I am On Retreat. Before I left I told a few people I was going on a writing retreat, and they looked at me with that look usually reserved for batty aunts and toddlers with over-active imaginations. My husband is hugely supportive, but secretly wonders what I will get done in Devon that I couldn’t achieve by simply knuckling down in my own office in the Cotswolds. The answer is hard to put into words, which is ironic.
It is midday on Wednesday and I have been here since 4pm on Monday. In that time I have filled a notebook full of research, listed the experts I need to speak to, and identified a dozen books I need to order from the library. I have created a cast of characters, scribbled down their back-stories and worked out their relationships to each other. I have plotted a 100,000-word book, fathomed out my twists and even discovered that the character responsible for the story’s dastardly deed isn’t who I thought it was going to be at all. This morning I wrote a 800-word prologue. I am, as they say, on fire, and the flames won’t be doused until lunch-time tomorrow when I drive home.
I haven’t spent the entire time holed up in my room. I’ve whiled away the evenings by the fire chatting with other writers, listening to their work and reading my own. I’ve knitted nearly a whole glove (badly). I’ve written a letter to my husband and taken a leisurely walk to post it. I’ve done all sorts of things. But I haven’t cooked, or cleaned, or worked, or answered the phone, or taken in a parcel for next door, or done the school run, or paid the milk bill, or taken the kids swimming, or any of the myriad things which make up everyday life. I have written until I felt like stopping, instead of when the clock told me to, and on the dot of 6pm a glass of wine has magically appeared in my room, with a waft of something delicious emanating from the kitchen soon afterwards.
It has been the mental space as much as the physical space which has been such a revelation, although the peace and quiet here is an absolute joy. We underestimate how much of our thoughts are taken up with mundane activities which squeeze creativity into the tiniest corner of our mind. To release it, to allow its expansion to the exclusion of all else, is an incredible thing, and the results have astounded me.