The first thing I notice when I walk in the door of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre is the chilled-out atmosphere. On arrival, I’m greeted by Mary who runs the office. She gives me a big smile and shows me where I’ll be staying. When I walk into the dining-room, there are various artists sitting around, some drinking coffee and chatting, others tapping away at their laptops. This atmosphere is the first thing I notice and it’s the thing that strikes me most throughout the week. In a word, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre is an artist’s heaven.
I came to the Centre with one intention: to finish my novel and prepare it for submission to agents. I’d set myself a deadline – by the time I leave at the end of the week, the novel will be finished. But, as every writer knows, we don’t like deadlines. As Douglas Adams said: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Or as the great poet, Robert Burns put it: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft agley.” (No, I’ve no idea what that last bit means either, but you get the idea.)
The second thing that strikes me is the surroundings. Set into a forest, the grounds of the centre are acres and acres of green fields and a lake that’s a few hundred yards from the house, where guests can go swimming.
I’m in the room known as “Miss Worby’s” room. Later, when I’m speaking to a friend of mine, I find out that “Miss Worby’s” room is the “haunted room”. Miss Worby was a lady’s maid – and alleged “special companion” (see lover) – of Lady Guthrie. When she died, her wish was that her body be returned to her home in England to be buried. Her son refused to pay to have her body shipped home, so now she wanders that halls of the Centre.
The third thing that strikes me is the food. For lunch, there’s salad, meats, cheeses, and homemade brown bread and cakes. For dinner, there’s everything from curries to colcannon. And desserts such as brown bread ice cream. And, of course, a few glasses of wine.
At seven every evening, as laid down in Tyrone Guthrie’s will, all the artists in the house must gather for an evening meal in the dining-room. When I get down there, the enormous table is filled with a host of different characters. An Australian actress and singer; numerous novelists and writers; visual artists; a playwright; and a composer. Everyone is at different levels in their careers; some people are just starting out, others are well-established. At dinner I get talking to two novelists, one who has eight books published, and another – a seventy-two year-old man – who says he’s written something between fifteen and twenty.
The conversation at dinner is sparkling, witty and entertaining. It’s everything I would have imagined from a place like Tyrone Guthrie. But somehow, I don’t know if I believed the reality could be quite that good.
Despite the convivial company, the food, and the craic, there’s serious work to be done. The knowledge that all over the house, in different rooms, other creative people are struggling to do the same thing, spurs me on. If I was sitting at home, I might cheat and surf the internet or play Solitaire. No chance of that in Tyrone Guthrie – the guilt would be too much.
At the end of the week, I don’t want to leave. And I’m not alone. Neither does anyone else. We all exchange email addresses and promise to connect up on Facebook. And over the following weeks, many of us do. Some of us have made friendships that will endure. But that’s not the point. For some of us, there will be other weeks in Tyrone Guthrie and other wonderful artists to meet. But, for us, we’re leaving behind a moment in time that can never be recaptured.
There will never be that week and those people again.