The Clockhouse Retreat Diary – Part 1


The Clockhouse exterior


Tuesday 12 April:

You either go on retreat to kickstart a project or end it. Today I’m starting a new book of poetry. Everything about today is new. It’s the unofficial first day of spring. I’m on the train, lunch taking up half the table, leafing through a huge bright yellow folder of not poems but drafts. The paper’s almost as yellow as the folder, it’s so long since they were written. But I’m compelled to read them, to get into the zone. Today’s about reading not writing.

I’ve been not writing for nine months, in the process of moving house for so long that it still feels present continuous, even though I actually moved three weeks ago. Nine months I’ve been carrying Rightmove floorplans and legal jargon in my head. Now I’m assailed by the language of electricians, plumbers, decorators. I feel like a guest in my own house, unable to focus on my writing and when I do write, I might as well be a lawyer or a plumber, it feels so laboured.

But today’s different. Today, and the next six days, and hopefully a very long time after that, I’m a writer. There’s no prebooked taxi at Craven Arms station to whisk me up to The Clockhouse. None of the privileges of teaching at Arvon to which I’ve become accustomed. I’ve phoned the three cab companies in Craven Arms and the three cars are already booked. But I have poet Michael Symmons Roberts’s mobile number and his car arrives a minute after the train leaves for North Wales and off we speed. There’ll be two more writers I haven’t yet met, Miranda France and Tiffany Murray. I actually have butterflies when we arrive at The Clockhouse.

I’ve taught here several times and am totally blown away with the transformation. The kitchen-diner is state-of-the art. The flats are luxurious, with separate bedrooms and studies. I can’t believe I’m going to have six nights here and feel myself welling up. Luckily this takes place in the privacy of my own flat. The first thing I do is set up the study, position my pens, notebooks, files, reference books, move the desk to get the stunning view. John Osborne claimed the ‘best view in England’ from the Hurst but did he ever actually enter the Clockhouse?




Writing needs privacy but I’m not the type to rent a remote cottage on my own. On retreat, I need to bounce off other creative individuals when I’m not writing. Arvon have suggested we eat together at 7pm. All meals have been lovingly cooked by Anna and frozen in separate containers. Today there’s no time to defrost then cook, so we chose microwavable dishes. Miranda makes fresh salad and we sit down to eat. (Tiffany will arrive tomorrow). I have a vegetarian Thai curry. We’re slightly missing the aroma of freshly cooking food emanating from the kitchen, partaking of the same pot, yet there’s a wonderful freedom in not having to cook. And the food is excellent. Arvon gets that food is holistic. In the words of Virginia Woolf: One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.

We relax in the lounge that evening with the wine provided for the first night. After that, we must buy our own. We’ve all come well stocked! But the company’s better than wine. We talk about the importance of group dynamics on an intimate retreat like this. We compare rooms. We talk about our writing aims for the week. I’m keeping my concept close to my chest, the project’s so new, so fragile. I must maintain that tension of not telling, the silence of the page, so when I put pen to paper, fingertip to keyboard tomorrow, I won’t have talked myself out of it.

One Response to “The Clockhouse Retreat Diary – Part 1”

  1. Sandra Gibson

    “The tension of not telling” – an important condition, I feel.

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