• The Dark Room

La Muse Retreat for Artists and Writers

Writing.ie | Resources | Developing Your Craft

Seamus Scanlon

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La Muse is a prime location for artists and writers in the heart of the Cathar region of Southern France. It is just 20 minutes drive from the town of Carcassonne (easily accessible from Dublin via Ryan Air) so no excuse!

A shuttle bus runs from Carcassonne airport to the town center and from there you can get taxi to La Muse or arrange for pick-up by La Muse. Aer Lingus also operate flights to Toulouse (not year round) with a short journey by rail to Carcassconne. Carcassconne is the second biggest tourist destination in France because of the preserved and the restored walled defenses of the Middle Ages (La Cité).

‘You Are Mental!’ – this was the reaction in 2001 when writer and journalist John Fanning and his wife Kerry Eielson told friends and relations they were going to open a retreat for artists (writers, painters and musicians) in the remote rural village of La Bastide.

The 12th Century house was in a dilapidated state when they looked at it in 2001 but both John and Kerry are forces of nature and when working in consort can perform near miracles. They had a vision and only saw potential whereas everyone else saw a near ruin (which it was). Determination and bold action effects change. This is true in nature and it is one of their credos. They had the combination of courage and daring and fearlessness to see the potential and not to falter. They used credit card cash advances to secure a deposit and headed back to America to pay off the cash advances and get more credit cards!!

Both John and Kerry were experienced journalist and editors within the publishing world of New York and Paris. Kerry worked at Self, ELLE, Talk and The New York Times and has ghost written several books on alternative healing. John’s last job in New York was as a researcher/reporter for Vanity Fair. He is also a writer as well as the co-director of La Muse.

la_muse_living_library smallThe full list of Musers is extensive. Previous Irish include writers Michael Cronin, Barry Malone, Maggie Breen, Roisin Meaney, Julianne Mooney, Tadhg Ó Dúshláine, artist Marilyn Gaffney, and musicians Stephen Fanning, Derek Ball, Eibhlis Farrell and Mick Pyro.

Marilyn Gaffney considered her time at La Muse ‘to be very productive and led to a sustained spurt of creative work when she got back. Also John’s practical workshops on marketing, web site building etc. provided me with the tools to effectively promote my work. I would love to come back again.’ Return visits to La Muse are common which attests to the quality of the residency experience.

Although la Muse is a business the fees are modest and scholarships and extensive barter opportunities are available. Make them an offer!!
The benefits of La Muse apart from dedicated time to writing include spectacular views and walks, a mountain spring, wood burning stoves and local produce including honey. A bread truck calls every Friday. The village at the bottom of the hill also has two cafes. The house itself has a communal kitchen area where you prepare your meals and discuss the latest rumors about million dollar publishing advances – I mean the existentialism of rhetoric (or vice versa). The rooms are large – and have antique furniture picked by Kerry. The beds have linen sheets and heavy blankets during mid winter cold snaps. It was still very mild at the end of November.

My favorite aspect (as a librarian I presume) is the La Muse Living Library which is newly renovated. It has wood burning stove and easy chairs and a big table. Every guest brings two books – which area added to the library – one about their locality and one book that influenced them. The first morning of each retreat (3 weeks normal regime but other options are available) John prepares crepes and strong coffee and each person introduces themselves and their book choices and says what they will be working on. Some Musers change their minds about intended projects as soon as they arrive. This is how the creative works sometimes.

John leads the discussion at the crepe breakfast and provides insightful comments. He is so well read he can comment on literature, politics, architecture, technology, history, religion, alternative energy, global warming – he is usually only stumped about soccer. I was glad I did not bring a book about Galway United. My choice was Forgotten Heroes: Galway Soldiers of the Great War 1914-1918. Galway was the home of the Connacht Rangers a famous Irish regiment within the British Army. Their garrison barracks was in Renmore where I lived. The garrison church is still there with plaques to soldiers killed all over the world. It always moved me when I read the names of soldiers killed in India and Mesopotamia and the Western Front. I brought my own two books as well because no library is complete without them basically. That is a non-existential joke.

What is striking about La Muse apart from the space to write and read is that both John and Kerry operate from a very ethical and pro-artist sensibility which fits their original purpose in founding La Muse 15 years ago on determination, vision, courage and credit card cash advances.

(c) Seamus Scanlon

About the author

Seamus Scanlon is a an award winning librarian at City College’s Center for Worker Education. Recent achievements include a residency at the MacDowell Artists Colony, an emerging writer’s fellowship from the Center for Fiction and artist in residence at the cell theater New York. He was runner up for the 2012 Roanoke Review Fiction Prize, the winner of the 2011 Fish Publishing One Page Story competition and winner of the 2010 Over The Edge Writer of the Year award.

Read our review of his award winning play The McGowan Trilogy here.

  • www.designforwriters.com
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