RLS Fellowship: A retreat is a better than rest

DSC01698As far as I can tell, writers are pretty bad at taking holidays. You’re either working or you’re writing and often those two things are one and the same, but it’s not the kind of work it’s easy to shut the office door on. Wherever you are, there’s a little voice in the back of your said squeaking ‘this is all very nice, but shouldn’t you be writing?’ And maybe you should. On the other hand, sometimes you have to have some actual real world experiences, if only to generate new things to write about.

For the last year and a half, all my self-organised trips were short writing breaks. I went for a day or two at a time and each was great but not the same as an actual rest, so when I found out I’d been awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship through Scottish Book Trust and was off to spend the whole of June in Grez-sur-Loing, France, I was both incredibly stoked and a little bit nervous. Would I produce enough work while I was there? Would I find that a long-dreamed-for month of writing time was better in my imagination than in reality? Would I go crazy?

DSC01960Happily, I stayed pretty sane (no thanks to the mosquitos who all thought I was the best thing since sliced bread – a loaf of Mother’s Pride, no doubt – and thanks in part to the other artists at the hotel) and managed to write a bunch, even though the first few days were largely taken up with feeling weird and wondering what I was mean to be doing. In the end, I decided I was meant to be eating lots of poire amades, exploring the area in a very low key way and just thinking about things.

It was very inspiring to stay in a hotel so beloved by generations of artists and writers and the building and its grounds are so charming I felt like I’d stepped into another life. One of the best parts was the fact that I was away for so long, which meant that even though I was researching and thinking and writing, it actually did feel a little bit like a holiday too. I’m getting the feeling I prefer the working kind anyway.

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Summer writing: RLS Fellowship

RLSThis summer, I’m scooting off to the south of France to do nothing but write, read and think for an entire month. This incredible luxury has been offered courtesy of the RLS Fellowship in association with Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland, an excellent endeavour that’s been sending Scottish writers to the Hôtel Chevillon International Arts Centre at Grez-sur-Loing (where Robert Louis Stevenson spent some inspiring months) for the last 20 years – including many that I really admire and a few I’m lucky enough to call friends.

I’m off in June (this year’s other writers, Alan McKendrick, Michael Pedersen and Malachy Tallack, will be travelling at different times) and I can’t wait. The longest retreat I’ve ever been on was for a week and I normally only go for two or three days at a time, so a whole month will be just amazing. Here’s hoping my atrocious French doesn’t cause too much embarrassment. Luckily, bread, cheese, coffee and apples are all nice and easy to remember – and say – so I should survive.