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  • Writer's pictureleodoulton

Fish and Phantoms - Seven Quick Reflections on Week 1 of a Creative Retreat

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

TL;DR: done some work. Thrown lots of it away. Learnt a new type of fish.

I’ve spent the past week on a Creative Retreat, thanks to Britten Pears. Having been here for just over seven days, I thought I’d spend a moment doing a quick blog about the experience.


1. Actually having time to write. Not just scribble frantically while trying not collapse after work, but just write. Focusing on just one thing for a week has been an absolute pleasure. I have never made this much progress in so short a space of time, nor felt so wholly immersed in a writing project.

Also, praise be to the labour organisers who made paid annual leave a thing.

2. Having the time to get stuck into the worldbuilding and dramaturgy of the piece. The first task was spending more or less an entire day trying to answer the questions “what is the piece about?” and “why is this interesting to anyone else?”

Come Bargain With Uncanny Things is essentially about relating to things. Mostly how we relate to the eponymous Things, but also about how we relate to one another at the edge of mortality.

Also, you get to feel like you’re doing magic, and that’s cool.

Seven days ago, that answer would not have been so clear. Nor would thoughts about the social role bargains with uncanny things might play, how our communities would be changed by occasional outbreaks of supernatural fog, or the implications of whether or not such a world had a British Empire.

3. I learnt the name of a new type of fish. I got up before sunrise the other day to go to the nearby nature reserve. In addition to getting remarkably close to some roe deer noisily chomping, as I walked along the beach at sunrise I encountered this strangely-coloured fellow:

I threw them back into the water, though as of yet I have received no wishes in exchange. I have discovered that this is (probably) not a djinn in disguise, but a type of fish known as a ‘sea robin’, which I find delightful.

And yes, I used a bit of paper to protect my hands. I (think) I recognise DON’T EAT ME I’M POISONOUS colouring when I see it.


1. I had to cut the bit of worldbuilding describing the post-1945 occult policies of each historic British government, after realising that it was both not actually reflective of the world and themes of the piece, and also entirely irrelevant to anything the audience might have to do.

There will, of course, be a Twitter poll about who (ex-canonically) legalised bargaining.

2. I cannot (yet) get stuck into the pragmatics of directing this thing, though I am beginning to have thoughts about how to make it a reality, and where I might be turning for designs etc.

3. I have to leave at the end of the week. But I am looking forward to a few more days to get deeply stuck into the mechanics of Come Bargain, especially the various forms of doing magic.

Conclusory Reflection

This is a wonderful way to get some operatic work done at long last, and I’d urge you to apply if you’re eligible and think you might benefit.

Thanks to everyone who’s made it possible, from the Britten Pears/Snape Maltings team to the various people who’ve shared thoughts on interactive theatre, supported and performed in WIP sharings, and not destroyed me with their vengeful magical fish powers.

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