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Recently I had the most fortunate luck to spend a long weekend in London, hosted by Isabel Costello, a writer I met at a Faber Academy workshop last year. I’ve already written on this blog about how, though I’ve loved living in Europe, I feel isolated writing my novels in Switzerland (though Twitter is great, believe me!). Without a writing group or regular courses or workshops, I feel I’m always pushing myself forward rather than sometimes riding along on the energy of other writers. So it was a huge treat for me to spend a long weekend with Isabel and her family at her lovely home, with nothing on the agenda except to talk writing and eat and sip tea or wine. Like the workshop a year ago, this weekend at Isabel’s was hugely important to me as a writer: it was a time for me to live and breathe writing, to put it center stage, to treat it with gravity and respect. And it was also a time for me to get a glimpse of another writer’s world, in a place I’ve always loved.

What made this wonderful weekend possible was not just the workshop which acquainted us, but the trust we’ve developed through the ensuing months. Once we started emailing back and forth, we also sent each other some of our writing. I found Isabel’s comments hugely helpful, and she was quite willing to look at more. She has now read several versions of my newish manuscript, as well as some of another novel I was working on last year. Though I’m writing alone in Switzerland, I now have a sounding board, someone to whom I can pose questions and send my work. I’m also very much enjoying Isabel’s new manuscript, and feeling rather smug that I’m getting to read each chapter as it is finished.

As I said at the outset, I feel extremely fortunate. While Isabel has an immensely supportive writing group with whom she meets twice a month, she has become my writing partner of sorts, and the best kind of critic for me: someone who does a thoughtful, close reading and, though always tactful, gives me honest feedback. And while some readers focus on one aspect of the writing more than others, Isabel has made helpful suggestions on plot, theme, and pacing, as well as providing detailed analysis regarding style and word use, especially as my book is set in England, seen through an American’s eyes.

The weekend was a retreat, a sleepover, and a literary workshop all rolled into one and shared with a great friend. I couldn’t recommend this type of weekend to a writer more highly.

You can learn more about Isabel’s literary tastes and her writing endeavors at her blog, On The Literary Sofa.

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