The Nurturing Power of Inspiring Women

I’m fully aware that I’ve had wonderfully supportive men in my professional and personal life as well, but at this particular point in my life, I am thirsting for that generous nurturing that can come from the women you aspire to become some day.

With thanks to L’Atelier Writers for the image.

I have been fortunate to have great female role models encourage and inspire me at just the right inflection points in my life. The meetings were brief and I doubt that any of them will remember me, but for me they were life-changing. Naomi Shihab Nye encouraged me to start writing poetry (again). Laura Kasischke and Kathleen Jamie engaged with my poetry and made me feel I had something to say after all. Sarah Savitt (then at Faber, now at Virago) loved the beginning of my novel and encouraged me to finish it prestissimo – sorry, Sarah, life intervened, but I WILL finish! Michele Roberts gave me feminist support and solidarity when my marriage was breaking down. Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books is just the most caring and passionate individual I’ve ever met in publishing, she envelopes you like a warm hug and is an absolute tonic when you are down. My triad of charmed and charming women writers who organise the most wholesome, funny and productive writing retreat in the world, L’Atelier Writers (namely, Michelle Bailat Jones, Laura McCune-Poplin and Sara Johnson Allen)… and the participants I met there, who have become my creative sisters.

The three most recent examples are Nicola Barker and Ali Smith, as well as my poetry mentor Rebecca Goss. Here are some of their thoughts that particularly stuck with me.

I admire Nicola Barker’s commitment to remaining ‘ferociously innocent’ (instead of jaded or cynical) and her ability to find joy and playfulness in writing. She is aware that her writing has been described as difficult, and that not a lot of people read her, but she believes that experimental writers are ‘bottom feeders, virtually unseen in the depths of the ocean, but somehow something percolates up towards the top.

Meanwhile, Ali Smith is aware that her ‘Brexit novel series’ will be out of date in just a couple of years, but she feels compelled to witness the times in something other than journalism, and hopes it will give us a snapshot of what it felt like to be at this particular point in history. She described writing these books as ‘being in the middle of a powerful storm, trying to capture the roar’.

Last but not least, it is such a privilege to work with a mentor for poetry. Someone who reads your work very closely, who asks you about your intention and really listens, doesn’t impose her point of view but tries to work with you to make your poem as good as it can possibly be. I came home last night after a busy and difficult day at work, tired from the commute, doubled up in pain from yet another over-abundant period, mentally exhausted with all the back to school prep. Rebecca was generous with her time, praise and thoughts and I left the session with little wings attached Hermes-like to my swollen ankles…

Friday Fun: Return to the Small Chateaux

This week, a group of women writers whom I am honoured to call friends, L’Atelier Writers, are having their annual retreat in a French chateau. I joined them one year and it was magical. You bet that I am extremely envious. So I’ve found some additional chateaux to make them envious too!

Yes, a majority of them are French, but I am including a few from other countries as well. This time round, small and compact are the keywords. Well, for chateau standards at least.

Alone in Copenhagen, from Pinterest.
The comforting standard French shutters, from Architectural Digest.
The House on the Lake, in Brussels, photo credit Quentin de Briey.
Less of a chateau, more of a manor house in Gascogne (land of D’Artagnan), from Architectural Digest.
Hidden amongst flowering trees, French chateau from Thingsthatinspire.net
Solar de Alvega in Portugal, from manorhouses.com
In England we call them manor houses, but they are still chateaux to me, like this one for sale in Woodstock, from Country Life.

Remembering Villeferry

Villeferry is the name of the tiny village where we had our writing retreat last week. L’Atelier Writers is the brainchild of writers Michelle Bailat-Jones, Laura McCune-Poplin and Sara Johnson Allen, who did their MFA together in the US ten years ago. Now all of them are busy working mothers as well as writers, so they know just how difficult it is to find the right physical and mental space to dedicate yourself to writing, especially long forms of writing such as novels. They found a quiet place in the Bourgogne, a grouping of restored village houses set on a slope, and offer the perfect mix of quirkiness, tranquility, emotional support and bookish discussion.

We had mornings and afternoons dedicated to the lonely pursuit of word count and polishing of drafts, lively lunchtime discussions of craft and goal-setting, plus readings and literary parlour games in the evening. I rediscovered the joy of writing and of community. It was just what I needed at this difficult period of transition in my life and has made me more determined than ever.

I am tempted to keep it all a secret, so that it maintains its cosy, intimate feel in years to come. Here are some pictures to show you what ‘appalling’ conditions I had to work in…

Our lounge for evening readings
Our lounge for evening readings

The golden bridge to more books above the lounge
The golden bridge to more books above the lounge

Lots of space to work outside in the orchard
Lots of space to work outside in the orchard

Dining room and coffee area, more to delight booklovers...
Dining room and coffee area, more to delight booklovers…

Breakfast terrace, one of the few spots with WiFi access.
Breakfast terrace, one of the few spots with WiFi access.

Inside the breakfast room
Inside the breakfast room

Gentle landscape filled with Charolais cows
Gentle landscape filled with Charolais cows (not visible in this picture)

My magical Sleeping Beauty (Writing Average-Looker) Room.
My magical Sleeping Beauty (Writing Average-Looker) Room.

A Room of One's Own
A Room of One’s Own

View from my window
View from my window

Lots of these visitors, a falsh of white bobtail making me want to shout 'Peter Rabbit' after them
Lots of these visitors, a flash of white bobtail making me want to shout ‘Peter Rabbit’ after them

One last view of our reading and discussion room, with magnificent terrace and books to suit every taste (in all languages)
One last view of our reading and discussion room, with magnificent terrace and books to suit every taste (in all languages)

Couldn't resist the obvious metaphor: this opened doors in my mind
Couldn’t resist the obvious metaphor: this opened doors in my mind