“I’m near a giant pile of wool. Near the singing lift.” I’m meeting someone in the Royal Festival Hall, trying to explain, on the ‘phone, where I am.
“Are you near the weird people?”
I look around. “Um…”
“Those weird wooden figures?”
“No”, I say. “I didn’t see any wooden people. I’m by the windows.”
Eventually, she finds the singing lift and the giant pile of wool and joins me.
Later, we notice a crowd start to form outside the building opposite. They are queuing for the two enormous helter-skelter-y slides that have appeared outside the Hayward Gallery. I nip off to the loo and am informed of the news on my return: the slides are not working; people are getting stuck. We are mesmerised by the sight of the staff trying out the slides. Each is instructed at the top by a woman with a severe bun atop her head and a walkie-talkie in her hand. Each starts well enough, but slows down at the third curve and after slowly inching down to the bottom, is forced to shuffle their way out on their bum. We watch the repeated indignities, silently hoping someone gets stuck, just to see what would happen. Our attention is drawn to the right of the slides, on another of the Southbank Centre’s myriad levels, where a group of people wander aimlessly with arms out, perilously close to the edge. They are wearing what appears to be virtual reality masks. They mill around like zombie robots.
We try to work, but it is difficult with giant slides and zombie robots to distract us. But we manage, because this is London.
The people continue to fall slowly down the slide and, at the time of writing, no zombie robots have fallen off the edge.
Drawing by Amy Pennington
So. Eight days ago, I started the Screw Work Let’s Play 30 Day Challenge. I’d signed up impulsively some time ago, forgetting that this month was already full of a demanding full-time day job, a weekly teaching gig at the Finchley Writers Workshop, devising and leading a Queer Kink Writing Workshop with Wotever World and performing some of my stories at LATES @ Flat Planet. I felt overwhelmed.
I had an idea, a fantasy, that I’d been nurturing in my mind for some time: A Queer Writers Retreat – a week-long retreat in a big grand house somewhere remote and beautiful. I had a vision of sitting in the sunshine looking at orange groves while listening to the scratching of pens, the tapping of keys and the crackle of creative minds coming from inside the house. In the evening, the pens would be laid to rest and the laptops closed as I served a lovingly-made dinner to the group at a big wooden dining table. Wine and conversation would flow, appreciative noises made as I served yet another delicious course and laughter would ring across the room. Later, we’d sit in the lounge by an open fire and read each other the stories we’d been working on that day. Sturdy friendships would be made, queer networks forged, projects begun. And the delightful noise would be replaced each morning with the sound of writing, writing, writing…
But grand houses overlooking orange groves are expensive, aren’t they? And how could I guarantee I’d break even after such a big layout, when no-one even knows who I am yet? “Why not start small?” suggested Selina, official “Play Guru”. And so I changed my immediate plans to something I could actually achieve, for little cash, within 30 days. This blog is part of it. And this is what I am offering:
“Picture this: A calm and cosy flat with two good-sized rooms for writing, for up to eight people. A relaxed but focused atmosphere. A lovely selection of tea, coffee and homemade cake in the kitchen whenever you feel like it. Gorgeous views and interesting things to look at, should you need a little visual stimuli. Essential oils to help you focus. A talented sounding board available all day, should you get truly stuck. An opportunity to relax at the end of the day with your peers and discuss your work over a glass of wine or a cuppa, should you so wish. And that warm satisfaction that comes from being utterly immersed in your work for an entire day and meeting, or even succeeding the terms of the pledge you made eight hours before.”
The basic elements are still there: the nurturing and taking care of people; giving people the time, space and encouragement to write; creating community; feeding them lovely stuff (you may have noticed I like to feed people – it’s my Jewish genes). But now it’s a one-day retreat, local and accessible.
I’ll be posting here to let you know how I get on. I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions. Encouragement is always nice too! And if you’re interested in coming along to the retreat, then be sure to leave me your email address and we’ll chat.