I spent last week at Ty Newydd in Wales at my first ever writers’ retreat, organised by NAWE and led by the wonderful Anne Caldwell. We didn’t do much on the first night other than eat dinner together and chill in the library. Anne led some ice-breakers, which was how I discovered the person sitting next to me was Jane Bluett, who is a friend of a friend and closely connected with the A level I moderate. The next day, Anne led a session of exercises for those who wanted, which was most of us. After lunch I went up to my bedroom to work at the desk there. I did achieve some things, such as typing up some poems and going through notebooks, but I soon felt fed up and was counting the hours til dinner. This was how I found out a golden rule about retreats – go out somewhere in the afternoon! The following afternoon I went for a walk with Louise and Sarah, who had simply asked if anyone else wanted to go down to the village with them. I managed to do MORE work than the day before, so having a walk and some fresh air definitely works.
Every morning a small group of poets workshopped each others’ drafts. I have been feeling a bit down about my writing recently, so it was very affirming for me to work with people like Liz Cashdan and Rosie Garland, as they showed exactly the same keenness as me to make work clear and logical. In these sessions, several of my poems improved under the critical knife, and I was able to make suggestions for other poets which were welcomed.
In the evenings we had various readings, listening to Anne read from her new book, sharing favourites and sharing our own work. There was a fair but not excessive amount of wine consumed, as we shared our writing passions and watched the sun set through the famous steamship style windows in Ty Newydd’s Library.Because we are all involved in education, we had so much in common it was easy to bond.
On Thursday afternoon, Ira Lightman and his family came to visit me and we went out for a good few hours to enjoy the sunshine and keep the boys amused. Ira sent the spider I’d been sharing my bathroom with all week out of the window, which was nicer for both of us.
By the last day, I had four new poems, at least, including a new one for The Lightfoot Letters, which is almost finished now, had made some new friends, who I hope will keep in touch, and felt affirmed as a writer. I felt relaxed and calm, though very sad to say goodbye.
As always at Ty Newydd, the food was wonderful, yet healthy, and the magic of the place once again had me under its spell. For most of the week the weather was wonderful too. It was an inspired choice for retreat. I hope to be back there again before too long.