Tag Archives: Writers’ Retreats

Learning to Spell Annaghmakerrig

An autumn blue sky at Annaghmakerrig. I know, right?

I’m at the end of a week’s writing retreat at the lovely Tyrone Guthrie Centre in County Monaghan.  Annaghmakerrig, that’s the place.

Lucky me to have such privilege, to have been here three times this year, each time with a huge creative burst which I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Autumn mushrooms – magic or what?

I came to try to finish the novel I started in February, and while I’ve done a lot more than I expected, I’m  managing not to put too much emphasis on daily word counts. The story is all done now, the characters and plotting sorted, I’m just filling in gaps and editing. And I have a title: ‘Three Ways to Lie’.  I’m not sure if talking about it will jinx me or spur me on to finish? We’ll see.

But while novel-writing is going on, my poet head keeps getting in the way. I’m not sure what prompted me to bring five years’ worth of notebooks to look through, but I’m glad I did.  I found unfinished poems I’d written about my childhood relationship with Catholicism, and they are now turning into a sequence of poems about religion. Bit serious for me, but there are a few light touches. There has to be if it’s my writing.

Then there has been wildlife to distract me.

A glass act

An enormous wasp paid a visit to my room not long after I arrived. It was probably already there, lying in wait. I’m not quite as terrified of wasps as I used to be (and I’ve no idea why I should be afraid of them, I’ve never been stung) but I’d rather they didn’t get up close and personal.

When normal rules apply, I just shriek for assistance and move myself to another room while someone else deals with the invasion. This time I was on my own with no-one to call (I’ve been going it alone in the self-catering cottages).

Keeping my nerve, I found a large (empty!) Guinness glass in the kitchen and used a stray copy of some battered poetry book, ‘Beyond the Green Bridge’, to urge the wasp into captivity before releasing it outside (in the rain – ha!). I don’t kill creatures like that unless they are threatening the general well-being of me and mine, me being of the live-and-let-live persuasion (with the notable exception of certain parasites, like tape worms and fleas – and rats who try to take up residence in my house).

Spot the heron. Did I mention it is autumn?

The wasp was the first of several wildlife encounters. A little wren flew in through the open window, landed on the writing desk (not the one I was sitting at), looked at me and flew out again. Then I went for a walk and surprised a lovely big grey heron fishing for his dinner. I was slow to get the camera out so he’s just a shadowy blur on the image as he took flight, but I know he’s there.

I’ve also seen jays, lots of other birds I can’t identify, swans in flight, a flock of teal, and best of all, three red squirrels burying beech nuts. They didn’t see me at first and I was afraid to move and switch on the camera, so I’ve not much photographic evidence.

Just as well really, because I should be writing, not looking at photographs, even squirrel ones.

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My Week as a Real Writer

I am coming to the end of my writer’s retreat at Annaghmakerrig – just one more day to soak up the creative atmosphere before I have to return to the real world.

When people told me what a fantastic place this was, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, in Monaghan, I imagined most of what they said was hyperbole. Nowhere could be that wonderful, surely? Well, yes it can, with knobs on!

I am staying in one of the self-catering cottages, which is stylish, warm and comfortable, with every creature comfort taken care of. And I have taken at least one walk a day around the fabulous grounds, trying hard not to be distracted from the purpose of my being here – that is, to write. And I have written, boy, have I written – 26,545 words at the last count.

Having the opportunity to do nothing more than be a writer has been a wonderful experience for me, although I probably couldn’t keep up this pace for much longer. Writing about 7,000 words a day is frying my brains.

But at the moment, I’m thinking I’m writing something that’s going to get at least a Costa nomination. Of course, next week, I’ll look back through it all and cringe, thinking it’s rubbish. But at the moment, I’m flying!

Even the weather has been kind to me – sunshine and showers, snow and ice, but I’ve still managed to walk for miles hereabouts. And it is still winter, after all – I can only imagine what this place must be like in the spring with bluebells and rhododendrons.

I haven’t had the full Annaghmakerrig experience because the main house is still full of builders doing renovations. And I’ve barely seen another soul all week, so the networking opportunities I’d anticipated haven’t materialised.

But no matter. I arrived here as a writer – and I’m going to be leaving having written. What more could I ask?

Do not disturb!

Remember when you were small and you were lying awake waiting for Santa to deliver that bike, or the doll’s house, or the boxed set of Enid Blytons? You just knew the next day was going to be absolutely fabulous.

Well, that’s how I’m feeling right now ahead of my trip to (deep breath) Annaghmakerrig next week.

As someone who is always bemoaning the fact that I’ve no room of my own, no regular writing time, 101 (valid) excuses why I can’t finish my work, well I’ve been called out with the chance of a whole week’s writing retreat. Seven days and nights to do nothing but…write.

So many people have told me how wonderful the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in Monaghan is, and how conducive to serious, head-down-and-get-on-with-it writing. My place was hard won, too – I had to jump through lots of hoops to get there, and I’m self-funded.

But long story short, my time is coming and I can’t wait. Will it be worth it? Who knows?

No interruptions. Check. Beautiful surroundings. Check. Exclusive writing time. Check.

No-one asking where are the car keys? Would I like a cup of tea? Come and see this funny You Tube video. What’s for dinner? Isn’t it your turn to clean up the cat sick?

A whole week of me minding myself (I’m self-catering) and no-one else.  I can please myself what I eat and when I eat it, when I go to bed and when I get up again, what music to listen to, how to fill my time. Bliss (although the prospect of such aloneness long term doesn’t appeal).

I’m allowing myself to take just three books – I’m supposed to be writing, not reading, after all. Tom Hanks’s book of short stories was a Christmas present that I still haven’t opened; Orwell’s 1984 is a Book Club choice which I’ve recently re-visited, and need to finish. And Mary Norton’s Borrowers books are my go-to if I need cheering up, or if I’m lonely – an escape back to childhood.

I’ve chosen two of my own projects to focus on, both long standing half-finished books that I hope are going to be worth me putting some effort into. One is a children’s story that I first started 20 years ago, which I keep picking up and putting down again.  I’ve decided to give it one last try because I really like the premise and think it will work, given a concentrated push.

Then there’s another novel that I really should get back into. I’m 67,000 words in, and I need to decide if it is worth finishing. And of course, I might even wax lyrical with a poem or two.  I might even get the hang of Scrivener while I’m at it.

The danger, of course, is having too many things on the go at once and becoming distracted. The gardens and countryside around Annaghmakerrig are gorgeous by all accounts, so I’m taking my camera. And my walking boots.

But I’m going to be sure to take my writing head. Wish me luck!