Kath and I often say that we would love to go on our own retreat. This weekend that is exactly what I did; my own mini-retreat in the cottage at Rosemerryn, armed with laptop, notebook, some good reading and the new pen a dear friend gave me for Christmas. According to the box it came in, I can use it at zero gravity and under water. I might have needed that this weekend because the rain was prodigious. We always recommend packing wellies; at this time of year with yet another storm rolling in from the Atlantic (thanks, Atlantic, I’ll soon have the set), I was glad of them.
I arrived on Friday afternoon, just as the light was fading. The key was in the door for me, the fire was laid and the cottage was cosy. I had travelled light and it took no time at all to set up home. After about an hour, with me curled up on the sofa starting Patrick Gale’s A Town Called Winter, which I had been saving for this weekend, there was a knock at the door; Laura, chatelaine of Rosemerryn, was calling to check I had everything I needed. She had brought me a bottle of wine and some matches to light the fire; she would return the next day with home made date and walnut scones.
In the evening I got down to work, reading my way into the right frame of mind so that I would be able to begin the writing I had come to do. When I opened my 63,000-odd word draft I saw to my shame that it had last been touched towards the end of 2014. Where had the year gone? I did my self-set homework, reading about the Fens (the setting for my story) and made notes around Fenland words such as ‘sedge’ and ‘lode’ until I had them firmly in my head. For a change before bed, I began to edit a poem which had been languishing in draft form since the November night when it first appeared in my head. It took shape as I chipped away.
It was 1 o’clock in the morning when I retired to the double room at the front of the cottage. Outside the storm was licking at the roof and windows. I told myself the worst that could happen would be for a tree to fall on the house (pretty bad, admittedly) and fell asleep to dream of wind engines (the Fen version of windmills) and black silty soil. By morning the air outside was still. No trees had fallen.
I worked until midday, reworking the opening of my novel and making notes about a character who was proving tricky to pin down. Then I went for a walk, through soggy woods and down a bridle path that had become a stream overnight, to the lane leading down to Lamorna Cove. In a walk that took just over a dawdling hour there and back I saw one car and passed two other cheerful walkers.
The valley was quiet, just the babble of water in the mill stream and the faint shush of sea breaking over boulders at the edge of the cove. The little cafe was closed until March, but the lights were on at The Wink pub. I took pictures on my phone of spring flowers and the sign outside my namesake Marlowe Moss’s studio.
In the afternoon I grappled with narrative structure; four acts, two plot points and a gap to be filled in the second act. I answered almost as many questions as I had asked myself in setting out to revise the first half of the book. By 4 o’clock I had killed off the character who refused to be pinned down. He was not that important, I decided.
Tea and scones by the log fire, more reading and notes, then pre-bought noodles and wine for dinner. I had noticed by now that the only thing missing was someone else to do the cooking; a feature of our retreats at Rosemerryn. I was engrossed in my work though, and feeling the sense of ‘flow’ you get when you have uninterrupted time in which to think and write. Pausing to cook, or even to eat in company, would have broken the spell. I carried on, rejigging the order of my early chapters in a way that made the narrative more linear and less broken up by back story. I went to bed feeling satisfied. I had spent most of the evening immersed in pure craft, not much new writing, but it had worked. I knew what I had to do the next day.
The storm returned, or perhaps it was a new one – Stan, or Arthur, or Doris, or whatever they were calling the next one. News arrived from the outside on Sunday morning in the form of a friend in faraway Norfolk texting the score from the Australian Open Tennis final. I finished the scones for breakfast and got back to work; new writing, then some close editing. When I looked up it was lunchtime; too wild outside for a walk so I lit the fire and read for a couple of hours. Finally, I returned to the poem I had edited in the small hours of Saturday morning. I added a couple of lines and fine-tuned an image.
At the end of any retreat, in my experience, you reach a point when you know your work is done. You may feel ‘all written out’, or you may have solved a problem (my narrative was in much better shape), or made a discovery (I wasn’t missing my culled character). You will know when it is time to stop. I had finished my reading too; all that was left was to write myself a note about next steps, to keep the momentum going, then to pack.
The next time I go to Rosemerryn it will be for our March retreat (a few places left and a special spring offer here), with Kath and I back in the hosting seat. I am glad to have had this weekend to focus on my own creative work and also to remind myself of how it feels to be on retreat, to feel the complete immersion in writing and to be cossetted in the warmth and peace of Rosemerryn.
I shall do it again.