Is a Writers’ Retreat or Residency for You?

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mariaorourke38@gmail.com

This is a question I had pondered for some time. Wasn’t I doing alright at home? I didn’t have a regular writing routine, but I was making slow steady progress. What more could a week of isolation with or without some tuition offer? Would I feel like an outsider? What would the other residents be like? Would I no sooner be there than I’d start longing for home? The answer to the latter is no!

My first writing retreat took place under the cloud of Covid, which made the gathering a little nerve-racking. It was in County Donegal in a lovely, cosy, family-run hotel. The routine was tuition in the morning and writing time or outings in the afternoon. It’s a beautifully wild part of the country and a place I hadn’t visited before, which served as a pleasant distraction. As for whether I fitted in – there were people there from Iceland, The Netherlands and America, as well as other natives and us writers, well we ‘get’ each other! Everyone was friendly and had an interesting story to tell. We reacted to some interesting prompts and were inspired by each other’s ideas. However, if you were in the middle of a longer piece, like a book, I don’t think this model is for you.

Next week I will go on my fourth residency to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig. For those who don’t know the place, it’s a big, country house situated in County Monaghan, jointly funded by the Arts Councils of both Northern and Southern Ireland. Artists of every description are offered a workspace in a quiet, beautiful setting with delicious meals provided (unless you’re staying in the self-catering cottages.) Getting there is a bit of a challenge – it’s well off the main road network – but it’s worth every mile of road when the wheels of your car rattle the cattle-grid and you finally arrive!

If it’s tuition you’re after, Annaghmakerrig is not for you. Everyone very much respects each other’s worktimes and after meals, people disappear to their rooms or studios for a few hours of uninterrupted creativity. If you’re wondering why this makes it any better than home, let me tell you what it means to me. At home, I have piles of washing waiting to be put in the machine, a dog who barks to go out and is no sooner out than is barking to get back in again. The postman calls, the family needs something urgently, there’s nothing in the fridge for dinner and my friend phones me to see if I’d like to go for a walk! At the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, it’s just me and my writing. I don’t have to plan what to eat, when to eat, what to wear and nobody asks me for anything. Heaven!

I can honestly attribute finishing my first novel, ‘Defying the Curse,’ to my previous residencies in Annamakerrig. I wrote and rewrote chapters there. I researched information for new chapters (the wifi is top class!) and on my last stay, I edited the entire book systematically. I can’t wait to go back and, this time, I’m going to launch myself into a new novel – entirely fictional. The ideas are bursting to get out. I just need to get to my spiritual home and I know the rest will just happen!

‘Defying the Curse’ is available on mariaorourke.com as well as on Amazon and buythebook.ie

(c) Maria O’Rourke

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