First stay in Hawthornden Castle Writers’ Retreat, May 2010

First stay in Hawthornden Castle Writers’ Retreat, May 2010


Hawthornden Castle

Spent four weeks in May as a Hawthornden Fellow in Hawthornden Castle in the heart of Midlothian, together with six fellow writers. The castle is a writers’ retreat organised to give writers as much solitude and freedom to write as they can bear, and for me it worked wonderfully well. Breakfast and dinner are taken collectively, and sociably, in the dining room, but lunch is delivered to each writer’s door in a wicker hamper: soup, sandwich, fruit. We writers had the run of the castle, and an absolute respect for each other’s right to write, whenever they please, and however, was observed. Around the edges of all that writing, we went walking in the Pentland hills and by the sea at North Berwick, Aberlady and Gullane; and Roslin Chapel was only a few miles up the river from the castle.

It was a great pleasure, meeting my six fellow writers, Ian Colford, Alfred Corn, John Greening, Beena Kamlani, Sophie Mayer and Chiew Siah Tei, and hearing them read from their work: stories, poems, bits of novels, literary criticism.

Tramping the hills, or doing yoga in the drawing room or out on the grass above the castle, talking shop about sentences or word origins, or drinking wine at the end of a long day’s solitude writing made it a very good and precious time.

Writing from sunrise to sunset, and sometimes beyond, I was able to immerse myself in my work in a way that is hard to achieve in my regular life. I don’t want to live in a little room in a castle speaking to no one much all day every day, but for four weeks it was fantastic and my heartfelt thanks to Drue Heinz, who set the retreat up and who makes it possible


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