October sees our first ever Writing Retreat take place on Tresco. Established mystery-writer Hannah Dennison will be leading the course – Hannah’s currently working on a mystery series set on Scilly and is keen to inspire aspiring writers. The below interview with Hannah gives some insight into her writing process and why she thinks Tresco provides the perfect surroundings to start your novel.
What is your relationship to the Isles of Scilly?
My sister’s close friend lived and worked on Tresco for eight years. It was through talking to her over several glasses of wine at our local pub in Devon that I knew I wanted to set a mystery series on the island. I already write two that are set in the West Country—The Vicky Hill Mysteries and The Honeychurch Hall Mysteries—so I was thrilled when my publisher loved the idea too
What made you decide to set your new mystery series here?
My new series is about two sisters in their thirties who inherit an art deco hotel in the Isles of Scilly. Full disclosure: Tregarrick Rock, the fictional name of my island, is a mash-up topographically of Tresco, the Burgh Island Hotel near Bigbury-on-Sea and St. Michael’s Mount.
I loved the idea of the hotel being close enough to civilization but in this instance, set apart on a small islet that is only accessible by a tidal causeway. That’s the wonderful thing about being a writer—we have the freedom to create our own imaginary worlds.
Within the mystery genre umbrella are many sub-genres - I write “cozies” (American spelling here) which conjures up the image of curling up in front of the fire with a cup of tea and a book on a wet Sunday afternoon—oh, and with a cat. The definition of a cozy—sometimes called a traditional mystery—is a story set in a small community where everyone knows everyone else.
Tresco couldn’t be more perfect for this genre, especially given the following realities: No cars? Fantastic! No hospital? Brilliant! No streetlamps? Genius! And best of all … no police presence!
What most inspired you while you’ve been on the islands?
I fell in love with Tresco the moment I stepped off the boat. I was astonished at the diversity of the terrain given how small the island is. One moment I felt like I was roaming the Scottish Highlands and then, just a short time later, I’m gazing at the palm trees in the Abbey Gardens and thinking I must be somewhere in the South of France.
I was captivated by the wildlife, the flora and fauna and by the aura of mystery and history that envelops Tresco—from the ruined castles to the spectacular Valhalla Museum filled with the figureheads of ancient galleons.
Is there anything in particular that makes the islands a good location for writing?
Writing is a solitary profession and sitting staring at a computer screen for hours at a time makes it critical to refill the creative well. Were it not for my two Hungarian Vizslas I could easily become a recluse, stuck in my head, not seeing or talking to anyone for days … and mindlessly eating too many unhealthy snacks!
Tresco offers the best of both worlds. It has to be one of the most beautiful, peaceful places to write and at the same time, provides the perfect elements to refill that creative well whether it’s taking long walks, sitting in the Abbey Gardens and just enjoying the stillness or strolling along the beaches. For me, it’s a far cry from when I lived in the middle of Los Angeles and had to zone out the noise of police sirens and, on one occasion, gunfire! Writing on Tresco seems like paradise to me.
What can participants on the Tresco Writing Retreat expect?
Participants will discover that the writing community is generous and supportive. When I first started my writing career I never expected to forge such incredible friendships with kindred spirits. 90% of my friends are writers.
As well as having fun participants will get a reality check on what it means to be a published author—the good stuff and the bad. I’ll share the things I wish I’d known and the embarrassing mistakes that I’ve made. No question is off-limits! But most importantly, I’m committed to making sure that participants will go home feeling inspired, motivated and confident that they have all the tools and information they need to get their novels finished and ready for publication.
How do you come up with the ideas for your books?
Ideas are everywhere. Extended family gatherings are a mine of information and it’s true—no one ever recognizes themselves as a character in a book.
Eavesdrop in pubs and listen to gossip on trains. Comb the newspapers—especially local newspaper for quirky little stories. Look at the Classifieds or the Lost and Found. Case in point, one Holiday Inn notice made me curious as to the kind of customers who stay in these establishments—Among $750,000 worth of items left behind at Holiday Inns in 2007 were a blow-up sheep, a prosthetic leg, a monk’s habit, a selection of whips, a gas stove, an inflatable sumo wrestler’s outfit and eight posters of Jonathan Ross.
Do you have any tips/tricks/strategies which help you keep pace with your writing?
I like to keep track of my word count/hours. It’s a trick to make me think I am in control but sadly I’m always panicking that I won’t make my drop-dead deadline and yet miraculously I always do. With thirteen books under my belt I’ve come to accept that this is just the way I work.
I use FocusBooster and write in blocks of twenty-five minutes then I take a ten minute break unless I’m on a roll in which case I’ll hit the buzzer for another twenty-five. It really does help keep me focused. I actually use it for other things too like … vacuuming.
I also use Scrivener | Literature & Latte. I love the daily target feature. You just plug in the date of your deadline and the word-count for your manuscript (between 60,000 and 100,000 words depending on the genre). At the end of each writing day, the word count is recalibrated so you know if you are falling behind. Scrivener is relatively inexpensive at less than £50 for the software that is easily downloaded.
What advice would you give someone who’d like to write their first book?
Finish that first draft and do not look back or be tempted to edit or rewrite until you get to the very end. Your first draft is for your eyes only. Don’t show it to anyone other than the family pet. The second draft is where the real work—and fun—begins.
The thing to remember is that writing a book is a long, long, VERY long process. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. But it’s very satisfying once the book is finally done.
I’m so looking forward to this writing retreat. It’s all about the writing journey and the magic of the creative process. I hope you’ll join me there.
Our Writing Retreat takes place from 2nd – 7th October 2019 – prices start from £675pp to include accommodation and Hannah’s expert tutoring.
Supported by The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in Rural Areas
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