I am not living in an abbey after all. There is internet access! So you’ll be treated to my diary posts whenever I think to upload them…probably a little more rambly than the usual blog posts, but I’m in the mood. Let me describe this place to you.
So here I am at Varuna. All set up in my little room and my little study. It’s a big old house, with lots of windows so you can see this beautiful aspect of green and trees from every room. Because it is so quiet and the house is so old, you can hear everything, so I’m conscious of making any noise! But it makes such a difference to being at home, with the sounds of Anzac Parade always in the background and the teacher at the school across the road yelling into her megaphone, “this is the last toiiiilet call. Year two line up noooow.”
Out of the window directly in front of me is a lush green tree, with a little red autumn foliage on it. I have no idea which trees are which, but it’s a very pleasant aspect. To my right is another window with much taller trees across a clearing, down where my car is parked. It is so calm and so quiet. It’s just lovely.
This study is called the ‘sewing room’ and it’s a bit spartan, but I guess that’s a good thing as there are no distractions. There’s a white board down one end and a little armchair with a lap quilt on it, for reading in I guess. My bedroom is called the ‘green room’, which is odd as there is no green in it. The quilt on the bed is full of reds and pinks, likewise the small pictures on the walls. It’s a narrow room with wooden furniture, another desk and another armchair. Vera said I could choose where I wanted to work, but there’s more space in the sewing room and I feel like it would be better to work in a separate space to where I sleep or I might go nuts, being cooped up in there all the time.
It is absolutely perfect writing weather today. Cool and grey and rainy. I slept a little too long I thought, till 9.45, but honestly, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. Nobody cares! In fact, it’s encouraged to do things at your own pace, to let yourself unspool a little, to just take the work as it comes – and from all accounts, it comes in gushes – but most of all, just to be a writer and not to feel like you’re constrained by the normal routines and timetables of life.
I’ve just shrunk the clock on my computer so I can’t see it and am not conscious of time. I love that. The only thing we need to be aware of is dinner time, around 7.00, but once it gets dark you start to feel like it’s time for a break and to ferret other people out (and the dinner is wonderful, delivered by this absolute character of a woman called Sheila, who when she met me threw open her arms and gave me a big kiss and hug).
Last night we had drinks in the library/sitting room (so many wonderful books). Peter Bishop is the creative director here, and he is a relaxed looking, warm and approachable sort of man, who obviously loves writers and writing and knows so much. It’s a measure of my low self-esteem that I expect the worst and expect no one to have ever heard of me, or to notice me. But this was like a complete reversal of that – we sat down, just the two of us, and chatted over a glass of wine, and he told me how much he liked my book-in-progress and even quoted specific passages that he liked. I was blown away! Not only that, but he had remembered that I had been shortlisted for a place here sometime in the 90s with a short story I submitted to the HQ short story competition. What an amazing memory! I mean, no doubt he looked over my stuff before I arrived and all, but still. He said he liked the loose bagginess of my work, liked the fact that it wasn’t tight and over-structured and to continue to aim for that feel. I’m not really sure what that feel is, so I guess I’ll just keep going as I’ve been going and try not to be too conscious of it.
Even better though, when I said I didn’t know what the next steps were and how to get the book out there once it was finished, he said “Oh don’t worry about that. We’ll talk about that later” and basically said there is a market for my book, he thinks it will do well, and publishers take more notice of things that come from Varuna because “we only have good writers here”.
Kate Holden was the only other writer here last night. There are two other writers here at the moment, Beth Norling and Tegan Bennet Daylight, but they both live locally so weren’t around for drinks and dinner. And there was one other woman supposed to be here who hadn’t confirmed her place and then it turned out she couldn’t make it after all. So they have got another woman, Julie, who has been here for the last two weeks and was desperate to stay another week, and she’s coming back for this week, which is nice.
Kate is lovely, and we chatted easily just the two of us over dinner. I saw her book in the library and it looks fascinating, a memoir of ‘a life on the streets’, dealing with prostitution and heroin and all of that. I’d love to read it, but I don’t know if it’s a bit confronting reading such a personal thing when the person herself is staying a few doors down from you. So I might buy it and read it when I go home.
Now after all that, the question is, what am I actually going to write? I definitely feel as though the impetus is there, this place has some sort of ‘spell’. I guess it’s been set up specifically for this purpose, so it ought to feel conducive to writing. But it’s amazing how much more I feel like doing it, than when I’m at home, with all my distractions around me. I felt like I wanted to start as soon as I got here, so I’ve been reading over all the bits and pieces of this book I’ve got stashed on my hard drive, and I’ve started putting notes and things on the whiteboard in my room. Little threads of possibility keep poking out in my head. So I just need to grab one and start working on it.