(Re)treat Me

Just returned from my first writing retreat and now I wonder what took me so long. To cap off my 50th birthday month in true style, I attended the Rainforest Writers’ Retreat. Put simply, it was brilliant. Apart from meeting a whole raft of interesting people from all over Australia, I learned a huge amount of useful craft and tips to improve my writing. On top of that I hung out with a great friend all weekend (thanks for the deep chats and constant laughs, Kate Kelsen.) We also got to eat some life-changing brownies. No… not that kind of brownie but they were very yummy, possibly a little too yummy.

The beauty of gathering with like-minded people is knowing there are shared goals and interests. I could approach any of the other attendees knowing they shared my interest in writing and then we could go from there. Previously I would avoid groups or conferences because I struggled to connect with people but the reality is, the more you put yourself out there and meet people, the easier it becomes. I highly recommend retreats or gatherings to anyone wishing to expand their network of like-minded folks whether that’s a writers’ retreat or yoga, or sports or any interest. At the very least you’ll get a weekend away out of it.

I filled pages in my ‘craft’ book with tips like the following from Dr Angela Slatter, the Story Doctor.

Your character doesn’t need to be likeable but they do need to be, in some way, sympathetic and relatable.

Dr Angela Slatter

To avoid one-dimensional characters and stereotypes Dr Slatter suggests we follow these simple guidelines.

  • Give the character something to want, a desire, a need.
  • Give them something to hide. A dark secret.
  • Give them something to fear. A nemesis or phobia. (e.g. “Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?”)
  • Give them something to obsess over. Something or someone? Rules or beliefs to cling to.
  • Then hurt them with all of the above.

So for this exercise I took my incredibly unlikable character Mimi. She’s a nasty villain but I don’t want her to be like Cruella or Miss Trunchbull… or my own nasty 3rd grade teacher, Mrs Bognuda. Isn’t that a great name for a villain?

So Mimi is a jealous sister but using the above I know more than anything else she wants her mother. Because that isn’t possible, she wants revenge on those who made her mother’s life so unbearable that she had to take her own life. Now this isn’t a rational viewpoint; Mimi is unwell. What is she hiding? She is hiding her deep insecurity and jealousy around her appearance and that of her sister. She is also hiding the fear that she hasn’t slept with enough men. She is seen as a sex-symbol by her fans but feels incredibly sex-less. What does she fear? Apart from all of the above Mimi is terrified of dogs and most dogs seem to know it. And what is she obsessed with? She is obsessed with the family home and demands it stay exactly as it was when her mother was alive.

As the protagonist I will proceed to use all of the above against Mimi and hopefully she’s is no longer a 1-Dimensional wacko trying to destroy everyone around her.

Jack Heath’s presentation was polished but riotous, a combination I am fairly confident only he could pull off. I took few notes because he was mesmerising. Sorry, I did write one line under his name in my ‘craft notebook’ and it reads;

Perfect the one sentence premise.

Jack Heath

I’ve given it a go here with my existing work and works-in-progress. If it’s too hard to do with your own work, try it with famous novels or movies.

  • Hotel Deja Vu – An old house in Paris hides a time portal in the basement that can take you back to a time when you believed you were happy.
  • Alia Henry and the Ghost Writer – A spoiled influencer discovers her strengths and a ‘ghost’ while under house arrest in a crumbling mansion in the Loire valley.
  • Set in Paris – A series of love letters to Paris.
  • Mimi Gets Away With Murder – Jealousy pushes a cult actress to depths none of her characters would have attempted to get revenge.
  • The Circle of Ashes – Two interwoven stories about women, family, and human remains.

Okay…so that last one might need a bit of work…

Jack Heath also told a brilliant story about how he came to ‘be’ a writer. I won’t go into it, it’s his story to tell, but he discovered as a young bloke that ‘being a writer’ means you write. You write stuff. Sometimes people read it. Sometimes they pay you money for it. But at the end of the day, writers write.

Unfortunately you can’t just announce, “I’m a writer,” at a dinner party. Well you can, but be prepared for the usual questions; Have you written anything famous, is it published, are you the next JK Rowling…? Look there’s nothing wrong with these questions but they’re just typical (boring) Modern-era, (Orange, Stage 5 Achiever) questions that are weighing your writing against its ability to make a buck.

What you talk about isn’t important, it’s what you do that makes you a writer. The important action is the one where sit your bum in the chair and write. Write anything. Set a word count and go. The best writing happens when the author isn’t thinking about the reader. When writers let it all out onto the page, paying no attention to the inner-critic, magic happens, then it’s up to the editor to think about where the reader fits in all of this.

Check out the website of the Rainforest Writing Retreat. I’ll be there in 2022!

Alia Henry and the Ghost Writer is in another promotion this month along with dozens of other romance novels. Alia doesn’t really fit in with all these bare-chested dudes but hey there’s something for everyone. Grab your next favourite book here free!

I’ve created a virtual tour of Paris using some of the locations in Hotel Deja Vu. You can click on links in the images or in the text to go to the location on Google Maps and take a walk around the neighbourhood. Enjoy et bon voyage.


  1. TammyB

    I love everything about this post! Thank you for sharing! What an amazing experience it must have been. I have seen the ads for the retreat so am glad to know you had a great time!

  2. Beverley Streater

    Thanks for your generosity Christine. Love the character tips. I enjoy fiction with disagreeable characters who somehow still capture the reader’s empathy.
    Please keep sharing your learning and views.

Comments are closed.