Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How We Started

The house turned out to be an added incentive...

Perched in bushland on a hillside at Eagle Bay with a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean, it gave us a perfect vantage point to view migrating whales. We could hear the surf pounding below and watch native birds feed within touching distance. We were far enough away to escape everyday distractions and close enough for the drive to be an easy one. In all, a beautiful place to visit…

We were led there by a common interest – a need for space enough to talk about our novels without having to rein ourselves in out of fear of boring the pants off our friends.

We are members of the active and well attended Katharine Susannah Prichard Speculative Fiction Writers’ group, which still provides us with fantastic online opportunities for critiquing short stories and novel chapters. However, each of us has completed at least one novel and needed longer and more comprehensive critting sessions than the group could provide. We wanted to critique our novels in their entirety rather than as fragmented chapters over a matter of weeks. We also saw we had mutual compatibilities in terms of genres and interests, and a need for more intensive training. Furthermore, we were prepared to devote a great deal of time and effort to each other’s work – a grand total of 610,000 words – which we read closely and critiqued over four weeks prior the retreat.

After valuable feedback from the masters of retreat critiquing, Ripping Ozzie Reads we decided to give ourselves three days away. We wrote up our critiques beforehand and allocated three hours of critting time per novel. This enabled each critter to have a maximum of half an hour to have their say, while the author remained silent until the end. We finished each session with an hour-long discussion, which mostly became a brainstorming exercise where we mooted alternative plot trajectories and outcomes. Sometimes suggestions turned out to be not quite what the writer had in mind but, after consideration, became catalysts for the discovery of new ways of improving aspects of plotting and characterisation they had not thought about.

Our expertise is varied, which turned out to be a bonus rather than a problem. The more experienced critters helped train the less experienced ones, while the less experienced critters provided useful comments, not only as readers, but also as students practising their newly acquired skills. Even when differences of opinion did occur, we reminded ourselves that every critter’s comment is a valid reader response deserving, in the very least, to be listened to. This made for a friendly and supportive environment that enabled us to improve our writing and to critique thoroughly with respect and trust. Not once did we reach for the box of strategically placed tissues on the critting table.

With the day's critting over, we finished up with food, drink and movies. One would think that three vegetarians and two omnivores would complicate things, but our menus were unplanned. Kudos for the sushi, gourmet salads, beetroot chips, cheese selections and guinea figs. Kudos again for the valuable plotting lessons gleaned from the movies, made even more enjoyable with a good dash of Baileys.


  1. It sounds like an awesome experience! I can't wait to hear about the critiques.

  2. Hi Carol, Sounds like you have a Fantastic Group going with shared intersts and goals. Like your key words Respect and Trust. The two most important ingredients ... I too blogged about Writing Buddies today... Just a coincidence ...Karen Tyrrell