It’s been a case of planes, trains, and automobiles over the last week. Getting to rural Montgomeryshire in mid-Wales took a little bit of effort so I decided to have a stopover in Birmingham on either end of my recent writers retreat at Gregynog. Otherwise, I’d have had to leave Dublin at 3a.m. just to get to Wales, which seems crazy considering I can (almost) see the damn place on a fine day! I have to say, I never mind flying into Birmingham though, it’s such an easy airport to get around and handy for the city. After a good night’s sleep I got the 10.23 train from Birmingham New Street and headed east to Newtown Powys, passing through some lovely countryside on the way. In Newtown I met fellow writer Dave Morgan, who drove us to Gregynog Hall, where we met up with the rest of the writing group. I was allocated to a room in the Garden Cottage, around a 10 minute walk from the main house, which suited me perfectly. The brief walk up a country lane to the main house was a good way to get started in the mornings and given the amount of food eaten was definitely required. The walk back to the cottage at night was inspirational to say the least; especially if your forte is horror. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do it alone. Sharing the cottage with five other writers meant that the evenings were full of chat and wine (and beer, and prosecco…) but we had the good sense to retire at relatively sensible hours, meaning that there wasn’t too much lazing about in the mornings. I think sometimes it’s easy to forget the importance of not having to worry about the real world when we’re writing. That’s the great thing about retreats; you get fed and watered at specific times without having to even think about it and in a place as inspirational as Gregynog it’s easy to forget about the real world.
There were twenty-odd of us at the retreat in total; many of us there to workshop our scripts and others there to complete a short script. The first day seemed to pass very quickly, between being orientated, working on our slates, and going for dinner followed by drinks in the bar. Day two was solely focused on workshopping our scripts. We were divided into prearranged groups, in which we’d already received a copy of everyone’s script. There was a read-through of some of the script followed by feedback from the group. This was very useful but oddly exhausting. Most of the feedback I received I was half expecting, and that which I wasn’t expecting proved to be insightful. Notably, I need to break up my scenes a bit more (as I tend to write lengthy theatre style scenes) and I also need to develop a “need” for Anne, my greasy spoon café owner. At the moment she is very important to other characters but has a tendency to “fix” things without having much of a storyline for herself. Workshopping the script helped me devise her need, as well as adding more to the other characters.
On the final full day I had a tutorial in the morning, which again proved fruitful. During this I had a bit of an epiphany, when I realised “Oh, Val doesn’t need to be a hoarder”. Up until this point, Val being a hoarder has been central to the story, and instigates a lot of the action and opening scenes. I just thought “what if she’s not?” and ran with it. Even the tiniest change to a script can have a huge knock-on effect, and this is a BIG change. It means I’ll be losing some very good scenes, if I do say so myself (although I can file them away for future use elsewhere). It’s also left me scratching my head somewhat, as I now need something to kick off Val’s part of the story. This partially explains why I didn’t get any actual writing done on the final day; I was thinking, pondering and plotting what happens next (as well as attending some excellent short script read-throughs). Then, Monday morning arrived as it usually does and I headed back to Birmingham via train, where I spent one last night before returning to my beloved Dublin. Now that I’m home I simply need to get back into the routine of writing and really get stuck in. So begins my second draft of Grand.