Witch Cottage Magic

Last summer a friend, the novelist Sarah Manyika, encouraged me to apply to an international women writers’ retreat in the US, Hedgebrook.hedgebrook-cottage1‘They have a lot of applicants – but have a try”.

I applied, they accepted and, on August 15th, I flew to Seattle.  I was given one of six little witch cottages on Whidbey Island. In the evenings the five other writers and I would gather in the main farmhouse for dinner, freshly cooked for us each day. We didn’t even need to clear the table. We were handed a basket with breakfast and lunch for the next day and each of us went back to our cottages, on the understanding that we would turn up for dinner the following evening.

A couple of the women had been to Hedgebrook before. At dinner they’d say: ‘I took it easy today. I wrote a bit, I read a bit, but mainly I went for long walks and watched the reeds blowing in the wind.’ I didn’t like the sound of their daily schedules at all. I for one wasn’t there to “take it easy”. I was there to push ahead with my next novel, if only because in London Peirene & family do not allow me much time.

I rose at 5.30am, wrote for two hours before breakfast, then three hours after. I had lunch outside by the lake and went for a stroll in the woods. I’d be back at my desk at 1pm sharp to work for another three hours. Then I went for a run, took a shower and got ready for dinner.

For five days I followed this routine happily and contentedly, when suddenly on the morning of day 6 the unexpected occurred. As usual my alarm rang at 5.30am. I turned the other way and went back to sleep. I arrived at my desk around 10, stayed there for roughly an hour and decided to go for a walk. I didn’t feel guilty, I didn’t feel worried. I was floating. At some point that day I returned to my desk, wrote a bit more before I lay down on the lawn, watching the clouds and butterflies. Eventually I went for a run – but longer than usual and slower. In the evening I said to my fellow writers: ‘I took it easy today.’

I took it easy for the rest of my stay, producing far more than I ever imagined, overshooting my own set target by many words. I still have a glow even today, back here at my Peirene desk.

‘You’re so lucky to have me around.’ Peirene smiles with self assurance, after I tell her about my Hedgebrook experience. ‘I keep your feet firmly grounded in the every-day and ensure structure and discipline in your life.’

‘You sound more Germanic than Greek,’ I laugh. Then I pause for a moment, before I continue: ‘And I am pleased to have you. It’s lovely to be able to operate in both modes  – the floaty and the structured one.’ I give her a kiss on the cheek, before I turn on my computer and face up to the busy autumn ahead.

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