Thursday, 24 September 2009


(Pic:Sunset from Anam Cara.)

Retreat Roundup
I had a wonderful two weeks at Anam Cara Writers’ and Artist’s Retreat. A full fortnight to work hard, focussing on nothing else - plus two days for travel. And lots of good creative company, all under the conductor’s baton of owner Sue Booth-Forbes who among other incarnations has been an editor at Cambridge University Press, and whose input into my writing life is invaluable, always.
Some great company, some fantastically useful conversations. Lots of laughs. Most residents were there for a few days to a week, except Eileen, a Professor of design from Syracuse NY, who is staying for five weeks. I very much enjoyed her company – although we were working on very different projects, we fell into a routine and seemed to have productive days and frustrating days in synch. And many laughs during walks and swims.
Yes, swims. The weather was more than kind- we enjoyed a whole week of unbroken sunshine at one point. It was perfect for walking, and I tried to get out most days. But also perfect for swimming. There is no Gulf Stream on this coastline; it is seriously freeeeeeeezing! But for once, being chubby has its advantages. (!) Once in, I could swim for ages, dead from the neck down. Which is arguably better than dead from the neck up...
There is a lovely beach almost at the end of the peninsular, where we took a picnic lunch one day and swam in clear cold water accompanied a little way out to sea by brilliant white gannets with black wingtips, diving for fish. The crow-like black birds that flew over our heads as we swam were choughs. Please note: The pink blob in the water is meself.

But most days, it was lovely to sink into the Anam Cara routine.
8.30 meet in the kitchen for breakfast – cooked by Sue. Porrige, bacon, waffles, pancakes, duck egg scramble, tomatoes… endless and blissful.
9.30 off to the room to collect the thoughts and start work. I often worked in the grounds.
1.30 lunch all ready in the kitchen. Either collect it and go, or:
2.30 back to work
5.30 technically the end of the working day, but I sometimes carried on or went out for a walk then. Down to the village of Eyeries and on down to the sea, where there are rocks you can sit on, listening to the waves.
7.30 dinner is ready in the kitchen.



(Pic: A quick sit-down with Jack the Dog.)

So what did I do? I wrote about 15,000 new words including a completely new section of the novel. My wordcount is now over 90,000 words. Really? Yes, really.
I finished rewriting another two sections, added a new character to one section, identified areas of work neeed in others, especially on the voice. I reconfigured, organising sections into three or four separate chapters. I wrote a contents page. That was really useful, for structural considerations...

Subliminal inter-species communication.

One day I wrote poetry. The cows in the fields around us had been calling all night. Both Eileen and I only cat-napped that night, so we discovered at breakfast. And we both had painful dreams about children. It turned out that the cows had their calves taken away the day before.
I wrote a poem and several haiku that morning. My first haiku experience – and it is SO hard to get the right words when you are only allowed seventeen syllables. (Some conventions say a different number. I chose that one.) It was lovely too, to get an email that day from poet Caroline Davies, and to swap some work.

Green and blue cliffs…
One afternoon, needing a change of scene, I drove to Allihies and the copper mines. The new museum is very good, and there is now a marked walk/road to all the mine sites. Allihies is littered with old engine houses, mine shafts, and other relics of the industry. The cliffs still run bright green/blue with malachite in places. I spent hours walking over the hills, visiting the ruins, listening to the wind in what’s left of the mine chimneys.
.Two hags...
I always make time to visit The Hag. Legend has it that her man went to sea and she promised to wait for him. He never returned, and she is still waiting on the rocks. Another legand says that she was a witch with great powers, who challenged a Christian saint when he arrived to convert the populace. He turned her to stone. Whatever, The Hag of Beara is covered in gifts from women. Coins, ribbons, flowers, fishing lures, messages, coloured stones. Toys. She is also the centre of witchery in these parts. last year when I visited, taking her a coin, there was a half-burned doll at her feet. Blackened plastic face, hair gone... seriously spooky.

Short Circuit, a Guide to the Art of the Short Story
The proofs of ‘my’ forthcoming text book, (due out soon from Salt Publishing) arrived mid-stay. I sent the file to all the contributors to proofread their chapters. Very exciting.

Booking for 2011!

Finally, a week-long short fiction/inspiration workshop has been arranged for May 2011. It will be lovely to teach in this most inspirational of places, with boundless resources right at our fingertips. Places will be limited, and I guess it will be publicised nearer the time.

Bridget Whelan, Bernadette Cremin

An added bonus of my stay was an event on Sunday 20th, one in a series of literary events held at Anam Cara that raise funds for various charities. This was a stop on a publicity tour by novelist Bridget Whelan, together with performance poet Bernadette Cremin. And the fundraising is for the provision of fresh water to a village school in Uganda, which will save the children daily hours of lugging filthy water from a swamp used as a watering hole by cattle and pigs, for drinking washing and cooking. It will save lives, in more ways than one.
Talking of water- there is something adrift with the water supply in the area, so we had to draw drinking water from the well in the village for the duration of my stay. The water tastes peaty, and rich. It makes toothpaste taste very odd...


(Pic: Tina Pisco and Sue drawing water, Eyeries village pump)

I came back relaxed, pleased with progress, thankful for creative friends both old and new. Within a couple of hours of arriving back, fellow writers Jo Cannon and Claudia Boers arrived to stay while they attend the Asham Atelier, part of the Small Wonder Festival. Today, Tania Hershman arrives, and tomorrow, Selma Dabbagh. A house full.

Other news
There is actually too much, but for the moment, just this:

Tales of the Decongested

Selma and I are reading tomorrow night at Foyles Charing Cross Road, for Tales of the Decongested. 7.00 pm for anyone who is about and wishes to hear a tale of woe and colonic irrigation…

.(All pics by Eileen. Sunset pic edited by me)


SueG said...

All of this looks and sounds so great! Well done on your book! Wonderful news. I can't wait to read the finished product. I'm longing to go back to AC - but looks like early December might be the first I can get away. No swimming then, though. xo

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Sue.. I can't wait to read my own finished product meself! I stayed in the Coulagh Bay room for the first time, and loved it. I can quite see why you write so well there! Have a wonderful time when you go next.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Vanessa congrats on getting so far on your book- 90,000 words- yikes- how long will it be? Your retreat sound fabulous so glad it was so lovely.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Thanks for the congrats, Lauri... Its got a long way to go yet though. When I write new words I edit out old ones at the same time, so it is a bit like taking three steps forward and two backwards at the same time. The final wordcount may well be less than 5000!

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Vanessa I know exactly what you mean. I've been fighting with a novel for more than 2 years between other projects. I told myself that these two weeks I would do nothing else but get it sorted out once and for all as I want to enter it in a contest in January.

It has been as much as 75,000 words once. I cut it brutally to 45,000. Then it slipped up to 60,000. I started this week by deciding to take two main characters and push them to the background and was down to 44,000 I am seriously done now and it has ended at just under 55,000.

The contest needs it to be at least 60,000. :(

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Aaagh, you are going to have to find a few more words from somewhere... fingers crossed.