A little while ago I won a blog writing competition organized by the wonderful Emma Darwin. No, that’s not true: I came third in a blog writing competition organized by the wonderful Emma Darwin, but the prize I was given was so good it feels as if I did win after all.
Said prize was a two night stay at ‘Retreats for You’ in Devon, and not only is it in Devon, but it’s in Sheepwash, Devon, which even if you haven’t heard of it is a name to conjure with, and also happens to be where I spent a holiday around 1985 when I was a teenager. It rained.
It rained again this time also, but that’s exactly the weather one wants for a writing retreat; more of that later.
The only issue my prize raised was that, as my beloved and I live in a state of penury due to our reckless lifestyle choice of having a child (which, as we know, is simply self indulgent of us) and my inability to get a job, we were not going to have any holiday this year, and here I am, winning one just for me. I felt a bit mean, seeing as I spend my days lying around eating chocolates and painting my nails while my poor husband toils in a salt mine, so I emailed Deb of ‘Retreats for you’ to ask if I could bring him along. I felt he needed a break, salt mines being what they are, and there wasn’t the merest thought in my head this would also mean I’d have a lift and help with my bags, I promise.
It turns out that Deb’s husband, Bob, is a carpenter, and he runs workshops along side her writing workshops, and so Andy decided he’d have a go making something, and that the ideal thing would be a bookcase for daughter’s bedroom. We decided on a rocket shaped one, as we were about to decorate her room with an outer space theme, in order to stress the awe-inspiring aspects of science, for various long and complicated reasons - not least that we’re making a conscious effort to avoid pink princess syndrome.Now, back to the rain.
I wanted it to rain, you see, because sunny, beautiful weather always gives one the sneaking sensation one ought to be ‘doing something’ rather than sitting inside writing. Indeed, most of life seems gives one the feeling that spending time writing should play second fiddle to almost everything. ‘Writing’ time becomes answering emails, looking at things on ebay, trawling facebook or cleaning and then, lo and behold, writing time is over.
And this is, in essence, the wonder of ‘Retreats for You’ and why if one is trying to write in a serious way, I’d urge, nay, implore you to consider a weekend or more at such a place for the good of your soul. No, bugger your soul - for the good of your craft, because it’s an amazing privilege to actually put your writing first for once, but one it and you deserve.
Because, when you get blown through the door by a bright Devonshire wind into the welcoming, warming cottage, it suddenly feels like the place you've been looking for forever. Once you’re greeted by Deb, who’s like the cool Auntie you really wish you’d had, you realize this is just what you need. What she gives you, what the place gives you, is a sense that what you’re doing matters. It gives you time, and the rain lashing on the windows means a warm fire, a glass of wine or cup of tea, and space just to let the words flow.
It was wonderful. It was feeling the weight of the mundane world being lifted as, fueled by flapjacks, all you had to do was write. So I did. I sat in their comfortable, clean, simple house and wrote and wrote as the rain fell and the fire crackled and the world was good. Food was made, food was eaten and enjoyed, and there were other writers to talk to and stories to tell. Both Bob and Deb are gifted with the ability to make you feel as if you’d been meaning to pop by for ages, and wonder why on earth it’s been so long, within five minuets of meeting them. Andy even mistook Bob for one of his hardened drinking buddies after a few good glasses of red, and the two of them went to the local after dinner, even breaking out the whiskey at midnight. I’ve no idea if making a bookcase is a good hangover cure, but the hangover certainly didn’t delay launch time in any significant way.
I’d booked a review session on the first chapter of the WIP for Sunday afternoon, and Deb and I sat in her ‘room of one’s own’ and talked over what I’d sent her, and it was easy, and helpful and insightfull and the most indulgent treat I could imagine - having someone let make me take myself and my work seriously for an afternoon.
That evening new guests arrived and we got down to another serious session of fire-side story swapping after another great dinner. I went over some of my past life adventures as a dressmaker and jewellery designer, including one of my favourite tales about the little goth girl who’d saved and waited a year after she’d first seen one of my necklaces, to return to the same exhibition hoping I’d be there so she might buy it.
‘Did it make you feel rescuing a kitten good?’ Andy asked, and later that night we got the chance to compare.
I should point out that lost kittens aren’t a standard part of Deb and Bob’s retreat, and they were not on our minds as we went to bed in our lovely little bedroom. However, at four a.m one made it’s self known when we both woke to the sound of its pitiful yet piercing mewing. Andy tracked it down to a jeep down the road - yes, it’s quiet enough there for you to hear a mewing kitten two hundred feet away and yes, it’s the kind of place where people still keep their doors unlocked. We roused the owner only for the kitten to fall silent, but luckily he believed us enough to open the car’s bonnet and lo and behold, up popped the tiniest, blackest, big eyed kitten in the world.