Postcards from History, Mystery & Magic No. 2:
Our History, Mystery and Magic writing retreat is living up to its name. I woke up this morning in my charming hotel room as eager as if it were Christmas day. I had breakfast by the window in the downstairs dining room. I picked the table set with the peach rose. The slanted sunlight pooled in my empty coffee cup and was almost too beautiful to ruin with fresh coffee. Almost.
We had our first workshop together in our cosy study at the Lygon Arms. We shared our hopes, fears, dreams, the books we love and why, and what our writing processes are like. There was a static electricity in the air as we each passed the storytelling fire around, sharing bits and pieces of our imaginations with each other. Something I really loved about it was that no matter what stage of writing each of us is at, we were all engaged, enchanted, and inspired. It was bloody wonderful.
Write with the expectation of joy. As long as it’s a chore or punishment, you’re going to keep sidestepping. The more you do that, the more your sense of creative frustration will grow. And that’s what self-doubt feeds on.
– Kate Forsyth
After class was over we spent the afternoon exploring the golden-stone, thatched-roof wonderland that is the Cotswolds. We had lunch in a gorgeous old pub in Stow-on-the-Wold. I set up this self-timer photo of us, in which everyone looks serene and joyous, and I manage to look like the group’s raging alcoholic.
Read as widely as possible – it’s like food. Why would you only ever eat one type?
– Kate Forsyth
I took Kate’s words to heart and as I wandered around Stow found myself pulled into secondhand and op shop book stores, not entirely of my own accord. At the sight of the blue Penguin crime classics, my credit card shrieked in horror.
The Rollright Stones in the Cotswolds consist of three monuments: the Whispering Knights burial chamber, King’s Men stone circle (where I am here), and King Stone standing stone, ranging in date from about 3,500 to 1,500 BC. The King’s Men stone circle was a gathering place for Neolithic people around 4,500 years ago. It is built of natural limestone boulders that were found within about 500m of the site. It originally formed a complete ring of stones with an entrance opposite the tallest stone marked by two ‘portal’ stones. What else can I tell you… Tolkien came here and wrote about this place in a letter to his wife, calling them ‘the standing stones’. Beneath the grass live fairies, and are buried knights. I kicked my shoes off straight away, an old habit from my desert life, and I walked the stone circle, filling my lungs with the fresh, bracing wind. It hummed with stories.
Kate and Kelly spotted my bare feet and whipped off their stockings faster than you could say Druids to join me in soaking up the stories from the ground. Around the stone circles stood the seven sacred trees of the ancients: oak, hawthorn, ash, birch, fir, rowan, elder. Kate went a-foraging and gathered a bouquet of gratitude before we put our shoes on and quietly walked away, leaving behind our gratitude in flowers.
At Stanway House, a crumbly, faded, beautiful manor where Peter Pan author JM Barrie stayed regularly in the 1920s, we came upon an old cemetery, and sprays of colourful wildflowers.
We collected wild flowers around Stanway House, remembering where magic lingers: second star to the left and straight on til morning. They say this is where JM Barrie created Tinkerbell.
A secret door in the wall around the garden. I had to at least try.
I was transfixed by this headstone. I laid a daisy, which speaks to new beginnings, for this poet wherever she may roam.
On our way back to the Lygon Arms in Broadway we stopped in Stanton, a jewell in the Cotswolds crown. I walked up and down this street, unable to keep the goofy grin off my face. A resident emerged from her garden with wheelie bins full of grass clippings while I was gaping about. I offered her my services as a garden ornament, or fairy, in return for lodging in her house. Surprisingly she politely declined the mad, grinning Australian in the street.
In our workshop this morning, Kate outlined the four stages of writing a book. First, is daydreaming our stories to life. If this retreat was a book, my daydreams have never been so vivid and alive. Tonight: a bath, reading in my reindeer-sleigh-looking bed, and free-writing daydreams in my notebook that I noticed pop up amongst the buttercups, honeysuckle and roses today.
Until tomorrow, creative wildflowers.