Writing Retreat for One

 

houses and clock in Villefranche sur Mer
Villefranche sur Mer

Am preparing for departure to my yearly Writing-Retreat-for-One in the south of France.  I feel very privileged. A month to myself in Villefranche sur Mer, a little fishing village on the Cote d’Azur. I go to this beautiful part of the world to regenerate, to read and to write and to go for long walks along the coast to St Jean Cap Ferrat or up up up to Mont Boron. That is the view from the top of Mont Boron in my profile pic.  Italy to the left and Nice, France to the right.

‘Overlooking one of the world’s loveliest natural quaysides, a privileged anchoring spot for the most prestigious cruise ships, Villefranche-sur-Mer has maintained its historic cachet with its port, the colorful façades of the Old Town and its Citadelle. Jean Cocteau, amongst other artists, fell under the spell of this enchanting site. Bathers and divers especially appreciate its beaches lapped by clear waters.’ – Cote d’Azur tourist information

I am able to fly directly to Nice from Sydney, Australia so I don’t have to pass through big airports like London and Paris. The small apartment I rent in the pedestrians-only fishing village of Villefranche sur Mer is a 20 minute cab ride from Nice. All very manageable considering it takes 24 hours sitting in a plane to fly across the world to get to Nice.

It will be early winter in France (summer time back home in Australia) so rents are slightly cheaper. Also, booking for one month gives a reduced price.

Villefranche-sur-Mer
Riviera Cote d’Azur

I will be seeking inspiration on the French Riviera just like the many artists who’ve been influenced by the sparkling blue waters and scenic streets, many of whom are now regarded as the world’s most influential and important. These include Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse and Edvard Munch. Cezanne was the first to arrive in the early 1880s.

‘Since the mid-19th century, the Cote d’Azur (French Riviera) has been luring aristocrats, the rich and the famous, and esteemed artists to its picture perfect cliff-lined coastline. After France acquired this territory in 1859 and then with the arrival of the region’s first railway system, the Riviera rapidly evolved into a popular vacation locale. The Mediterranean seaboard’s mild climate appealed to socialites looking for a retreat away from the dreary winters elsewhere in Northern Europe, and this destination also captivated the hearts of numerous prominent painters. You too can experience the very same radiant sunlight, breathtaking countryside, and vibrant hues that inspired the great works of Cezanne, Monet, Munch, Matisse, Picasso and Van Gogh.’ – auto Europe

We all need time out to regenerate. I’ll be taking with me a print out of the first draft of my novel ‘Lost In Cooper Park’. I hope to make some progress on the book at my Writing-Retreat-for-One in the south of France. The perfect place to call on the writing muse.

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Writing Tip: Writing In Cafes

cafes, buses, palm trees, bright blue sky, cars on Bronte Road, Bronte

I am sitting in a café across the road from the beach in Bronte, Sydney.  This stretch of road has a whole row of cafes side by side facing the sea.  This is my favourite kind of writing place:  one where I can sit comfortably for a long period of time and where the owners of the café know me and welcome me.  This café is owned by a Brazilian man and his wife and has comfortable upholstered bench chairs with a direct view of the Pacific Ocean.  For my two-hour writing session my choice could be a traditional Brazilian dish such as Coxinha, Feijoda or Moqueca.  Or a cocktail like Caipirinha or  Caipiroska.  I must order something and it must be more that a Soy Cap, because I plan to be here for a long time.  I want the owners of the café to know I appreciate the time and the space they are allowing me.

However, today I’ll be very boring and order poached eggs on gluten-free bread 🙂

Why go to all this trouble to find a place to write?  Why not just stay home and work?  Because it’s good to get out and have a change of scene.  I find I need to be happy and relaxed when I’m creating on the page and sitting in a café with a pleasant vibe works for me.  Other writers need silence in order to concentrate, but I need to feel I am out and about in a beautiful place having a good time before the creative juices flow.

Strangely, writing in a café can help to increase concentration.  The busy café atmosphere keeps the sensory part of you occupied and content, so that the hidden, quieter part of you that composes and focuses is allowed to do its work.  It is something like being cunning when trying to get a spoonful of food into a resistant toddler’s mouth:  You pretend to be an aeroplane with all the sound effects and movements before landing the food-laden plane inside the child’s mouth.  Mission accomplished.

It is preferable not to turn up at a cafe for a cup of coffee and a writing session at the cafe’s busiest times, like breakfast or lunch. Go at the in between hours when they are pleased to see you because they don’t want the place to look deserted. The beach cafes are places I frequent in spring, autumn and winter, but not much in the summer. Far too crowded and noisy.

There is a real art to finding the right place to write. For me the best place  is one that has comfortable chairs, a pleasant outlook (preferably a view of the the sky and/or green or water). A welcoming, almost homely, atmosphere.

What about you?  Do you need to be at your desk in total silence to write, or do you like to experience the swell of humanity around you—to be surrounded by other human beings?  Or at home listening to a particular kind of music? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it. 

One-Page Review of The Crystal Ballroom

author holding copy of The Crystal Ballroom

 

I was delighted to see a one-page review of my novel ‘The Crystal Ballroom‘ in October Quadrant magazine (available now in newsagents or on-line).

Penelope Nelson writes:

‘Have you ever heard Latin American music coming from an upper room over a shop, and lingered briefly at the sign about dancing classes? Perhaps you have seen people–a man in built-up shoes or a woman with a surfeit of silver bangles–heading for an old town hall after dark. The world of ballroom dancing and tango lessons has its own etiquette and hierarchies. Libby Sommer’s new fiction ‘The Crystal Ballroom’ lifts the lid on the delights and pitfalls of this fascinating sub-culture …

‘Sommer has great skill in creating atmosphere. The music, the swirling scents of aftershave and sweat, the decor of ballrooms, flats, motels and shared tents are powerfully evoked …

‘Some of the best passages in the book express the joy of dancing:

We’re practising walking the length of the hall. Alberto says that in Buenos Aires students of tango spend two years just learning to walk properly.  “Extend forward,” he says, “step forward, only placing the weight on the extended leg at the last moment, toes pointed, sides of the feet staying connected on the floor.” Then backwards with a straight leg, torso pulled up, chest up and out, and with a partner again, always there’s that special connection with a partner.

Hopefully, this wonderful review by Penelope Nelson will give sales of the book a boost. ‘The Crystal Ballroom’ is available directly from Gininnderra Press, in bookstores, and online.

red and black The Crystal Ballroom book cover

 

 

 

Jump Cuts: Novel-in-progress

notepad, fountain pen, coffee on table

Below is the first page of my new novel-in-progress. I jump cut from scene to scene. Hopefully this technique is not too confusing. Have you read other novels that use this structure? At the front of the book I’ll be adding a Character List and a Character Map to show how the major characters are connected, to help with the confusion issue. The working title is ‘Missing in Cooper Park’.

1.

The tennis courts at Cooper Park were flooded in the night.  One and a half hours of non-stop rain and hail caused a landslide down through the gully.  Gypsy, a Golden Labrador came along and splashed in fast-flowing Cooper Creek.  Later, the sight of the ruined courts covered in mud and stones, leaves and tree branches like a murky swamp was to shatter Steve’s morning.

2.

Kingston (Carol’s ex) turned up again on the morning after the storm.  He stood on the doorstep looking unbalanced.  His cigarette was burned down to the filter.  His unshaven face was flecked with grey and white.  Carol wouldn’t let him in.  She’d taken his key back.

Carol didn’t tell Steve about Kingston being back but Steve told Carol about the flooded tennis courts.

3.

The moon was high in the darkening dusk as Rosemary puffed past the tennis courts at Cooper Park and continued on up through the steep incline of the gulley swinging a curved stick with tennis ball.

‘Gypsy,’ cried Rosemary.  ‘Gypsy, Gypsy, Gypsy!  Come here.’

Rosemary had purchased Gypsy after overcoming her husband’s resistance.  They were still in mourning over having to put Buddy down.

She’d promised Philip she’d make sure Gypsy didn’t jump up on the newly-cleaned couches.

He knew Rosemary slipped into depression if she didn’t have a dog to love, even though she was the mother of three children.

They’d bought a puppy who looked just like a baby Buddy.  Rosemary would have liked to say it was Buddy re-incarnated but didn’t.  This was precisely the kind of talk that made her husband go red with anger.

It was he who had named the Golden Labrador Gypsy.         The day would soon be night.

4.

Steve lay in bed waiting for Carol’s alarm to go off.  Outside someone had slept all night in a car.

‘Don’t let anyone in,’ demanded Carol in a dream.

10 Topics to Warm Up the Writing Muscle

close up of pen clasped in writers hand over notebook on her denim lap

Sometimes we sit at our desks to write and can’t think of anything to write about.  We face the blank page.  We sit there until blood pours from our foreheads, as one famous author was heard to say.

Making a list can be good.  It makes you start noticing material for writing in your daily life, and your writing comes out of a relationship with your life in all its richness.

10 ideas for writing practice:

  • Begin with “I don’t remember”. If you get stumped, just repeat the words “I don’t remember” on the page again and keep going.
  • Tell about sound as it arises. Be aware of sounds from all directions as they arise:  sounds near, sounds far, sounds in front, behind, to the side, above or below.  Notice any spaces between sounds.
  • Tell me about last evening. Dinner, sitting on the couch, preparing for bed.  Be as detailed as you can.  Take your time to locate the specifics and relive your evening on the page.
  • Tell me what boredom feels like.
  • See in your mind a place you’ve always loved. Visualise the colours, the sounds, the smells, the tastes.
  • Write about “saying goodbye”. Tackle it any way you like.  Write about your marriage breakup, leaving home, the death of a loved one.
  • What was your first job?
  • Write about the most scared you’ve ever been.
  • Write in cafes. Write what is going on around you.
  • Describe a parent or a child.
  • Some people have a jar full of words written on pieces of paper and select one piece of paper at random each day and write from that.  Others use a line of a poem to start them off.  Then every time they get stuck they rewrite that line and keep going.

Be honest.  Cut through the crap and get to the real heart of things.

Zen Buddhist, psychotherapist, writer and teacher, Gail Sher in her book One Continuous Mistake says the solution for her came via haiku (short unrhymed Japanese poems capturing the essence of a moment).

 “For several years I wrote one haiku a day and then spent hours polishing those I had written on previous days.  This tiny step proved increasingly satisfying,” Gail Sher.

She said it gradually dawned on her that it was not the haiku but the “one per day.”  Without even knowing it, she had developed a “practice.”  Every day, no matter what, she wrote one haiku.  In her mind she became the person who writes “a haiku a day.”  And that was the beginning of knowing who she was.

Gail Sher suggests writing on the same subject every day for two weeks.

“Revisiting the same subject day after day will force you to exhaust stale, inauthentic, spurious thought patterns and dare you to enter places of subtler, more ‘fringe’ knowing,” Gail Sher.

She writes in One Continuous Mistake that the Four Noble Truths for writers are:

  1. Writers write.
  2. Writing is a process.
  3. You don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process.
  4. If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write.

So start coming up with your own list of ideas for practice writing.  Life happening around us is good grist-for-the-mill.

Header image:  Creative Commons

‘Painstaking Progress’ revisited

 

sunset over the ocean

‘Painstaking Progress’ is another of my stories, like ‘Art and the Mermaid’, that was first published in Quadrant Magazine. It shows the difficulties of the writing process for the narrator as she tries to make sense of  her family history and agonizes about the relationship with her young lover.

Painstaking Progress

by Libby Sommer

I’m imagining a cloudy autumn morning.  There’s a room.  Half office, half bedroom.  Not too large and not too small.  The windows of the room face east and look out towards the ocean across the expanse of a green gully.

I picture a woman sitting on a bed with pillows behind her back.  The windows are open.  Perhaps it is Saturday morning.  On the bedside table is a mug of tea and a photograph of the woman’s daughter on her wedding day.

The wind begins to stir the big trees outside and the morning haze is beginning to move and for a short moment the sun lightens the carpet and heavy dark wood furniture.  The shadows of the curtains’ curves darken the floor, almost invisible to the woman on the bed.   The morning sun lightens the CD player, the alarm clock, the piles of books stacked on the revolving Victorian bookcase.

She looks out at the water and at the triangle of beach.  Sometimes it seems that nothing much changes out there, although on some days the waves break close to shore and at other times further out to sea.  She can see it all from the bed, even at night time.  The bed faces the beach and the ocean, and so does the desk.  The room is like standing at the rail of a ship.

On the radio:  ‘Waves, to me, are a reason to live,’ says the surfer.  ‘When you see the roar, the jaws, there is nothing that touches it on the face of the earth.’

In June the twilight begins in the afternoon.  The days close in on me, here in

this room.  The infinite possibilities in the sky and the sea and the possibility of nothing.

What is this writing life?  It tears me to pieces every day.

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