Inspiration from the Writer's Retreat

Posted on July 21, 2013 at 12:05 AM

A week on, and memories of our writer's retreat remain fond all round. Now, that is pretty darn impressive coming from me - who managed to get her money and debit card stolen - my own silly fault. It was a great event and my thanks go out to the organisers.

Ten of us attended Alnwick, although the most of the committee members managed to get out out of this photo - it takes one to hold the camera and one to hold the yellow flash you see.  And one (along with his wife) to entertain the hosts of the roof over our heads.  Well, we are writers...

Our youngest member even managed to find writing inspiration at this dinner table, and completed a series of poems he'd been working on.  It wasn't the wine...  Well done.

Alnwick.  A stunning backdrop.  The castle, mean and moody and dripping with history.  You may imagine Harry Potter having his first broom flying lesson at this very location. You may choose to imagine a medieval scene, knights training, supplies piled up on carriages being pulled by heavy horses through the gate.

You may imagine a Ford Cortina flying over the wall of Hogwarts straight onto the whomping willow, or your mind may see archery practice, medieval markets, mud and filth. The limit is your own imagination.

But there is far more to Alnwick than a castle, and film location.  

There are the gardens, which were the inspiration for our Sunday seminar from our superb guest Anne Ryland; an event at which we were joined by a large contingent from Alnwick Writers.  As Humphrey Bogart once said we hope "this may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."  

Gardens said Anne Ryland... what hasn't been written about gardens?  The trick she tells us is surprise - a new angle.  Is that fountain really made of water?  Champagne, sherbert, chocolate, a toxin, a mood enhancer?  The reality of this scene is that you have contrasting gardens to the left and right; the poison garden and the rose garden respectively. Evil, and beauty.

Walk towards the poison garden and you are met with a striking image.  Hagrid's hut and Hobbits have been done before, but the idea sets the creative mind sprinting in many different directions.  An evil hermit, magical beings, a wise lady of the dark ages...

As we approach the poison garden we're met with a cliché, but it summons images and possibilities to the creative mind.  Who was this unfortunate soul, and who would want to keep him on their window-sill?

Walk through the iron gates, snakes and spiders twisting among the uprights, and you may see beauty. But beware - everything in this garden is poison.

The Opium Poppy. It genetates images of the nineteenth century far east and the opium dens. It reminds us of the dark side of addiction and heroin culture. It can save lives too - and help us with our pain in the form of morphine. It's a fine line; morphine can kill us. The Poison Garden Website tells us "The list of morphine murderers starts in 1823 with Dr Edme Castaing and continues through the 19th and 20th centuries with Dr. Robert Buchanan, Jane Toppan, Dr. Robert Clements and Dr Harold Shipman. And those are only the ones who were discovered." The website tells us the Opium Poppy is "second only to Nicotiana in terms of numbers killed." You can read more on the above mentioned website. The beautiful is not always the innocent.

We move on to Monkshood.  

This is one of the most poisonous plants here, but thankfully it's horrible taste limits instances of accidental poison.  You wouldn't know it to look at it.  If you clicked on the above link for Monkshood you will know the poison garden website tells us:  "In February 2010, Lakhvir Singh was convicted of the murder of her lover, Lakhvinder Cheema, who died after eating a curry to which Ms Singh had added the extract of Aconitum ferox, known as Indian monkshood or Himalayan monkshood."   The "curry killing".

Are any ideas for crime novels coming to you yet?  

Blurred into the background above is Hemlock, which according to the Poison Garden Website is "distinguished by its action of killing from the outside in as numbness of the extremities slowly becomes paralysis of the lungs. It has no effect on the brain." The flower in the foreground looks similar to Christmas Rose, but only has four petals. We haven't been able to properly identify it. No matter - don't be deceived. Like everything else in this garden it will be poisonous and have it's own stories to tell.

Moving onto the Rose Garden, inspiration flows in a different direction. Or does it?  Themes of beauty may run through your imagination. Sweet smells.  Restfulness. Feeling untouchable behind your walled garden of bliss.

You may imagine growth in the spiritual sense - innocence, running perpetually with the mature and the dying.  The cycle of life.

Can a rose be sad?

A rose may even inspire a negative reaction  A super poem was written about a rose in our Sunday workshop with Anne Ryland.  It was about an aversion to roses.  Remember - surprise makes things interesting - an unexpected angle.

All photos were taken at the writer's retreat by me aka C.S. Wimsey, who does not have green fingers, knows nothing about gardens and gardening, and for whom photographing flowers is her least favourite form of photography.  It just goes to show - things are rarely as they appear.

Be inspired.

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Reply Kevin
11:13 AM on July 22, 2013 
I too independently enjoyed the gardens at Alnwick Castle, the beauty of the gardens diminished only by the lack of water. To sit, in oversized wooden seats in a giant pergola, covered in scented roses, was a glorious escape from stifling summer heat. To discover a young violinist playing music which wafted gloriously on the gentle breeze enhanced the experience still further. I too was inspired.
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I too severally enjoyed the gardens at Alnwick Castle, the wonder of the gardens diminished solely by the dearth of water. To sit, in outsized picket seats during a big framework, coated in scented roses, was a wonderful escape stifling summer heat. to get a young player taking part in music that wafted gloriously on the zephyr increased the expertise still more. I too was impressed.

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