Thursday, September 9, 2021

Calm and Colesterol - Catriona's dream retreat

Q: You’re organizing a writers retreat with some fellow authors. Friends, perhaps? Describe the plan, the setting, the food, the drinks, and the results. And, of course, who gets murdered…

I've never been on a writers' retreat. This is because my actual life is more like a retreat than any retreat I've seen: I live in the country, in a house empty all day*, with a quiet study to work in, multiple comfortable reading nooks, and a usually-willing cook who arrives in the evening.

*pre-COVID. Now my house has an epidemiologist, solely responsible for the rise of Zoom, in it all day. But he still cooks.

North end of back porch

Also I don't want to read bits out at night round a campfire while people scorch marshamallows - deliberately! - or have to think of things to say about anyone else's first drafts while mine is struggling to be born.

BUT - setting aside all the curmudgenosity for the purposes of the question ...

I'm taking a week off writing to run the retreat. We're in Scotland, in a castle, in May, with light nights, balmy (for Scotland) weather, and the perfume of gorse (= coconut) and meadowsweet (= gardenia) wafting in past the stone mullions when we open the windows. None of us mind bats.

Present are: 

  • my sisters - the one with only three kids at home now and the one with one kid, her husband, and two babies at home now, while they build a house. The three of us have a floor of the tower to share. They're both pretending to be writing something. Or maybe one of them is writing something. Please God, not a memoir.
  • Big Starry Writer who speaks with bombast and total sincerity about his own genius, providing fodder for much giggling when he sweeps off to his turret to extrude another tortured paragraph.
  • Beginning Writer who only needs a laptop and some peace
  • Prolific Short Story Writer who's trying to decide which to put into a collection and in what order. They don't mind discussing how that's done. I've always wanted to know.
  • ditto Poet. I've always wanted to know how that's done too.
  • Ann Cleeves.

I'm catering and there are no vegetarians or other restricted diets. Huge pots of thick soup, huge pots of glacially simmered casserole, home-made bread, fry-ups in the morning, huge pots of porridge to soak up the colesterol from the fry-ups, Arbroath smokies, russet apples, Persian pomegranates (Hang on, it's not May anymore. Enh.), HobNobs, clotted cream on the rhubarb crumbles, After Eights.

Flat soup is failed soup

Drink. I don't but I lay in plenty decent red and white, and a collection of spirits to stand on a tray in the drawing room so people can stalk in and angrily pour themselves a tot, during altercations. I love that. 

The results? Well, Beginning Writer bangs out 40K good words. Poet selects poetry, Short Story Writer selects short stories, Ann Cleeves thinks up a ninth Jimmy Perez plot, and my sisters sleep the sleep of the dead every night and don't touch a dishcloth.

Speaking of dead . . . Big Starry Writer, obviously, plunges to his rest off the battlements one midnight, while the six of us are all together in the great hall, full of casserole and crumble, finishing the After Eights, and the doors are locked against all other possible suspects. 

The polis decide he fell. He lost his balance swiping at a bat. But then Beginning Writer's first novel is published, and the other five of us notice some striking similarities . . . 



James W. Ziskin said...

Fantastic. Sounds delicious. And I love a good fall from a great height. (Not for myself, of course. I’m terrified of heights.)


Susan C Shea said...

The food would distract me, as would the presence of Ann Cleeves, but hanging out in a Scottish castle in May sounds like a treat. And Death By Bat is a distinctive plot line. I buy it.

Brenda Chapman said...

Sounds like the perfect retreat. You had me at Scottish castle ...

Josh Stallings said...

Lovely. Erika would petition for one editor be allowed to join in. Rhubarb crumble! Oh yes.