For my recent birthday, some of my best friends surprised me with a leaflet, a train ticket and a £20 note.

“You’re going to a micro-literary festival in Wales - we've even given you cash for the cab to the venue,” they told me as I struggled to stay upright in the pub, already wobbling with gin and cake.

“Ok!” I said, touched by their thoughtfulness and anxious I would lose all said items in a gutter on the way home.

A few weeks later I was in a taxi, heading to the Grade I listed Gladstone's Library near Chester, fully recovered and eager for literary fun.  

The library was founded the Victorian Prime Minister William Gladstone in the 19th century and continues today in tribute to his love of books.

The staff are incredibly enthusiastic and even gave tours around the oak panelled rooms, explaining how the statesman managed to accumulate so many thousands of books (he read around 20,000 titles in his lifetime).

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The event featured speakers such as novelist and journalist Rebecca Abrams, TV and theatre writer Lucy Gough, James Runcie (whose Granchester chronicles have recently been dramatised for ITV) and historical novelist Patricia Bracewell (whose first book, Shadow of the Crown, was published last year).

As well as writing workshops and panel discussion, the weekend ticket includes meals from the cafe with locally sourced food so you don’t pass out mid-brainstorm (I'd particularly recommend the chocolate cake).

I attended Rebecca Abrams' workshop on Saturday afternoon where we had to ‘sculpt dialogue’ by moving people round to show how conversations change tensions and relationships within a story.

Despite initial confusion, the poor ‘actors’ were getting pulled around like putty by the end as we grew enthusiastic about the opportunities of dialogue.

On Saturday evening we gathered round the hearth in the Gladstone Room with wine to hear advice from the writers and later on I might have even placed a coat on my knee balanced with a pot of tea for extra cosiness (unfortunately the photographic evidence of this has been destroyed).

The panel events were more informal than the workshops and included insights from the writers on their backgrounds, publishing and staying motivated. Rebecca Flood recommended sticking white erasable sheets up on the wall (from stores such as Staples) for brainstorming and plot development whilst Patricia Bracewell Bracewell’s main tip for budding writers was “don’t give up”.

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On Sunday James Runcie spoke about the experience of having his vicar-sleuth series adapted for the ITV drama Grantchester. He also gave an insight into how having a father as Archbishop of Canterbury influenced his work.

As well as the sessions, being able to stay in such a beautiful place was amazing. The bedrooms are cosy, equipped with desks and kettles, and I could spot the nearby chapel from my window.

Overall, it was one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to with a great diversity of participants. I met someone who’d trained as a nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital in the 1960s, a former Al Jazeera journalist and an ex-paratrooper.

Many of the writers I spoke to often came to stay in the library to focus on their work - dinner, bed and breakfast starts at £60 per night but there are scholarships and bursaries to make the rates even more affordable.

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There is another hearth festival early next year which I’m planning to attend and more details will be released on the library's website soon.

I'm around 60,000 words into my novel, which the Arts Council has helped fund through a lottery-funded grant, and this literary retreat has provided the perfect inspiration to continue. 

Wine, chocolate cake and even some writing in a Grade I listed library – what more could you ask for?