For years I’ve heard about people going away on a writer’s retreat. Usually a large house or collection of picturesque cabins in some rural idyll, where you could go to be alone with your muse during the day, and gather in the evening for literary discussion over the dinner table and a few bottles of decent claret.
Or something like that.
|The Villa Diodati, near Geneva, where Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin|
met during the summer of 1816 and produced works such as Frankenstein
Truth is if I ever had to write about a writer’s retreat, I’d have to make it up. I’ve never actually been on one.
Perhaps it’s because I come from a journalistic background, where I didn’t so much have a muse as a tight deadline and an editor with a big stick.
(Usually with nails in it.)
Back when I still had a day-job, I’d write fiction anytime, anywhere. In the car on the way to photoshoots, in hotels and waiting rooms. Entire chapters were written on flights. The idea of needing to go somewhere, well, special in order to put words on the page seemed wholly unnecessary.
|writing on the move|
But the past couple of years have been tough and filled with distractions. For the last month or so I’ve had my head stuffed with the complexities of house renovation. My To Do list seems to get constantly longer rather than shorter. I was trying to do everything at once and it felt like I was failing on all fronts.
A kick-start was called for. Time away from the construction work. Time to allow the cracked ribs to knit back together without over-stretching them again. And time to get my head back into writing the new Charlie Fox book. I have, after all, already got a decent chunk of it written. What I needed was to get back into that mindset, that zone, to breathe the arid air of the Middle East, to smell the burnt powder of a firefight, to feel the totally alive buzz of living through Charlie’s eyes in that electrifying sliver between the ‘what if’ and the ‘when’.
A stint of cat/dog/house-sitting was just what I needed.
And so I find myself in the wilds of Derbyshire, in a beautiful house with two magnificent cats and a shaggy dog with one of the loveliest temperaments (unless you happen to be a cat … or a sheep) I’ve had the pleasure to encounter.
|one of the softest dogs you'll ever find ... unless you are a cat|
It’s taken me a couple of days to settle in, to find my own routine in among the three walks a day the dog requires, and the attention at least one of the cats demands.
|fabulous sunset over the Derbyshire countryside|
It also took me a little while to get out of the DIY mindset. OK, so almost the first thing I did, on autopilot, was go round and tighten up all the loose handles on the kitchen cupboards. But apart from that there is nothing to be done. And my own house cannot be worked upon from a distance.
There is nothing for me to do now except enjoy the stunning views, walk, sleep, eat, heal, and write.
So, I’ve been re-reading the book so far, making odd little changes. A word here, a sentence there. Gain a comma, lose a full stop. It’s all preparing me for the next blank page, when I will have to launch into clear air and see where the story takes me.
And I have to admit that already Charlie is beginning to talk to me again inside my head. She’s nudging me to Get On With It. And she’s carrying a big stick.
With nails in it.
So, what do you think about writers’ retreats? Have you ever been on one, or seriously considered it? Do you think you’d benefit, or do you prefer to be somewhere familiar with your own stuff around you? And if you’ve never written, do you think you might take to it, in that kind of atmosphere?
This week’s Word of the Week is magistricide, meaning the killing of a teacher or master, from the Latin magister, meaning a master, chief, superior, or teacher, from magis, meaning more or great.