A place to retreat to

This is not a review I want to write. You’re going to find out my secret and then I’ll have to share. I’m terrible at sharing.

To be totally honest with you, with myself, I share ‘me’ too much. So much so that it leaves very little time for ‘me’. Urgh. Just writing that sentence makes me cringe.

However, it’s true. I needed an escape. Not a complete run for the hills (my wife needed to escape too) but to be away. I saw someone recommend Catherine McNamara’s writing retreats in Italy. Cat and I met long ago at The Word Factory, and she’s often said we should go out there.

The thing was, she runs writing retreats. I wanted to go away to write, but I also wanted to go away to think, to read, to have enough head space for possibilities. Also, my wife doesn’t write (she tells people that. Actually she’s a damn good poet but she keeps it on the quiet). So would it be fair?

She went along with my plan, when Cat said of course she could do a retreat for the two of us. Because that’s what Cat can do – make it fit for you. The writer who stayed a week or so before us had spent her week mostly holed up in a choice of inside and outside spaces working. But Cat gave her the space to unplug too, to discuss work and life and the universe over beautiful meals and excellent drinks. I imagine anyway, because that’s we did, a lot.

We also got guided tours of two cities that are now firmly in our hearts. I read almost three books (probably the same I managed in the first half of the the year) and took the time to discuss them at length. I thought a lot, but not the worrying thoughts that plague the day-to-day about work and family and life on the whole. I thought about my writing, what was working and wasn’t. I even talked about it, which I hadn’t felt able to for a while because my focus has been on the work that can pay now, rather than hopefully later. I thought and talked about that work too, and how it’s going to play out in the second half of my first year as a freelancer.

We slept in, we stayed up late, we got up early, we crashed out. Whatever worked on that day. The only ‘order’ was ours to decide.

I run retreats, much shorter, one day retreats for Writers’ HQ writers. I know the power of saying – “don’t worry, whatever you do today is yours to do. You don’t have to do the washing up, and you don’t have to think about what’s going on at home, you just need to be in the room writing.” I watch writers leave with big grins and new ideas. I forgot what that feels like myself. Until Cat gave us that, or maybe just the space for it. New ideas, hope, and relaxed grins.

I’m going back, next time, as a writer writing rather than a writer in need of a break. I’m going back to sit in the sun-warm outbuilding to write more of the next draft of my novel where Cat wrote her first. I’m going back to continue to reform ideas when the head space is lacking. I’m going back to be in great company and to be looked after in the way I hope I look after my writers (if only for a day and not a week!). I’m going back because I promised Voss (the pup) I’d kick the ball some more.

I didn’t want to share, because I know that Cat’s weeks get booked up. There’s some availability left in late August/September I believe, and if you fancy being part of a taught group then Cat will be running a tutored retreat with Tom Vowler in September (which I’m gutted to miss). She’s taking bookings for 2020 too if you like to plan ahead.

You can find all the info about the retreat on Cat’s website, as well as more about her award-winning writing. Just leave me a week, eh?

A day to be marked

Yesterday, I got to the six month mark of working ‘alone’.

Yesterday, my grandfather past away.

Yesterday, was my last day of full work before I go on holiday. A proper holiday for the first time in two years.

Yesterday, I took a deep breath for the first time in a while.

The call finally came that we’d waited for, for so long. I passed the point that I’d been looking to. I breathed.

I could breathe because it hurt a little less knowing that he wasn’t suffering now. I could breathe because I’m proving myself with every day of freelancing. I could breathe because I’m never alone, not really. Life and work intermingle so closely now, I can’t untie them. And actually, I’m okay with that.

I am my work, I am what I produce, but I’m also how I think and feel and act and react. Working 9-5 wasn’t working, but freelance has offered me flexibility and a chance to break the mould. Freelance has also offered me the chance to work with more brilliant and kind people than ever before.

I have family members who lift and support me whilst allowing me to help develop their baby at Writers’ HQ. Without Sarah, Jo, Natalie, and the team, daily life would be gif-less, giggle-less, and with fewer swear words.

Alongside this role, I’ve been fortunate enough to join teams at multiple companies via We Are All Connected and I love being part of the Brighton scene again via Robin’s brilliant company. I’ve been lucky to get calls out of the blue from people who seen that I’ve moved on. I’m lucky enough to see now that I made a good impression on them, and it’s led me to working with exceptional female leaders like Anne and Fiona at HighNetWork.

I learnt that I can work all night when I say yes too many times, but it’s better not to. I’ve learnt that I can say no, and I’ll be respected for it not criticised. I’ve learnt that things will come along when they are needed because I have faith: in my network, and in my ability to reach out, support others, and in my work. I’ve learnt not to squirm too much when writing self praise.

I’m learning that I can box-up and un-box life and work to form some sort of balance. I’m learning what patterns work for me, breaking old habits and forming new ones. I’m learning that my clients have my back, as much as I’ll have theirs. So that yesterday, I felt able enough to say “I’m feeling this” when I got the news about Granddad, and they knew I meant it when I said I’d finish up my work before I go away.

I have learnt more about faith and trust in the last six months than any other time before. There are so many to thank for that, none more so than my wife who has always believed in the woman I will become and am already becoming.

There is more to unpack in the grief, in the joy, in the every day of life. But. This blog marks a change. And I’m proud that I’m marking it myself.