Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Escaping to Write - Avril Joy

My Room in France
Several years ago I spent two months living and writing in France. I came away with the first draft of a novel - 80,000 words - and I have to admit that since then I’ve become something of an expert in escaping. Don’t misunderstand me I love my home, my house that’s full of light and looks out over trees and fields to the edge of the Wear Valley. I’m pretty happy with my writing room too – bijoux it may be but it has everything I need as a writer : its full of books, its cosy, warm in winter and has a window with a view (a necessity for me having spent many years working inside prison in rooms with barely any windows to speak of). Yet still I find that writing at home is often difficult; too many other concerns, mainly domestic, intrude and I never feel entirely at ease writing if there’s shopping or cleaning to be done – and I do try to ignore them, believe me.
So for me the most inspirational and productive times as a writer are when I can get away. On a day to day basis this can be as simple as café writing or heading off to the local library, hotels can be rewarding too. I find in large hotels you can easily be ignored for hours and all for the price of a pot of tea or coffee. But getting away for longer is frequently my goal and I managed this recently when I went to Oxford with my friend, writer Wendy Robertson, for four days. We stayed in rooms in Balliol College which fronts onto Broad Street, and sits right in the heart of the city, only minutes from the Sheldonian and the Bodleian.

A glimpse into Oriel College

Being free from everything domestic so close to Christmas felt dangerous and delicious. It worked!  We wrote whenever we pleased, did whatever we pleased. We had four days of glorious blue sky, intense winter light, immaculate lawns and breath-taking architecture. We explored the city’s lanes and cobbled streets, its ancient gates and doorways:  glimpses into hidden worlds. Breathed in the gardens on our doorstep: tree ferns flourishing in sheltered corners and cyclamen flowering on the lawns under the beech, all of which made me think of the lush gardens in my novel The Orchid House.

I'm happy to report that The Orchid House has had some great reviews on Amazon and also on Kathleen Jones’ Book Blog, Kathleen says - I have to say that this is one of the most erotic novels I've read for a while.  Getting good reviews is a real boost for any writer and it certainly helped inspire my new writing in those away days before Christmas.

At the end of each day in Oxford we had impromptu readings. We did a great deal of talking about our work, and on one occasion treated ourselves to a glass of champagne in The Randolph!
It was fun. I even did a spot of Christmas shopping in the fabulous Blackwells. But we went to write and write we did. For what more does a writer need than a room of her own, a desk and chair and of course her best writing buddy with her – someone as obsessed as she is, who wants to talk writing into the night over a bottle (or two) of red and a plate of cheese and biscuits? (There’s a handy Sainsburys only minutes away.) You could say it was heaven and you’d be right.

Many universities offer rooms out of student term times you can check them out here

Oxford Window


Susan Price said...

Lovely post, Avril, but I read the first line and thought, 'This is good! - I wonder who it's by?'

dirtywhitecandy said...

Lovely, Avril. The Orchid House sounds rather delectable - it's sizzling onto my Kindle right now.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

This sounds like a very good idea -and I'm going to download the Orchid House today! I have plenty of space for writing at home, but you are so right about the distractions. I fondly imagined that when I got a bit older it would get easier to work from home, forgetting that there would be so many 'early retired' friends and relatives who would assume that I was 'winding down towards retirement' as well. Er.. no. Some of my most productive times have been afternoons in a small rented holiday cottage on a Scottish Island. I work well at home, but it's always harder to push everything else aside. If I could afford it, I think I'd rent an office, and I wouldn't tell anyone where it was, either!

Avril said...

Apologies for forgetting my name on the title - will try to rectify that.

Thank you to to dirtywhitecandy and Catherine for downloading - hope you enjoy it. I must say like you Catherine I find that because I'm at home people assume I have nothing to dom and am winding down - it's hard persuading them otherwise. Your cottage on an island sounds perfect and I've often wondered why we writers don't rent studios like artists.
Unfortunately money comes into the equation but we can dream!

julia jones said...

It's so long since I was at home without children - 33 years to be precise - that I can't imagine what it would be like NOT to be writing in fits and starts among the chaos. I've not been writing all that time but have always worked from home and that's how it is. You do a bit and then you answer the phone or hang the washing out or collect someone from school with a tummy ache. Your escape to Balliol sounds unbelievable - lovely but terrifying. I think I'd get blocked. Writing among chaos means you have to get the next sentence down because you're never sure when you'll get another chance!

Katherine Roberts said...

Writing retreats always sound wonderful - I LOVE that beautiful Oxford window! But once the inspirational "dreaming up the story" part is done, I find I write best when my surroundings are ugly... then I don't get distracted by the beautiful views!

Avril said...

Like you Julia I wote for years snatching time between giving my children lifts etc, making tea and work as well - so I know what you mean!

But I don't like my surroundings to be ugly Katherine I think that would put me off- I guess this shows just how different we all are!

Dan Holloway said...

Roz, do you see now what I mean about Oxford windows (a propos Lucy Caots)!

Avril, do come and say hello next time you're in Oxford - both Dennis and I would, I am sure, be delighted to take you for tea/coffee. Did you discover The Albion Beatnik - absolutely the best bookshop in the world http://forbookssake.net/2010/12/01/the-albion-beatnik-in-oxford/comment-page-1/#comment-7784

Barb said...

Hi Avril,
This sounds like the perfect getaway for both writing and relaxing. Nice to go there with a friend, too. I bought When You Hear the Birds Sing, but I have a backlog so haven't gotten to it yet. I see you're out with a new novel, too. Congratulations.

Dennis Hamley said...

Avril, I second what Dan said. Next time you're in Oxford, do let us both know. It's great to meet for real those wedonlt know already except through great books and super blogs. I thought your post was lovely

Dennis Hamley said...

And another thing. I must download The Orchid House. (Sorry I messed up the pathetically simple phrase 'we don't know' in my previous comment. That's because I'm too lazy to use Preview.)

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