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The one where I talk about my lovely writing retreat

Last week I spent four days in an amazing, inspiring place with some amazing, inspiring people


Whenever my husband asks me what I’d like for my birthday or for Christmas, the answer is always the same:

TIME!

Ponden Hall as dawn brokeTime to write. Time to step away from the day job. Time with my imaginary friends, asking ‘what if…?’

And last week, I got that time.

Last week, I travelled to West Yorkshire to attend a ‘Writing with Heart and Soul’ workshop/retreat run by super talented author Rowan Coleman. Eek! First time I’ve ever done anything like that so I will admit to being slightly apprehensive although Rowan had set up a closed Facebook group for us all to ‘meet’ beforehand which really helped with getting the preliminaries covered.

Dawn at Ponden HallI was the first to arrive at Ponden Hall, a stunning building that, in parts, dates back to the 1500s, and had such a warm welcome from hosts Julie and Steve. Over the next couple of hours, my ‘family’ for the next four days arrived. Although we’d ‘met’ virtually, nothing beats actually meeting face to face, and soon the room was ringing with chatter and laughter.

Across the workshop, we wrote some set pieces inspired by our setting, the dawn on day two, and finally a beautiful poem written by Emily Brontë called ‘No Coward Soul is Mine’. There were eight delegates and, as we read our work out aloud, it was fascinating to hear so many different interpretations of the brief and such different voices. Literary descriptive prose brushed shoulders with warm contemporary stories, and I am sure that the Brontës would have been touched by what their work and their home inspired. 

Cathy's WindowWhich brings me nicely to the Brontë connection. You see, Ponden Hall is a few miles from Howarth, where Anne, Emily and Charlotte lived in the parsonage and it’s known that they had connections to it. The Peat Loft where I was sleeping had provided shelter – and indeed saved the lives of – Anne, Emily and Branwell when they were caught by the Crow Hill Bog Burst (an explosion causing a mudslide in 1824). Later, the Brontës became visitors of the Heaton family who lived at Ponden Hall and it’s believed that it provided the inspiration for Thrushcross Grange in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. There’s also a small window on the east gable end, believed to be where Cathy’s ghost appears in the novel. One of the delegates stayed in this stunningly beautiful room. It was available at the time I made my booking, but I was too much of a wuss to stay there. I am fascinated by ghost stories but I’m a little too chicken to encounter one! 

The room where the Brontes wroteA visit to the Brontë Parsonage was one of the highlights. It’s beautifully maintained with much of the original furniture and possessions. Our host, Julie, was a former tour guide there so she spoiled us with a wealth of additional information, making the visit extra special.

On Day three, there was an optional walk to Withen’s Top on the moors, another key inspiration for Wuthering Heights. Tempting as it was, I made the decision to remain at Ponden Hall and devote a few more dedicated hours to my work in progress (WIP). Another delegate stayed behind with me and we had a constructive afternoon, although I did momentarily regret my decision when I saw the gorgeous photos. It gives me the perfect excuse to go back again, though. 

Sign to Bronte ParsonageDay four was unexpectedly emotional. As I said, we sought inspiration from Emily Brontë’s poem, ‘No Coward Soul is Mine’ to write a piece of flash fiction about our experiences, ensuring it was written ‘with heart and soul’. Oh my goodness, was it written with heart and soul?! One of the unexpected aspects of the week for me was how personally emotional it was. I’m used to making myself cry when writing my novels as there’s usually a grab-the-tissues moment in them. What I wasn’t prepared for was that I’d be so personally affected by the week. And I wasn’t the only one.

For some of the group, it was being in the presence of the Brontës, feeling humbled by the amazing, enduring literary achievements of those women, especially given the times they lived in where not only did they cause controversy by being women who wrote (how very dare they?!) but also by the subject matter of their books, particularly some of the violence. 

For others, including me, it was more about the emotion of being a writer and the hopes, fears and insecurities that come with that. As followers of my blog will know, I’ve been having a crisis of confidence for quite some time thanks to low sales. I’m part of a writing group called The Write Romantics and there are five of us who write a similar genre. They have all enjoyed thoroughly-deserved success with their indie releases but I have trailed behind and none of us can work out why this is, especially as I have some incredible reviews. It therefore seems that those who read my books love them… just not enough people read them. Within our Ponden Hall group, these fears and insecurities came out again. Surrounded by so many exceptionally talented women, writing beautiful words, I started to doubt myself and these uncertainties are what came out in my flash fiction.

The view from Ponden HallAs we moved around the table reading out our pieces, emotions were running high, and I’d had to dab my eyes a few times, but I knew I was going to properly lose it when I read out mine. I warned them that I would and, sure enough, I got halfway through and went. Somehow I managed to get all of the words out – albeit very choked and wobbly – and was quite astonished that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when I’d finished. If I’d had doubts that I could write, the reaction of Rowan and my Ponden Hall family confirmed to me that I needed to banish those doubts and believe in myself. If you would like to read my poem, please scroll down. Please be warned that it was written in less than 15 minutes with no editing but, in some ways, I think that makes it special because it’s real and raw.

Be More BronteA few hours later, we hugged goodbye and I returned home, emotionally drained, inspired … and full of cake! ;-) I’m trying to ‘Be More Brontë’, believing I can do this, no matter the obstacles. I’m writing again which is good as I’d really stalled after the Christmas books. And I have another writing family whose journeys I will follow with enthusiasm.

To Rowan, my hosts Julie and Steve, and to Alison, Callie, Colleen, Emma, Kirsten, Lisa and Savvi, thank you for an amazing, inspiring, and life-affirming four days. You guys rock xx

Jessica xx

PS The stone face was one of six in the walls of The Peat Loft where I stayed and I cannot get it to load onto my blog the right way around for love nor money, but I've left him in becuase my poem talks about him and his friends x

To Not Walk Invisible

by Jessica Redland

Four days, three nights, nine inspiring women, nine lives changed…

Within an old peat loft

With faces carved in walls

Adjoined to grander rooms

Where ghosts run through the halls

Their voices whispering

Some tales from long gone past

Where Brontës were inspired

With words that last and last

I feel like one small voice

That barely can be heard

Amongst a sea of talent

It’s hard to get in a word

For what have I to offer

That’s of significance?

Surrounded by such beauty

By such magnificence?

How can I make an impact

With stories that I tell?

My doubts, my fears, my hang-ups

Torment me in my hell

The hills call out “You must be brave”

They tell me “persevere”

Believe in you, because we do

You must, because you’re here

So with deep breaths and shaking hands

I say it will be fine

I can do this, I must do this

No Coward Soul is mine

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