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My Wild Weekend: a writing retreat with Liv Little

Ask our guests why they stayed at one of our spaces, and you’ll find a spread of different answers. There are no common jobs, no common tastes in food, no preference over a glass of red or white. The only thing we can see in common is love of nature and the wild world around us. And writer, editor and soon to be director – Liv Little – is no exception. We got chatting to her about taking a break in nature, WFC (that’s working from cabin, to the uninitiated) – and finding inspiration away from the whiplash life of writing on the train on the way to the next big thing.

Liv's creative work was first introduced to the world through gal-dem, the magazine she founded while studying Politics in her final year of Bristol. She's since hosted podcasts, worked as an exec producer at the BBC and, perhaps most excitingly, recently published her debut novel, Rosewater. While gal-dem sadly closed its doors in 2023, its creative legacy lives on in the talented creatives who have continued to take up space in the British media landscape and beyond.

Liv's recent projects also include writing a short film produced by the BBC. However, for her time with Canopy and Stars she was focused on kick-starting novel number two. When we spoke shortly after Liv got back from a five-day long writing retreat at Gold Top in Sussex, a converted barn just outside the South Downs National Park. Liv sounded altogether relieved to have had a moment to herself after her time away, and, thankfully, without all the tech modern life comes with. “It was nice to have a bit of time where there was limited data and nature […] it was so good”. With your very own meadow, firepit, private hot tub and far more – it’s an easy place to do as little or as much as you want to. It’s just a 20-minute drive from the sea, far less to national trust spaces or just a walk out the door to be surrounded by nature.

Living a life between her home in Kent by the sea and hopping on the train into London to work on multiple projects, Liv’s constantly on the move, and whilst some struggle to even read the newspaper in the hustle and bustle of the commute – she thrives: “It feels like a moment that no one can get hold of me, which is quite nice.” Going on to say: “I do like writing as part of the commute, for sure. I definitely enjoy that. Especially because I’m getting trains a lot from out of London, into London. I mean, I just probably put my headphones in and enjoy being surrounded by people, but that act of selecting the right soundtrack to help you narrate whatever it is that you want to say. Allows you to have the best of both worlds I suppose.”

Liv Little

Her work is now seeing her returning to her TV roots, and even expanding into film. ‘I really, really love fiction, it feels like a thing that I've always wanted to be doing. And that allows me the freedom to tell stories in the way that I want to tell them.” But the 29-year-old isn’t resting on her laurels, “the last maybe three years, I went back to uni, did an MA and studied Black British writing.”

The last time we spoke on our podcast, Liv mentioned that “writers of colour tend to be asked exclusively about their trauma.” And we discussed how has it’s been taking this time to explore more joy and light in her work:

“I think that my work is quite varied, I think it always treads the lines between light and dark, because that's just the reality of human experience. I write a lot about grief. I write about love, I write about friendship. I write just the things that I want to write from my heart. And that's the way I approach it.”

Writing, and finding inspiration is no easy task, often it’s a solitary sport that’s misunderstood by those that don’t try their hand, and we asked about having company whilst she was away on her retreat: “I had a few days on my own because I needed to do some kind of focus reading [a period of uninterrupted silent reading]. And then on the last day, I had an old friend come and stay.” And despite how different it can be for writers to work, they found themselves aligned quite often: ‘mostly, we were just going on quite long walks and just talking through and writing things. You can't always be sat typing and you need to spend time thinking and processing and making sense’.

Liv Little stay at Gold Top
Liv Little

Focus is no easy task with an ever-looming deadline, and we chatted about how to balance a heavy workload, with the all-important inspiration breaks: “When I was writing, I was just going on walks in nature. I’ve stayed with Canopy & Stars a bunch of times. In different places. The main thing to do is just to sit and be with yourself. It’s important to do, but easy to not have the time to do it. Just very peaceful, very calm. Listening to the sound of the birds. Can't really go wrong. I enjoy the slowness of it.”

As hectic and demanding as it can sound, Little’s as humble as ever about her work: “it's an amazing thing, to be able to do that as a job. And I feel very lucky to be able to do that”. Spending a little time out in nature’s always been part of the process: “my friend, one of my good friends from school, her family friend. I went and spent like a week in her back garden. She's got like a little shed/outhouse. And that was where I started Rosewater. And I think for this second novel, similarly, you need well, I personally need a bit of time, like solitary time as well to be able to think, and think about the direction I want to take.”

When asked about why nature’s so important, Liv went on to say: “I think it's good for my mental health in general, to take time out going for walks in nature, whether you do that in the middle of the city, or outside of the city, I think that's key to being able to think. I need to breathe outside air.”

Gold Top living area with sofa and coffee table
Liv little

Sometimes however, tech can be an unavoidable distraction, “I mean, that place just, you couldn't really access anything. So, this decision was made for me, which I think was quite nice.” But luckily, spending time in a cabin isn’t all hard work and taking walks for inspiration, downtime can look like cooking yourself a little treat: “I went to the local farm shop and got local veggies, local honey, local meat, local everything. Which is really lovely. And I always enjoy that thing of eating seasonally.” Going on to say: “it's always nice to just work with what you have. And I guess for me, it is like an act of creativity. What is there and what you can lovingly create for yourself? Food is a really big part of my life, my friends joke that ‘you love a farm shop’, and I do.”

Ask Liv what’s next, and there’s not just one answer, there’s many. “I think I'm definitely focused on my film and TV and just exploring creativity within that and I'm really loving it.” But having grown up on camping trips to The Lake District, ghyll scrambling in the Peak District, and now at home by the sea, the wild will undoubtedly continue to call, and spending time outside can be just as vital to storytelling as city life.

If you’re trying to get your artistic work finished, whether it’s a painting, a poem, your own novel or simply trying to finish reading your hardback, then take a peek through the collection or even follow in Liv’s footsteps to Gold Top. In the meantime, have a read of Rosewater or go ahead and follow Liv on Instagram.