The Forbidden Fjords

To writing retreat, or not to writing retreat


It shouldn’t even be a question. As a first year PhD student, like any other student I suppose, I am wont to procrastinate. I signed up to it months ago thinking that I would need to start my first progression review or upgrade to some of you. The writing itself is always a challenge for me. I am recovering from wrist surgery, so there is that. Moreover, I am alternatively using speech to text software from home, and writing for short bursts, until my wrist starts to hurt. However, typically it is a struggle because of my dyslexia. I try to write about too much and get confused, or lose my way in my writing and forget what I want to say, or know what I want to say and cannot say it. I get there in the end if I give myself enough time. Time to write and time to edit. So the idea of going on a writing retreat seemed like an excellent idea, and I was not wrong!

My centre for doctoral training is part of the Digital Economy Network that sponsored the writing retreat at Thrumpton Hall, just outside of Nottingham. Thrumpton Hall is just beautiful. It is a 17th century building with vast grounds, and looks like a perfect setting for a Wedding, or indeed a writing retreat! Miranda Seymour, the author and owner of the hall, was welcoming and encouraging in our writing endeavours. She has written many books in this setting, so it was good to know that it can be done!

There was a drive of a few hours from Southampton to get here, Rob drove (excellently) and I navigated, and somehow we got here alive and in one piece on Monday evening. We explored the house and grounds on arrival and I took quite a few pictures, because who doesn’t want to see images of a library with a huge fireplace, right out of an Agatha Christie novel?! There is a resident cat, called Simkins, who is friendly enough and asks for strokes from everyone she meets. The staff were welcoming and accommodating, and you can tell they love the house and their jobs, even though they were dealing with 18 PhD students!

Tuesday and Wednesday were all about writing! I settled down by the fire in the library, on the huge red leather sofa, and started work on my progression review. We had little increments of an hour, or an hour and a half of writing. Andy who is the facilitator kept us all on task and encouraged us to get up and walk around during our breaks. There were ample coffee, tea and cake and the food they provided was fantastic in general. I felt thoroughly spoilt, and taken care of, in a way that you sometimes forget to do yourself.

The setting for writing is perfect; you feel that you have to write because that is what you’re there for after all. But being in the room with so many others who are in the same situation as you really helps. It is quiet, just like the office at Uni, so I am used to that. It felt like a more concentrated environment. I am writing, and so is the person next to me, and opposite me. I’m not sat there wondering what everyone else is doing, or thinking about my productivity because I am too busy doing it! There was very little access to WiFi, which was actually helpful in terms of managing procrastination levels. Although at one point, I needed to look something up, but asked another PhD student, who knew what I was talking about and could relay an explanation and give me examples that were relevant to me. I couldn’t have asked for more!

It was great to get to know other students from other doctoral centres who are also part of the Digital Economy Network. We had Thrumpton Hall to ourselves, so we could really sit and relax, spread out and walk around in our slippers if we wanted to! We stayed up on Tuesday evening playing Cluedo, which was incredibly fun and I haven’t played the game in over 20 years. We all sat and had dinner and breakfasts together, talking about our research, our supervisors, and general hilarity of being a PhD student. There was wine with dinner, which was a real pleasure to take through a glass into the library, sitting by the fire and just talking to each other. I’m looking forward to going to the other Digital Economy Network events so I can see some of these lovely people again!