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Ramp up the Spook!

The nights are drawing in, and as I was writing this, Storm Ophelia had turned the sky a peculiar shade of yellow. We’re approaching All Hallow’s Eve, the ancient Feast of Samhain, when the veil between worlds is stretched to its thinnest. Not surprising, then, that our writerly musings turn to thoughts of ghost stories and all things spooky!

In my last post I suggested ways of finding inspiration for your central character, but what do you do with that character once you’ve pinned them down? The temptation is to hand them a mystery, an enemy, a weapon perhaps, but the real terror lies in your character’s reaction to the circumstances they face. What is a ghost, a demon or a villain without someone to interact with? This may seem obvious, but the drama comes from within the protagonist…a gut-trembling emotional response that resonates with the reader. Only by identifying with the protagonist can the reader experience fear, and feel for themselves the darkness, the tension, the danger.

This is perfectly played out in Susan Hill’s acclaimed ghost story The Woman in Black. Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is called upon to attend to the affairs of the deceased owner of the decidedly creepy Eel Marsh House. Wreathed in mist and mystery, the house and its eerie setting play a big part in ramping up the tension, but it is Kipps’ sheer mounting terror when he realises he is not alone that sends shivers down the spine.

Arthur finds himself in Eel Marsh House at night (with a broken torch, of course!) and believes he hears the anguished cry of a child trapped in the marsh. He finds himself paralysed with fear.  The haunting cry of the ghost child is almost peripheral to the character’s mounting terror, and the reader becomes totally invested in his fear. A lasting image is of Arthur, vulnerable and close to tears, cuddling his dog for comfort. We’re immediately returned to the seat of our childhood fears; dark nights and monsters under the bed. We can’t help but relive our own fear.

So- keep it simple, keep it emotional, and let the reader do the work!

Chasing Timer Sandra x

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The outside of Rosely

 

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In Pursuit of the Strange and Curious…

As we approach our gloriously gothic Turn Back Time Writing Retreat, I’ve been asking myself- what makes a good ghost story? (or indeed any story with a supernatural frisson!). Is it character, setting, a mournful tone or suspenseful plot? I suppose a compelling tale is a fusion of all these parts, but creating a strong central character is key.

Sometimes that character will present him/herself fully formed, and in the guise of a real person! My strange taxidermist Alys in Beneath the Skin came about after I’d watched a documentary about a famous artist with a freezer full of roadkill in her kitchen! She definitely possessed some of the personality traits Alys went on to embody: odd, quirky, creative, with a hint of menace!

Just as intriguing was the curious gentleman I spotted recently disembarking from a train at Waverly Station in Edinburgh. He was tall and elegant, with long black hair and a bushy beard, a top hat and the most impressive Victorian frock coat. He was in conversation with the guard. There seemed to be some problem with the transportation of his luggage- a battered Gladstone bag and a very large, hinged cabinet which was strapped to a trolley.

I’m still wondering how if I can find him a role in my next short story!

This briefest of encounters can be enough to spark the imagination. A hundred questions and scenarios sprang to mind when I spotted this man. Was he an actor, an undertaker? A street performer? Was he a tour guide at the Edinburgh Dungeon, or simply en route to a Halloween party? And what on earth was in the cabinet? I’ll never know, but not knowing is the handiest prompt in the writer’s toolkit!

Here’s a Halloween writing tip. When you’re next in a busy station or city centre, just sit quietly for a while with your notebook and see who comes into view! They may look perfectly ordinary (or not) but they could be hiding a grim secret…!

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Inaugural Retreat Success

This time last week we had just arrived home from our first Chasing Time Writing Retreat – ‘Stop The Clock’ – and what a fantastic weekend it was. We were so lucky to have such a talented and enthusiastic group of retreaters join us, and from the outset we knew we were going to be in for something special. So first of all, the Chasing Time team would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our guests for making the weekend as enjoyable as it was. We’re already looking forward to the next one!

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Upon arrival our retreaters settled into their rooms and then we all met in the bar for welcome drinks by a roaring log fire. Here we were able to start to get to know each other, to hear a little bit about what each person was looking to get out of the weekend, and to find out what we were all working on.

The next morning, after a full cooked breakfast, we had a walk in the gorgeous grounds for some writing inspiration, which we then used towards a quick WordSprint, where some fantastic writing was produced all round.

Saturday and Sunday mornings were taken up with workshops, whilst Saturday afternoon left everyone with plenty of free time to concentrate on their current works in progress (or to carry on with some inspirational exercises from the workshop, or perhaps start a new project), as well as time for scheduled one to one feedback on a piece of previously submitted writing. (In between being kept refreshed by constant cups of tea and coffee of course!)

One of our favourite parts of the weekend was the (optional) sharing of work on the Saturday evening back by the warmth of the fire, by which time we all felt like old friends.

We have been blown away by the positive feedback and reviews we have received, with three of the retreaters giving us the best compliment ever by booking straight on to our next retreat at the beginning of November – our fabulously gothic Halloween-inspired ‘Turn Back Time‘.

We’re proud to leave you with a taste of our first reviews and hope to see some of you on a Chasing Time Writing Retreat very soon. Thank you from the Chasing Time Team, Dawn, Elizabeth and Sandra.

Reviews


This was my first writer’s retreat, and it exceeded my expectations. I received helpful feedback and meaningful critique. The hosts were full of amazing tips. As a writer new to Scotland, the hosts also provided invaluable information on the writing community here. Loved meeting like minded fellow writer’s to spend a lovely weekend at a beautiful country hotel! What a great way to kick start some writing projects. Looking forward to the retreat in November!

I enjoyed a productive and inspirational weekend with the Chasing Time Writing Retreat in the heart of Angus. Not only did I get a breakthrough on my current project as a result of the feedback I received and the time to write, the workshops also gave me invaluable ideas for further writing. The setting of Rosely House Hotel is stunning and very atmospheric. There were a great cast of participants too who made every session a delight. But most of my praise will be heaped on the directors – who choreographed every moment of the weekend with the lightest of touches so that although I was worked hard, it never felt that way. I felt as though I was being set free. Can’t wait to book in to the next one as I know it will be just the topup I will need to keep my writing on track.

A unique and priceless experience. Coming together with people who love the same thing as you is just magical. The retreat is hosted a grand palatial country house hotel in Arbroath, Scotland. With workshops set out across the weekend and informal one to one sessions with a best selling author. I thoroughly enjoyed my writing retreat and I am going back for the next one in November. If you love writing and need some support and guidance then this is a safe place to come and share your work. Also I should add I am very shy and usually group settings would be hard for me. However not at Chasing Time Retreats there is no pressure and the hosts are so very kind and caring.

A most encouraging, informative and inspiring weekend. I found the quality and personal nature of the feedback, the fireside readings and the shared learning/conversations most useful and enjoyable, as well as the passion for writing and literature present in the Chasing Time crew and participants.

 

 

Tick Tock! Stop the Clock is almost here!

We are fast approaching our very first Chasing Time writing retreat on the 29th of September.

We’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by the response so far and we are now down to our final place on the retreat.

To celebrate, we’ve decided to provide all Chasing Time retreaters with a 10% discount off of any subsequent retreats that they book.

Here’s some additional information about Stop the Clock, from our tutor and published author Sandra Ireland.

“On our Stop the Clock retreat, we are hoping to provide our writers with the time and space to prioritise their work. The venue lends itself to any kind of creative endeavour – it is peaceful and spacious enough to allow our guests uninterrupted writing time. In addition, we will be offering some creative writing exercises and workshops (generally in the morning) which might inspire new work, or give a new perspective on a work-in-progress.

We will be inviting guests to submit some work in advance of the retreat (up to 2000 words) for one-to-one mentoring sessions on the Saturday afternoon. This might be a synopsis, and/or a couple of short chapters. As a published novelist myself, I will be able to give valuable feedback, and share tips on the sort of things agents and publishers will be looking for in your manuscript.

We are also looking forward to hosting evening get-togethers in the bar, a safe space to share work and opinions, and to ask any questions you may have about novel writing, publishing, etc. One of the most valuable aspects of any such writing event is the chance to meet like-minded folk, and to make those all-important connections. We will have exclusive use of the hotel, and we are keeping numbers to a minimum to allow for an intimate and relaxed retreat experience.”

Further information about Stop the Clock and our other retreats, Turn Back Time and Tick Tock – Writing Detox, is available here.

Time On Your Side

Our first blog post comes from Chasing Timer Sandra, reminiscing about our first overnight stay at Rosely…

Buying a gift for a writer is easy. An elegant pen, a bespoke notebook. A new edition of a much-loved classic. But ask a writer what their dream gift would be, and it might well be something you can’t pick up online.

Time.
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We crave it, can’t get enough of it. We want time that is elastic, time that stands still. Time that will work with us, and allow us to craft that perfect chapter before the kids come home, or the dog demands to be walked.We all desire it, we’re all chasing it.

You can’t buy it, but you can make it, if you allow a little space in your hectic schedule. Last month, three intrepid scribblers set out to do just that!

In the company of fellow writers, Elizabeth Frattaroli and Dawn Geddes, I booked into the fabulous Rosely House Hotel, Arbroath. Better known as the ‘home’ of the Angus Writers’ Circle, the hotel is a Baronial-style country house. Think old oak and stag’s heads, firewood in the hall and electric blankets on the beds. It has turrets, stained glass and the most gorgeous period furniture. It is Writer Heaven!

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We began our stay with a wander round the grounds, beneath Scots pine and willow, through drifts of bluebells. We passed the 18th c. ice house, and climbed ancient stone steps that lead to nowhere. Afterwards, we relaxed in the parlour and wrote, fuelled by endless coffee (the family who run the hotel are SO understanding!) and, I admit, a bottle of wine.

After a delicious meal – served in the parlour, no cooking, no washing up!- we wrote some more, shared some ideas and climbed the amazing Gothic staircase to bed.20170512_163705

It was tranquil, therapeutic and inspirational. For once, Time was on our side. With no domestic demands, no to-do list and no stress, it was the perfect venue for a writerly retreat. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we thought, if everyone could experience this? Join us on one of our retreats and experience this inspirational place for yourself.

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