Winter writing in the Pyrenees

December 3, 2017


I’m set to take the dawn train down to our goathouse in a Pyrenean village for a week’s writing retreat. I’m crazy, I’m told, for this seems foolhardy in winter; when I seek a kinder word, I’m offered romantic. Truth is that it will take a couple of days for the oil fired electric heater to bring the temperature up to human compatibility.

It feels important though. This year has been so intense it’s the first in more than twenty that I haven’t made it down to this retreat spot, and I don’t want to let the year pass that way. Time down there removes me from business concerns and world affairs as I walk in the mountains. It’s tuning in to the natural world, and seeing how my creative juices respond.

It’s a time of grace too, the last throes of a study leave when I have been relieved from teaching for the semester. In the past I’ve gone to France empty, and seen what idea emerges; a story collection has surprised me in that way. Now I am working to bring various tasks to fruition. My mod is to keep writing projects alive for decades. I write a draft, let it settle, then come around to tackle it again. I don’t let things go – so my new way of creating space for something new is to release some of this old material.

That has brought me to publishing three books in the space of a year. Client Earth came out last May (in the USA April 2018); Forever Konrad: A Vampire’s Vampire came out in November; and my novel of Music and the Holocaust, The Jackboot and the Rose, is due from Wrecking Ball Press next Spring. That has just been through its final draft – 2,500 words trimmed away, a new chapter restored, and I also took the chance to input experience gained from walking around Terezìn.

I’ve completed a long narrative poem these last months too, and submitted a couple of funding proposals for big nonfiction projects. What I’m taking to France for the week is a Young Adult Novel; that one’s been hard, another decades long project. I’ve stripped it way back, written much of it anew, and am liking it now. I have also found myself writing up the summer’s trip to Australia as part of a longer nonfiction piece. I went there with a sense of its being a field trip. Back in England, the Queensland part of the journey found its shape. I hope this time in France will let me capture the visit to Uluru. My daily morning walk takes me in a view of Canigou, the sacred mountain of the Pyrenees. Doubtless it’s capped in snow just now. Perfect company.


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