"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde
Remember that Gary Larson cartoon where the schoolboy puts up his hand and says ‘Please sir…. my brain is full’? I
know how he felt. Last week was taken up with the writers’ retreat that I’ve waited for all my writing life. If you were planning the perfect retreat it would look like this: eight or nine writers (poets, novelists, playwrights), working hard, in a big cheap house with little corners for everyone to write in.
It would be in a landscape with hills and a river, but not so beautiful that you want to go out walking every day. There might be attractions nearby that serve to inspire new writing: but when you get stir crazy and are really tempted to go outside, the weather should turn nasty so that you get back to writing.
There should be shops nearby so that you can get supplies, but nothing interesting enough to keep you away from the computer for long. Perhaps a good friend would live nearby so that you can visit her one evening. The eight or nine
writers should take their work seriously, but still be up for a good laugh and possibly some dancing in the kitchen. The kitchen, by the way, should be the locus for some friendly, equitable and bicker-free communal cooking, which should magically sort itself out so that no-one does it more than once, and everyone eats well.
The writers would do some workshopping every afternoon, some reading round in the evening, and should critique each other’s work in a constructive and non-hurtful manner. And they should all come home again happy, full of good food and feeling that they have achieved something. In a completely perfect world, of course, no-one would leave their favourite jeans behind and have to ask for them to be posted on, but we can’t have everything and this is what I do wherever I go.
That’s what it was like, and we can only thank the magnificent Ann Atkinson for organising it (even if she did escape at 4am one morning, in a mercy dash to the birth of her grandson). For me, discovering the poetry of Jim Caruth (right) was a particular pleasure.
And then… back to earth, and to other work. A 1am writing session to complete a commission, then a very full-on day at Action Transport Theatre as part of Four for the Port. We did read-rounds, discussions and exercises to find the strengths and weaknesses of our mini-plays. I had no idea how much work was needed on my draft of Aching for Dick but the young actors were so articulate, mature and generous that they gave me a huge boost and great ideas for how to take the play forward. Mind you, now that there are actual posters, it all seems disturbingly real…