A CANDLE is flickering on the oak desk in front of me; I can just see it over the brim of my laptop screen.
It makes me feel practically Dicken-esque and I suspect that’s the point.
Outside, the snow is beginning to settle, but in this room, drinking my third hot cup of tea of the day, the rest of the world seems very far away.
The room is silent, almost. The only sound is the flurry of fingers tapping satisfyingly over keys as a surge of brilliance flows - and then ebbs away again. Most of the heads in the room are down, eyes trained on their screens. A few are staring dreamily out of the window opposite, lips pursed and eyes narrowed. I know from experience this means they’re working hard.
It’s a chilly Sunday morning in Sheffield and I’m one of 10 people who’ve turned out for the city’s first ever Writers’ Retreat.
The delicious smell of sulphur – still lingering in the air from the match used to light the candles – is the icing on this perfect writers’ cake. This is glorious.
As a struggling writer myself, I’m amazed by the energy and inspiration that can come out of a room of creative people all sitting together, lost in their own worlds and their own thoughts.
The rules are simple; no phones, no internet, just eight hours of writing.
“It’s a fact writers often suffer from debilitating bouts of procrastination,” says Sheffield writer and retreat organiser Chris Rodgers.
“So this retreat is all about getting on with it. There’s no opportunity to check Facebook or Twitter, reply to emails, eavesdrop on conversations or tidy an already immaculate room. I’ve taken all the usual excuses out of the mix, so now write.”
And write I do; with a focus and determination that’s been missing for a while.
And there is no stopping to wash the dishes when I hit a tricky spot, I simply work through it. Even my usual five-minute escape of putting the kettle on has been removed, as Chris is on hand with endless cups of tea and biscuits.
Chris, a secondary school teacher in the city, organised the retreat after reading about similar events taking place in London.
“I just wanted the opportunity to write without distraction and I wanted to help other Sheffield writers do the same,” he says.
“It’s such a simple idea, but hopefully effective and is open to everyone – published or unpublished, professional or amateur, experienced or just-starting-out.”
And it’s an interesting bunch that have assembled at Kelham Island’s Chimney House.
In our five-minute ‘chat-time’ at the beginning of the day, before the work begins, we introduce ourselves; magazine writers, playwriters, professional writers and many whose only experience is scribbling odds and ends once the kids are in bed.
None of us really knows what to expect, but a thousand words later, I can see why retreats like these are so popular; it’s a haven.
“I can’t remember the last time I got so much writing done,” says Beverley Ward.
“A day away from everything, without having to leave Sheffield, was perfect. And it was lovely to have someone bringing me cups of tea!”
Susan Elliot Wright is a Sheffield writer and teacher. Her first book, The Things We Never Said, comes out later this month and she came to the retreat hoping to spend a full day finishing up her second book.
“It was so productive and enjoyable, I would definitely come again,” she says.
“I actually achieved more than I thought I would by the end of the day. I finished writing a scene I’d been working on for a while and did lots of editing and little bits of re-writing.
“It was an intense day and I feel exhausted at the end of it, but I’m so pleased with the amount of work I got through.”
Chrissy Deforges praises the ‘positive creative energy in the air’ while another, Alicia Boden, says it was the thoughtful touches that made the day for her.
“The candles and the fantastic venue made all the difference,” she says. I got exactly what I wanted out of the day. It was fabulous.”
To book a place on the next retreat, which is on Sunday, April 14, and priced at £30, and includes refreshments, email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org