me thinking along a different route. Went for a walk and found ideas kept popping into my head.  I actually feel quite excited about it again. Of course, this could all change by tomorrow, but at the moment, I’m feeling happy about my decision to lose a character and concentrate on the remaining viewpoint characters. The order in which to tell the story is far from clear yet – structure’s always tricky. I plan to do a bit more thinking now (lunchtime), then maybe start writing some of the scenes I’ve planned and see how it feels. 9pm – wrote over 1000 words of notes today, and started a new scene. Word count: 865
Friday 18thJuly
Good chat with Annie this morning about my new ideas. She was positive and encouraging and came up with a few useful suggestions. I‘m feeling I have a clearer idea of the story now. Worked on the balcony in the sunshine. Word count this morning 876, and wrote more after lunch. It’s so hot today I feel like going to sleep, but the ideas are bubbling now – this is the bit I love about being a writer! Went for a walk down to the village, triggering more ideas. The walk back – uphill in blistering heat – was more challenging. Wrote again when I got back, plus notes. After dinner, I stayed out on the balcony making notes, drinking wine and totting up the day’s word count: 3307 – that’s more like it!
Saturday 19thJuly
Spectacular thunderstorms overnight but at least it’s a little cooler this morning.  Got up at 6.30 to make tea and get started, but we’d had a power cut! Fortunately, laptop was charged, so I got cracking and wrote 653 words before breakfast, plus some notes. I feel ridiculously excited and energised. Heavy rain first thing and now there is a lovely mist rising from the trees and frequent rumbles of thunder in the distance.
Power back at lunchtime, then it went again. Arghh! Did some writing with a strange, stick-like object that bleeds blue when you press it on paper…
Word count for the day 4035 – now we’re cooking!
Sunday 20thJuly
After doing so well yesterday, I hit another problem last night. It’s structural mainly – I always find it difficult to know where to start and leave a narrative. A couple of other minor issues, too – writing a novel really is a bit like a Rubik’s cube in that every change you make affects something else. But I went for another walk, and had another long chat with Annie. Think I may have at least partially solved these problems. Knuckled down again, and ended up with a word count of 3034
Monday 21stJuly
I won’t bother going into detail today, but knowing it was my last day here on the retreat, I really got on with it, working in chunks of about 90 minutes with breaks of varying lengths, depending on how tired I was. As it was my last night here, I joined Annie and her husband for dinner – lovely, lovely evening, justified (I reckon) by my word count for today: 4040
Total for week(actually five days, because I didn’t write anything on Tuesday or Wednesday): 15,281

Nice things that have happened this week: see above!
I am incredibly pleased with what I’ve achieved, particularly as I was feeling so bad about the novel this time last week. Of course it’s helped being on a retreat, away from the responsibilities and distractions of home, but it’s also been so useful having brainstorming sessions with Annie, who is incredibly good at stimulating ideas and making insightful suggestions. I’m not out of the woods with this novel yet – I can already see new problems looming – but I feel excited about it again, and that’s a wonderful feeling. If you think you might benefit from a retreat, check out Annie’s website
The coming week
Real-life will no doubt get in the way again, but for the moment at least, I feel I know where I’m going, so I’m going to aim for 7000 words this week.
New Amazon reviews 
The Things We Never Said: Bumper crop! Four 5 star, one 4, one 3 and one 2 star

The Secrets We Left Behind: Two 5 star and one 4 star