History, Mystery & Magic Writing Retreat in the Cotswolds


In September 2014 I spent just over a week in the village of Broadway in the beautiful Cotswolds, for a History, Mystery and Magic writing retreat/literary tour with author Kate Forsyth and a gorgeous bunch of writers. 


Our base for the week-long retreat would be the historical Lygon Arms hotel.


The earliest recorded date for the hotel is 1532, when it was included in the Broadway Parish Register as The White Hart, an inn belonging to a wool merchant named Mr Thomas White. It is, however, believed to be far older than that, with parts of the building dating from the fourteenth century. The inn provided a resting place for wool merchants moving between Chipping Campden and Broadway, both prosperous wool towns. Oliver Crowmwell stayed at the inn in 1651, and in the eighteenth century it became an important staging post for coaches travelling through Broadway from London to Wales. The hotel's front doorway dates from the sixteenth century and the moment you step through it, it's as though you've gone back in time. Uneven, creaking floors, narrow stairs, huge fireplaces and low ceilings. There's even a body from the seventeenth century buried under the floor in one of the sitting rooms!


The hotel was also where we had our daily writing classes with Kate. I admit it was a tough gig, especially when we were forced to endure tea and fresh-baked shortbread, but someone had to do it.


These classes covered a range of topics- Discovering Your Story, Discovering Your Voice, The Importance of Research, A Place for Story, Narrative Building Blocks, Dangerous Writing and The Writer's Life - and were coloured with Kate's vibrant personality, knowledge, and love of story.

I learnt so much, but the single most valuable lesson I took away from Broadway is the importance of time management. You don't spend a week with someone as busy, creative and productive as Kate Forsyth without noticing that the reason she is so busy, creative and productive is that she has amazing time management skills. Sitting in that beautiful meeting room one morning, listening to Kate speak while I munched on yet another shortbread biscuit, I realised I had spent the better part of the last three years whining. Whining about my lack of writing time, about how hard it is to juggle a writing project with part-time work and small children, about how it is absolutely impossible for me to write my novel while I am a mother, a post graduate student, and a wife. No wonder, then, that after three years of complaining, I still hadn't finished the first draft of my novel.

I can tell you, dear Reader, that this shortbread-crumbed revelation changed my life. I returned to Australia (approximately ten days and a solo jaunt through the Black Forest later) determined to become a more efficient, productive writer. I have always been a planner, but I took it to another level, using what Kate had taught me to crunch numbers and ruthlessly tighten my plot. I even started using Microsoft Excel to help me with structure and pacing, and to keep track of my word count. I started to focus on the empty spaces between work and other commitments in my planner, and find the potential writing time there. In short I altered, completely, my attitude towards that precious commodity we call 'time.'

As a result, I finished the first draft of my novel Gingerstruck just weeks after arriving home from the Black Forest. Soon after, I applied for, and was accepted into, the Australian Society of Authors' Emerging Writers and Illustrators Mentorship Program for 2014/2015. And, even more unbelievably, Kate herself was willing to mentor me. (I know. I'm still pinching myself.)

And how did this happen, everyone? Say it with me, now: time management!