If you follow any of my social channels you’ll notice that I was swanning it up in France there recently. Since I’ve come home lots of people have stopped me to say – what were you doing in France? and oh it looked gorgeous, you are so lucky.
When I tell them I was there alone, kidless, had my meals brought to me and all I had to do was whatever I wanted to do all day, their eyes glaze over in envy, all good sentiment disappearing. I look sheepish and cower a bit and say, I know, I know, stop, I know.
I am so lucky.
But guess what?
I needed that bit of luck.
I often meet parents and other writers who are sleep deprived or juggling jobs or dealing with illnesses and stresses and storms that blow giant trampolines into neighbour’s gardens. They are frazzled. They are tired.
They need a break.
I know this now, because I had one.
And it has been the biggest eye opener yet.
Before I went, I fretted about the impact the trip would have on my daughters. My four year old is very attached to me and follows me out the door if I leave the room. If I dare to go up the stairs, she races after me, shouting ‘where are you going Mammy?’ How, I thought, will she survive a five day separation from me?
As it came closer to the time to go, I began to relax, thanks to the reassurances from my husband that he had everything under control and some strong medication from my doctor. (Great stuff!)
When I got there, I still worried, but it was lessened and by the end of the week, I had practically forgotten I was a mother.
That my friends, is the relaxation you need to aim for!
Joking aside, I have taken so much from my few days away and in this run down I’ll give you all the facts behind the writers’ retreat and show you some of the impact it’s had on me. I never would have thought it before, but I now think, no matter what type of writer you are – giving yourself a retreat will do wonders for your work.
WHAT IS IT?
Le Tremblay Loire Writers’ Retreat is a creative haven aimed at writers who are seeking to find their voice, begin their project or develop and work on their craft. It is a renovated cottage, located in the heart of the French countryside, one hour from the city of Tours. The cottage is suitable for one or two people and can also accommodate families too. If you’re intending on getting serious work done however, I’d recommend setting off on your tod.
WHO’S BEHIND IT?
Derrick and Iris Mathews, a couple from Armagh, Northern Ireland, moved to France in 2015 seeking a quieter life. They both worked in community roles dealing with the troubles in Northern Ireland for over thirty years and after Derrick experienced a serious car accident, their thoughts turned to what sort of future they wanted for themselves. They lived in North France before finding themselves drawn to the Loire Valley, which has a warm climate most of the year. They bought a gorgeous three bed house and renovated it, turning one of the outbuildings into a gite, for holiday rent. As Derrick is a writer himself and understands the solitude needed for novel writing, the idea of a writers’ retreat was born.
HOW DOES THE RETREAT WORK?
I had never been on a writing retreat before so I wasn’t fully sure what to expect. There are lots of options when it comes to choosing a retreat however, some have shared facilities, some just a room to yourself; this one will suit you if you are in search of true solitude and peace and you get the whole run of the gite and gardens to yourself. It’s more than a home away from home. Breakfast and lunch are delivered to the kitchen of the gite, and you can eat them at your leisure. There are no set times and you can organise with Iris, if you are late riser, early bird or (like me) a light eater in the mornings. In the evenings, you are invited to dine with Iris and Derrick, first for l’apero, traditional French drinks and nibbles before dinner and then a gorgeous three course home cooked meal. In between all this you are left to yourself and your work.
The idea behind a writing retreat is that food is provided for you to allow you as much time to concentrate on your work. Not having to shop, cook, clean or even think about what you are preparing, frees up so much time in the day and if you are more a biscuit muncher than a nutrient concentrator (like me!), you’ll find the balanced, fresh, home cooked meals a real treat and boost to the brain power. Iris is a brilliant cook and like a lot of people in France, grows many ingredients in the garden. There are fresh salad leaves, beets, apples, tomatoes, peppers and local eggs. Lunches were usually salad or sandwich based and in the evenings we had French inspired meals like beef bourguignon, pork and apple sauce and chicken in white wine sauce. Bring me back!
The cottage is stunning, with a beautiful bedroom upstairs that has an open French door balcony. This is where I preferred to work, but there is a desk downstairs in the cottage too. There’s a fully functioning TV with SKY and full kitchen facilities, snacks and drinks on hand. In the garden there are a ton of seats, tables, nooks, benches and gazebos where you can sit and work if you choose. The gite is very rural, with apple orchards all around. A bike is available if you’d like to get out and explore, which I did. I loved the little touches like fluffy bathrobes, toiletries, fresh lavender on the bed to help you sleep! I used a fan if it got too hot in the night time but there’s a wood burning stove downstairs if you are visiting in the cooler winter months. And there’s free wifi.
Part of the escape is feeling like you ‘getting away from it all’. Nothing could be further away from rainy, cold Ireland than sunny Loire Valley France. It was pure peace. Birds singing, big fat cows munching, I saw a pine marten run in front of me and tiny geckos on the walls. It took me a day or two to actually calm down into the rural spirit and it did my heart good. Here is Breil, the nearest village to the gite. I swear at one stage, I felt like Belle from Beauty and the Beast on her way to the library. And there is a library – in a phone box!
Iris is a fully qualified and certified reiki master. She had been encouraging me all week to try a treatment. I left it until near home time as I wasn’t sure how it would affect me – I’ve also never had reiki and was a little skeptical of it. It’s not that I’m against alternative therapies (I’m a massive fan of acupuncture) but I wondered how it would have any effect if there was no ‘touching’ involved – ie. no deep tissue massage or needles. The treatment blew me away! Starting with quantum touch, Iris could sense my back alignment issues which I suffer with terribly and was able to change my posture. I could feel myself being pulled into a tall, standing position and it was wonderful. I also experienced extreme heat when she was doing reiki above my head, which turned to a cold, gushing feeling down into my neck. I was really surprised at the physical expereinces I had and I could and still feel some of the ‘balancing’ effects from the treament. I did however feel very tired after it all, but I’ve been suffering some bouts of ill health anyway and I had to spend a lot of time resting while in France. A healing treatment is included in your stay at Le Tremblay and I’d definitely recommend it.
One of the things I liked the most was the ease of accessing Le Tremblay Loire Writer’s Retreat. Ryanair fly on Mondays and Fridays to Tours, so you can make a week of it, or a four day stay, depending on what suits. The Monday to Friday suited me brilliant with the kids. The gite is located about an hour from Tours airport and Derrick and Iris will pick you up and transfer direct. Out of season, you can catch flights into Paris or other nearby airports and make your way to Tours by train. It’s all very accessible. The flight from Dublin to Tours was only one hour and twenty five minutes and I got my return flights for under €100 including priority boarding.
WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER A RETREAT
It didn’t take long for me to decide I would take up Derrick and Iris’ kind offer of a retreat in France, despite my worries about family. I have never even applied to residencies before because they just seemed impossible when you have small children. With this retreat however, it worked really well – my flight wasn’t until midday on the Monday so I could see my little girl off to school and I was home at 6pm on Friday evening. It meant I only didn’t see them Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Other retreats often seem to be for a week or two weeks and they seem impossibly long when you have school runs and bedtimes to attend to. Because of the ease of transfers and because I was in France, it felt like I was away much longer. I had lots of time to work, think and rest and I am still feeling the benefits and decisions I made then, now. If people are looking to buy you Christmas or birthday gifts, why not see if they can offer their time to look after your domestic commitments or buy you a day away in the Loire Valley. You could also look to the arts council who fund research and travel trips. See if you can make it happen.
I finished my second novel in the summer and secured a publishing contract for it in August. Because I was going on retreat in September I wasn’t ready to start writing my third book – I like to research for a few weeks or months beforehand. So I did that. I brought books with me I wanted to read, research texts that needed concentration and while I was there I had time to order more materials and look to where I want to go with the third book. Just giving it the time to think about it led me to sketch out the structure of the manuscript in my mind and I came away from the week with a fairly solid plan for the book. With writing I find a lot of my work is done in the thinking beforehand – it’s not all about the hours spent typing. I also took time to complete some other projects that had been on my mind and talk to some contacts about a new book marketing business I am thinking of setting up. I felt like I was making my way through a lot of ‘what if’ thoughts; being away from the humdrum of normal life allowed me to think about what’s really important to me and what I really want to do. It gave me the confidence (somehow!) to take some risks. Now that I’m back home I’m feeling the clarity of this thinking, that break. And, one of the most important things since I’ve been away is the difference it made in our house. The kids missed me but they were grand. They had lots of bonding time with Daddy. Renovations happened while I was away. And I swear, in the weeks since I’ve been home, more housework is being done by himself. It’s a true miracle.
HOW TO BOOK
I got to try Le Tremblay in its infancy as a writers’ retreat, but I have no doubt they will see a stream of writers keen to attend and get through their work. The website www.loirewritersretreat.com will be going live in November 2018 and will have full package and booking information. Derrick told me: “We offer an all year round writers’ retreat, from four days to four weeks or longer by arrangement. No cooking, no dishes, no cleaning, no sharing bedrooms, no shopping, we take care of it. Everything is included in the price, you just have to get yourself to Tours / Nantes airport or Angers train station, concentrate on your writing and leave the rest to us.”
Here’s me inTours on my last day before I headed back to the airport. A changed woman. Confident in my writing projects. Standing outside a wine shop, wishing I had the car with me, a large empty roof rack gaping for bottles.
Its mine and my husband’s dream to one day own a property in France. We always joke that when we ‘make it’ we’ll be away to the south of France. But watching Iris and Derrick, experiencing their unique Irish hospitality, warmth and conversation, I can’t help but think that every dream you have is achievable, if you are willing to put in the effort to get there.
Iris and Derrick have made it. What could you make too, in France?
Follow Loire Writers’ Retreat on Instagram. I received a complimentary four day stay at Le Tremblay Loire Writers’ Retreat to experience the accommodation and offer feedback. I was not required to write a blog post, but I couldn’t help myself. Book it. Go there. Do. You won’t regret it, je promets.