Thursday, 17 October 2013

We all need a lighthouse of our own...

We already knew the setting was going to be stunning, but when you stop in a pub not more than a few miles from where you need to be to ask directions, and the barmaid and three regulars haven't heard of a lighthouse nearby, certainly not one that you can stay in, well it just becomes even more exciting.
When we found the entrance, drove around a couple of narrow hair pins and dropped down a steep steep hill, the silence in the car was utter awe.
Amanda welcomed us and showed us around the long building that has been respectfully restored to feel warm and lived in, but the bedrooms are quite stark. And why would you distract a room with too much decoration when you have an outlook across the Bristol Channel.

Many writers draw from it and have their own theories of its lure, but which ever way looking out over a body of water effects you, with moors and sheep and wild ponies on the hills behind you, well it's bound to spark something creative.
I find it unbearable to look at so much water and not slip in. Even knowing it's freezing beyond bearing, each white crest curls at me like a forefinger. I thank my childhood for making me a fish with legs, but last weekend I settled with the sunset from the rocky goat track, looking west towards Lynmouth.

Apparently I could ramble on and on about the weekend, so I'm restricting myself to two highlights:

My vegan experiment stayed in London. In fact I treated myself to a Jamie Oliver bacon and egg sarnie before I caught my train. And over the weekend I enjoyed hearty homemade meals and puddings - chilli, chicken stew, vegetarian lasagne, apple pie, chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis...ok, you get the picture. Veganism is now reinstated, with many fond food memories. And a takeaway container in my freezer (thanks Amanda).
But apart from the food itself, the dining table was where we all came together, and really talked. Our group writes poetry, quirky flash fiction, short stories, humour, dark, women's lit, the (extra) it didn't take long to get into rich conversations, and establish links that spread from Wales, to London, to Cambridgeshire to...well Amanda's on her canal boat adventure now, last heard heading north.

Alison Moore masterclass
On Saturday afternoon, Alison Moore's smiling face appeared at the bottom of the stairs and we had wind-whipped introductions. Her taxi driver had asked if she was going to a hen's party - there's got to be a 'setting' story there.
The focus for our afternoon was setting and landscape in literature, which opened with reading and discussing extracts from a selection of books that all went on my to be re-read list, including Wuthering Heights, Waterland and The Woman in Black. And now elevated to the top of my must read list, 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things' (Jon McGregor) for his use of urban landscape as powerfully as the others use the wildness of moors and weather.

When Alison asked if we'd like her to read one of her short stories from 'The Pre-War House and other stories,' my enthusiasm nearly deafened my neighbours. Sorry about that guys. But I do love being read to.
Somehow the afternoon just ran seamlessly from listening to writing to discussing each other's writing to listening, afternoon tea, writing, discussing, and then Alison had to return to civilisation.

It's no wonder her events schedule is so extensive - I'm looking forward to the incredible line up at the 'Start Small Think Big' weekend workshop in November.

This was the first residential retreat for Amanda's Retreat West, and I have no doubt that it's the beginning of a very successful programme. Her plans for future stays in remarkable settings, with authors lined up to hold workshops around themes, it's a recipe for rewarding experiences all round. If you can get away from families and work for a few days, you can know that you'll be well looked after and there'll be lots of time and space for writing. And, if you're lucky, you'll make some great new writing friends.

Before I went to Exmoor last week I'd been struggling with a bit of a word rut. Now I'm back, writing, editing, smiling. And vegan. And now I really must head to the gym.

Soundtrack for the weekend? Of course I'm listening to The Waifs


  1. What a wonderful place to visit and have inspire you. I loved this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Jane - I highly recommend getting away on one of these retreats if you can.