French House Experience?
Never knowing who's going to turn up for the four day writing course? This year we had six varied participants: experienced novelists, experimenting poets, would-be short story writers and playful speechmakers. They worked as barristers, film-makers, positive thinkers, child-minders and retirees.
The food? Let's face it, I'd be happy eating French bread and cheese all week, but the salads, quiches that make up lunch are fabulous, fresh and extraordinarily tasty.
Working with Moira Martingale? The host of St Raymond is a relaxed, charming and ebullient companion for me during my time there - nothing seems to be too much bother for her to make sure our workshops run smoothly, which is great for someone used to working as a solo tutor. And she's very good for a laugh!
Getting a swim in everyday? Forty laps of the pool just about works off lunch in perparation for dinner.
Sharing favourite work? This year I took along Jen Hadfield, Cormac McCarthy, Luisa Valenzuela and Julia Darling amongst others of my favourite writers to hear what people made of them. We never all agree, which is what makes things interesting.
The space? We all get picked up at the airport and brought to St Raymond, a large converted farm/grounds near Pexiora, where there are no street lights, no intrusions (unless you want wi-fi with you), odd noises of vixens in the dark, a huge stretch of sky almost 180' over us, the Pyranees in the distance, protected by a fence of tall cypruses to block any wind and lead your eyes up up up.
The Limoux? We generally meet on the patio every evening for an aperitif of a Limoux - a sparkling French wine, locally made, which is just scrummy scrummy scrummy and oh so civilised...
Hearing the variety of work? It never ceases to amaze me how many different responses people can write to the same stimulus. Give a man a fish and s/he'll see cod, pollock, shark and whitebait... Imaginations are infinite.
Coming home? While it is a great wroking week, and obviously I love it, I also adore rolling up at my front door, and being surrounded by my things and feeling very stimulated and ready to get on with my work. There's nothing like reading and talking about good work to fizz me up for writing my own.
Here's to next July!