Fashioning a retreat


Writing a novel, the surroundings feed into it all the time. Chance remarks, items in newspapers, scenes in a film.

Here I am on retreat in the south of France. The absence of many factors of regular life is helpful, the presence of the mountains themselves is enormously supportive. It's the fact of being on retreat that has helped me re-engage with my novel, just as it was last summer's retreat in Big Sur that started it off in this latest form. It's not always fun to dive as deep as this novel's taking me, then to keep on swimming. It's tempting to take any distractions. Here there are none.

I say that, though of course I can clean behind the cooker. And if I go up to the fountain around midday up to eight other people might meet me there and we can wait for the bread van together.

As for drama, the valley isn't short of it. The other day a tiger beetle crossed our path and caught a winged ant out of its flight. It sat chewing away while the ant struggled, then spat out its head and flew on. A gang of dogs tends to follow us out on walks into the hills too, so that returning to the ones that stayed in the village can mean returning to a dog fight.

I like to find a novel to read that supports the one I'm writing. This time I'm finding it hard. My best effort was Clive Barker's new one, Coldheart Canyon, but the writing is so abysmally slack I've given up on it. I dip into a couple of Sufi books on the shelf, and they seem more pertinent. Pulp and Radiohead on CD have some of the right energy, as does Vivaldi's choral music for different input.

And Saturdays we head for Perpignan. It's the big city, just fifty minutes away. I was excited to be headed there last week, then perplexed on arrival. So wild, so young, so vibrant. I ate lunch outdoors, stared at people, and realized that was good enough. I had had my injection of human life. I could come back to this mountain retreat and get writing again.

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