Postcards from History, Mystery & Magic No. 3:
Days three and four on our History, Mystery and Magic retreat have been at ‘home’ in Broadway. We’ve spent each morning under the chandelier glow in our hotel study, dissecting and exploring all facets and valves at the heart of good writing.
Following our first workshop, we moved quickly from gently exploring each other’s stories and writing processes to immersive, robust discussions about the writing craft and graft. Kate is a warm, observant, generous teacher, and such an incredible source of writing wisdom. Being with her is a bit like sitting at Gandalf’s feet and learning from his spell book (if Gandalf was a gorgeous brunette with an inclination for hugging, an imagination that can sigh out a fairytale with every breath, and a knack for self-discipline that would make Sauron’s army run shrieking). Although writing well takes enormous commitment, discipline, practice, and heart, it’s not a riddle. It’s incredibly simple. It’s incredibly hard. All at once.
The urge should not be to smooth out your writing, to make it bland, to make it as much as possible to sound like another writer. Have the courage to write as yourself.
– Kate Forsyth
Flicking back through my journals from the week so far, my pages already are filled with reminders of where the heart is found in good writing.
Why do fairytales continue to be told? They are memorable. The images are incredibly memorable and they hook into our imagination. The other reason is because they articulate some need, some longing, some desire in both the teller and the audience and so they are relevant. These are the two key things stories must be to endure: relevant, and memorable.
– Kate Forsyth
Each morning in the Cotswolds I have been relishing the delight of stirring with the sun. I stumble from bed, throw open the curtains, and climb back under the covers. I prop myself up with a bucket of tea, my repurposed room service tray (top tip: they make the BEST bed desks) and my laptop, and as the sky changes colour, I tap out a new scene before my mind has fully woken. As Kate would say, I’ve been dream-writing while I’m still in a hypnopompic state, “of emotional and credulous dreaming cognition trying to make sense of real world stolidity.”
On these mornings I have remembered that writing is an intuitive art. When we ignore that intuition, it makes us sick, as we get whenever we continually try to stuff our instinct away. Or, as one of my favourite people from my desert life used to say to me, when you take away our stories we get sick. While I’ve been here, and have stirred each morning at dawn, a question has whispered through my mind. Are you going to listen to the song in your heart that wants to get up and dream on paper, or are you going to snuff it out, roll over, and just inhale the smoke fumes of what could have been, then spend all day feeling rotten for subverting your intuition?
Since my mind has been awake and firing at all hours and I’ve lost my grasp on the line between dreaming and consciousness, come mid afternoon I’m unsurprisingly a zombie. I’ve figured out however that in the Cotswolds, one deals with being a zombie by taking oneself out into the orchard garden to loll about under a magical tree of choice and dream, imagine, and write between dozing. I tell you, dearest, I’ve dreamed, imagined, and written in worse places.
Sitting here, the air was heavy with the scent of roses and honeysuckle, and the buzzing drone of busy bees, drunk on nectar and sunshine. I felt I had an inkling of how they were feeling. In such a surreal, romantic setting is there any other way to approach it than to dive in with delirious ardor?
When it’s time for tea and a snack, a stroll is one’s answer, and one proceeds to amble up and down the High Street, for fresh air and heart, returning to one’s charming bed chamber refreshed and replenished.
There’s something wonderful happening amongst our retreat group. Over breakfast we were chatting about it, the relief of being around people who understand your creativity foibles, fetishes, desires, fears, concerns, needs, and idiosyncrasies. It’s a tribe thing. Tonight my new and gorgeous writer friend Bec and I sat at the Broadway Hotel where we sat with pots upon pots of tea on our table between the two fairy-light-dotted Wonderland trees, and talked our stories through with each other for a task Kate had set us. Neither of us had ever loved homework so much.
Our 16th-century (!!) hotel, the Lygon Arms, is nothing less than a magical place to write. Though I prefer the view of the potted scarlet geraniums and rooftops through my bedroom window, wandering around the grounds is inspiration enough.
Tomorrow we have a full day exploring an 1100 year old castle, and the family home of Anne Hathaway, the mysterious wife of William Shakespeare. The stars have shaken themselves out of the inky night, which means it’s time for me to uncurl myself from the comfy orange couch in our study and take myself back to my room for a bath, some time with my book, and another fitful, blissful sleep of dream-writing. Delirium has never been so lovely.
Until then, creative wildflower.