Wednesday, 22 July 2009


The inaugural Fiction Workhouse Writers' Retreat, Capel Cader idris, Llwyngwril, Wales. A fabulous, newly converted Welsh Chapel in a quiet quirky seaside village, a few miles from where I spent five years at boarding school. The Welsh equivalent of St Trinians. Back row: Pauline, Jo, Martin. Front Row: Claudia, me, Valerie.
The chapel is the perfect venue for writers wanting to spend time together working, being inspired, walking, thinking, dreaming and talking. The occasional bit of eating and drinking as well. The chapel has been recently converted to a very high standard, and is equipped with computers, printers, whole libraries of craft books. There are collections of poetry, short stories, novels. There is a bar billiards table, and a vast television. Neither of which got used, even once. There are not two, not three but six huge leather settees, for dolloping, and reading. A farmhouse table, which accommodated four writers plus laptops books paper, and feet up on chairs. The well-equipped kitchen hardly got used, as there is a cafe right opposite whihc serves everything from baaked spuds to welsh lamb cutlets or fish n chips, and delicious salads. We did eat cereal and make loads of coffee. And Jo made a scrummy lentil thing one day.How did we get on? Well, I'd met ev eryone. And I knew how nice they were. But they hadn't. It was fab to arrive a day later than the rest and find that they'd all gelled - and after a few mins it was as though we'd known each other for years. Tons of work got done. I started a new bit of the novel and wrote 2 shorts and 3 flashes. We all went for walks (only I couldnt get up the mountain!)

We met some fascinating local characters. Steve the window cleaner, who has the secret of the crystal skulls...the 'pastor' who lives in a converted church, who told us how you can hear the souls of the damned in hellfire if you listen down specially drilled shafts in Siberia. And Roger, who supplied all the luggage for the Harry Potter films and lives in great splendour in another converted chapel, every inch of which is faux-gothic and filled with stunning antiques. Including a child's funeral bier made into a coffee table. Not my bag, but beautiful. We worked to a routine every day... quite disciplined. And we played hard. I did say we played hard! This is my famous Quasimodo with can of Fanta impression, and Jo's famous 'watch me while I lug a box of wine and a bottle all at the same time down Llwyngwril High Street and hope no one notices...' act. I cant recall what on earth we were doing, right now. ... But the whole week was terrific and we left inspired and refreshed as creative beings.
The chapel is owned by writer Alex keegan, and is perfect for weeks away, whether writers, or families. Five bedrooms, four bath'shower rooms, very comfortable, and huge airy living area. All watched over by Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, who hangs aloft at one end of the chapel.
Last word for Leonardo himself:
"The outstretched arms and legs of a man form a square and a circle: the square symbolizes the solid physical world and the circle the spiritual and eternal. Man bridges the gap between these two worlds.”
And so do writers.

A great week. Thanks all!

And back home last Saturday. A long drive, but the road across Wales is stunningly beaitful. There you go. Two weeks, three countries. I am one lucky girl.

(For more info on the chapel, rental rates etc, it has a website HERE)packed with photos. Squillions of them. Even the hot water tanks...(?)


Julia Bohanna said...

Caught up with number three. Big smile and a glow of jealousy. It looks so wonderful, such a good memory. What a glorious time you all had.

Tim Jones-Yelvington said...

Very, very jealous. That shelf of books, the waterfront and the beamed ceiling all provoke a very physical reaction in me.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Julia.. Yep it was great. Look forward to seeing you at Workhouse Retreat no 2, in Norfolk, in a fortnight!

Tim - not too physical a reaction I hope! And ta for the link to Artifice... I like the look of that mag.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Wish I'd come. Next time...

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Absolutely. That would be great, Tom!

Sarah Hilary said...

Fabulous, V! I've been looking forward to seeing this post and hearing about the exploits of the FWH posse. It was great to put faces to names and boy! must that quiet corner of Wales been rocked by the presence of so many smart and disciplined and FUN writers all in the same place at the same time, showing how the FWH philosophy works at its very best. You deserved to have a truly great time and to enjoy the fruits of that philosophy. Brava!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Thanks Sarah... it was a great week. Lots got done as I said, and we also had such fun too. getting away to write is fundamentally important for me, as is being with other writers. This bunch are exactly the same face to face as they are online, too. And that is not always the case when you meet people off the net. Scary innit!

Tania Hershman said...

It looks like the perfect place for a retreat, and you look like you all had a wonderful time! Another FW retreat?? Wow, good on you all... !