There were many benefits that I was expecting from a writing retreat. For instance, I’m having a (very welcome and much appreciated) break from household responsibilities – staying alone in a small flat, I have very little to do by way of cleaning, food shopping, cooking or washing. I am also isolated from distractions like Internet and phone (and shops), so all the energy that it normally takes to resist them (and often unsuccessfully) can now be channelled into writing.
But one benefit that I did not foresee – and it seems crazy now – is the stimulation that comes from being in a different environment while having the luxury of a mind free for creativity. Although my novel is set in London in 1825, and I am staying in Switzerland in 2014, inspiration is everywhere. The church down the road here chimes its bells on the quarter hour – a practice abandoned in many English churches – which reminds me that in Sam’s day, church bells were vitally important for telling the time, as very few people had watches. And when I was food-shopping on my first day, I walked past an old-fashioned merry-go-round in a park, and it gave me the perfect mechanism for explaining a crucial plot point – sorry I can’t give more away, but it really helped me. So a retreat is not just getting away from things, but also experiencing new things – any one of which can help the writing process.