Sunday, 5 February 2017

Space To Write: My first Writing retreat!

As a fledgling writer and a hassled mother / wife /carer /professional I am always looking for opportunities to get away from it all and concentrate on my writing. Well last weekend I attended my very first writing retreat and I have to say it was an experience that I can thoroughly recommend. I enjoyed it so much that I'm already planning next years trip.

I stayed in the beautiful Downhill Beachhouse. The hostel reserves its rooms during specific periods in January to accommodate writers. With 9 rooms, tons of beds, shared bathrooms, shared kitchen and a lovely communal sitting room with roaring open fire, it was the perfect escape. Check out their website HERE. I'm not entirely sure of the history of the house but its a wonderfully atmospheric place. On Friday afternoon after a tearful farewell from my daughter, I set off on my own little adventure. 2 hours later and guided by the satnav I finally made it to the house. The minute I turned into the gravel driveway my heart just skipped a beat. Wow! I was welcomed by the host and owner of Downhill Beachhouse McCall Gilfillan, who is an amazing visual artist. Her work was displayed throughout the house. Check out her site HERE.

The hostel is overlooking Downhill Beach in Coleraine in Northern Ireland. From my room I could hear the sound of the sea which was inspiring and comforting. It was a gloriously dry weekend and although freezing cold, the beach was just calling out my name and I enjoyed lovely walks after breakfast and in the evenings. Sometimes horses can be seen exercising along the beach. It was my own little stretch of paradise. I even loved the sound of the odd train running underneath my window!



The best thing about going to writing retreat weekends is not only finding the time to write and not feel guilty about it, but also meeting so many wonderfully interesting people who respect your space and your writing journey. From singer / songwriters to poets and novelists, we were a pretty mixed bunch that weekends. While I was sitting at my little bureau at the window and looking out at the ocean, I could hear beautiful singing from our songwriter who was staying in the room across the landing from mine. I felt like I was in some sort of bohemian dream and I wanted to stay there forever! I made some fantastic new friends and look forward to following their careers. Edelle McMahon I will be keeping an eye out for your first album!

I stayed the Friday and Saturday nights and slept like a baby both nights. Something unheard of! Maybe it was the sea air. Maybe it was being able to completely free my mind of all my responsibilities. Or, maybe it was the fact that I was completely immersed in the writing experience.  Whatever it was, I fell in love with my book again and completed my first re-write. Now to move onto draft 2 asap! One of the unexpected things to come out of the weekend away was that I was suddenly coming up with some new ideas for my novel that will definitely be incorporated into draft 2. I found this all very surprising because I pretty much thought I had this story done but its taking on a new dimension and evolving in ways I hadn't imagined. I just hope I can make the deadline the Romantic Novelists Association New Writer's scheme have set for August! Eeek! Plus, I have some ideas for a couple more books. Not sure where they popped from! Double Eeek!

Look how close the beach is!
It's funny but that weekend away was just what I needed to make me feel like a writer. A real writer. To be able to sit with other like minded people and chat about our writing without any sort of judgement and lots of support was wonderful. Getting together in the evenings over a glass or two of wine and putting the world to rights lead to some wonderful storytelling and sharing of experiences, particularly the difficulty of being women writers, trying to juggle family and our passion for writing. The lovely sparkly fairy lights in the windows added to the atmosphere! Food was cooked together in the kitchen and shared around the dining table. If you wanted to stay in your room and do your own thing you could. There was just no pressure at all. My only regret...............that I didn't stay longer. But next year I am definitely staying for 3 nights! The family will just have to cope without me! 

Coming back from an evening walk
Thank you so much to our lovely host McCall who made us feel so welcome and shared a bottle of wine and some good craic with us all. And her lovely husband William who made sure we had a lovely fire in the evenings. Roll on next year when I can escape to this special place again! Maybe I'll be working on book 2!

All photographs in this post remain the property of JB Johnston and may not be used without prior permission.
©JB Johnston / Debbie Johnston


  1. The house looks idyllic, Debbie and those views are stunning. Amazed you managed to write at all! : ) Good luck with that NWS submission - such a helpful, inspiring scheme.

  2. You may have company. I can see why you were inspired, JB. I'm seriously considering it. Well done on that first re-write. Go you! :) xx

  3. What a fabulous place Debbie. There's nothing like peace and quiet and the company of like minded souls to bring out your creativity - and it looks as if it did the trick - two more book ideas. Now that is awesome!

    Jo xx

  4. Fantastic place! Beautiful photos! I read nowadays the book Steal Like an Artist, of Austin Kleon, sometimes I need to remember who I am. Debbie, thanks for share, greetings from Mexico.