Or at least, this is just one of the topics covered during an afternoon break at the first ever Queer Writers Retreat. We are giggling in the kitchen: the playwright working on a new play, the literary agent who’s got her own book to deliver in January, the comedian creating a brand new set, the blogger working towards a book and the host – yours truly. The novelist couldn’t make it. The novelist missed out on other conversational gems such as “M_’s nut milk”*, “the fanny grooming shop” and “the proper use of coasters”. I make a pot of strong coffee and we eat biscuits and chat. The conversation becomes more animated and threatens to last a while. I gently interrupt and usher everyone back upstairs, to continue what they started.
Earlier that morning…
It’s 10:10am, ten minutes after the QWW is supposed to begin, and I’m struggling to clear a blocked sink that was perfectly fine just five minutes before and no-one has turned up. There’s a problem on the trains and four writers are running late, one has given up trying to get here altogether. The place is sparkling clean and fragrant with oils of bergamot, lime and peppermint. There is freshly baked lemon polenta cake sitting pretty on a cakestand in the lounge, coffee and a gazillion types of tea at the ready. The writing table is poised for action. The roses in the hallway stand to attention. We wait. And we wait. All we are missing is some writers. And an unblocked sink.
Five minutes and some heavy duty sink unblocker/ prodding with a metal curly wire/ plunging + a lot of swearing later, and the sink is satisfylingly empty and the first guest arrives. The kettle goes on, two more writers turn up, a pot of tea is made. We sit in the lounge and I give them tea and cake and paper to pledge their committment to what they will achieve today. This fixes a goal in their minds and they work harder for it. They are nervous. Of course they are – they’re spending the day with a bunch of strangers and a monstrous expanse of empty white page. I know this feeling. That’s why I soothe them and offer them cast-iron tips for how to get writing. Because if there’s two things I am bloody good at it’s this: feeding people and getting them to just write.
Once all four are safely at the writing table, I tiptoe upstairs like a parent checking on a sleeping baby and peek into the room. The nervous chatter is gone. All I can hear is the scratching of pens. They are lost in whatever worlds they are creating. It is beautiful to watch. With a happy heart, I return to stir the hearty soup I am making for their lunch.
At the end of the day, they are rewarded with wine, sparkling elderflower juice, crisps, olives, personal satisfaction, a little debrief and some wonderful new friends. And pages and pages of words. Lovely, delicious words.
What they said:
“Thank YOU. It was such a brilliant day. From the start you took care of everything: from gentle prodding on the writing, to a comfortable space and wonderful food and drink all day. And the unexpected bonus, the funny and open-hearted fellow writers. We did chat but it was mostly about writing and only a little about hair…”
“The view is just magic”
“Stephanie creates a wonderfully warm and relaxed environment where writers across disciplines can come together to work. Support is available at all times, be it in the form of tea and cake, or a sounding board for an idea. Having writers from mixed disciplines is great for fresh perspectives and new techniques and the atmosphere of creativity and mutual respect is really quite special.”
“I cannot recommend this enough for anyone looking to refocus and give real time to their work away from everyday distractions.”
*Because M could only drink almond milk, of course.
I received the loveliest message today:
STEPHANIE. You have unblocked or unleashed something inside me and I am all spilly over with words, like sick with them, grrroooo. I had to get up at 5.45am to write. Goddam you!
This made me so happy! It’s one of the reasons I’ve started the Queer Writers Retreat – a whole day of writing with no distraction. It trials this Saturday and I’m excited, nervous and planning what cakes to bake*. It’s the time and space to nurture your writing, because in turn the writing will nurture you.
Let us all be “spilly over with words” 🙂
*lemon polenta and coffee & ginger, since you ask
In this new series, “Fun with Deafness”, I shall attempt to illustrate why being hard of hearing can be so bloody entertaining. Yes yes, it is a disability, but it’s also fantastic. Why? I hear you ask*. Because instead of hearing whatever dull thing has actually been said, I often hear something else entirely. Something either hilarious and /or downright filthy. Either is good.
I’ve been hard-of-hearing all my life. It’s hereditary on my father’s side. I was advised to get hearing aids when I was eighteen, but pride, and a fierce reluctance to rely on anything else when I’d managed perfectly fine so far thank you very much, prevented me from taking this advice until I was 31. I suddenly thought, Hey – why not make life easier for yourself. It was a good move. (If anyone is interested in what starting to wear hearing aids is like, then I will gladly describe it for you in another post, because I wish someone had told me what to expect.)
My father is rather more deaf than I am and has worn hearing aids most of his life. If you speak to him when he’s not looking at you, he won’t even know you’re in the room. As a consequence, my mother speaks very loudly indeed.
Earlier this year, I was depressed. It was a pretty bad time. My parents came to visit and we went for a walk on Dulwich Common. We sat outside the cafe in the sunshine, eating ice-cream. Mum was worried about me and trying to help.
Mum: Would it help if we bought you a S.A.D. lamp?
Me: Not right now, it’s summer.
Dad: (not hearing) What’s that?
Mum: A SAD LAMP!
Dad: What does she want a Sat Nav for?!
*Obvs I didn’t hear you ask, you reading this in the comfort of your own space and me sitting in the Ritzy Cafe and let’s face it, even if you did come up to my face and say “Why?”, I probably wouldn’t hear it anyway, what with the deafness etc etc.