Tuesday, 14 June 2011


Generally speaking I am the dutiful wife and devoted mother, available at all hours to apply balm and nourishment to the body and soul. Occasionally though, I find myself in the position where, for a brief few hours I can shake off the sometimes repressive mantel of maternity and carve out a niche for myself as someone other than wife and mother. This last weekend saw such an opportunity and, not wanting to waste a moment, I applied myself to it with bohemian zeal. Well that’s not entirely true, but in my mind’s eye that is how I saw myself as I climbed the ancient, higgledy-piggledy steps up to the house in Polperro, my pashmina wrapped around my head and billowing in the wind, as I liked to imagine myself, the French Lieutenant’s woman, and not, as I am so often reminded, an English Commander’s Wife.
I paused before I knocked at the door. If I were to walk into a room full of people evocative of the Bloomsbury set, then hadn’t I have a witty one liner to introduce myself with; something droll and intellectual that would create an immediate impression? Unfortunately, I am not that au fait with the wit and wisdom of Virginia Woolf, well apart from, ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’. To be honest that would have seemed rather a pretentious introduction especially if they were all men and so I thought it best to play safe, so all I said as I pushed the door ajar was, “Hi”.
Once inside I was more inclined think of Channel 4’s Big Brother than anything that Bloomsbury produced. We all rather nervously eyed each other up, gave brief biographies, cracked a few self-deprecating jokes and drank vats of tea. Luckily, as we were hosted and taken care of very well, the awkwardness was only fleeting and soon we were chatting like old friends; the jokes got bawdier and the banter bawdier still and the wine had yet to be opened. I went upstairs to my room and unpacked. The stillness and quiet was extraordinary. For any of us, it is a great privilege to depart our normal milieu for a couple of days, take stock and genuinely look in wonder at our surroundings, and as I turned from putting my make-up on a dressing table, I caught my breath by the view outside my bedroom window.
Rather than have to make the bed, pick up toys, the dirty knickers, the sweet wrappers and other detritus of childhood and teenage life, I just stood and stared, as suggested by that wise old fellow William Henry Davies in his poem ‘Leisure’. He wasn’t kidding. It really is a leisure activity to take time out in the day to stop and just think. Polperro lay beneath me, the closed-down church, the narrow arteries of little interwoven streets, the ancient rooftops and there, in the background of this natural canvas, the harbour wall and the sea beyond. I gave a slight shiver. The sun was shrouded and the sea was rough and flint grey. The sky above looked dark and moody, but this time it did not echo my frame of mind. I just saw it as, if I remember correctly from the media lesson I once taught, a pathetic fallacy – how the weather is used in a movie to suggest emotions. Pouring down for sad bits, stormy to suggest anger and violence, sunny and bright for happiness and love. Well, the pathetic fallacy above Polperro could remain that – a pitiful mistake, I was on a writer’s retreat, emancipated from my regular world and I was not going to let a few storm clouds ruin my mood.
I carried my lap-top downstairs. The earlier banter had quietened. All the other writers were huddled over their own work, lost in their own worlds, kept company by the characters within their imaginations. The only sound that could be heard was the occasional rattling of a sash window by a particularly insistent gust of wind, the gentle tap, tap, tap of the keyboard, or the scratching of head as we all, from time to time searched for the perfect word.
After a few hours of intense writing, we all took time out from our magnum opuses to either chat and learn a little more about each other, or take in a little sea air. By the time we had reconvened our brains were once again salivating with creative juices and we all returned to write until dusk.
Over dinner, wine and a walk to the pub, we got to know each other better still. All of us different, all of us with very different writing styles, but each of us sharing the same faith that after this weekend, we would be buoyed with the confidence of our conviction to submit our novels to various agents.
We left The Blue Peter Inn after only one drink; all of us by now too exhausted for witty repartee and were quite happily walking back to our house, when another of our party saw a door open.
“Let’s gate-crash!” she suggested. The more sedate of our gathering hurried away, whereas I, uplifted by my new found confidence strode into this house as though a legitimate guest. The fourteen gentlemen who sat around the dining table looked up in astonishment to see three unfamiliar women in their midst.
“Hello”, I said, smiling.
Recovering their manners they jumped up and within seconds our glasses were charged with wine as robust as they were: a veteran football team from the outskirts of London, on tour.
If I had come away for the weekend to find inspiration to write then I had not discovered it in the little coves and caves of the Cornish coast, but in a room in a holiday cottage. Fourteen fit, footballing men? Nothing more inspirational for my kind of writing.

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