Last year I won a fellowship – the Mick Dark Flagship Fellowship for environmental writing – which awarded me three weeks at Varuna, The Writers House. I was delighted to win, but mostly because it made me feel better about the project I was working on: I’d been worried it was a bit rubbish, and also that I wouldn’t finish it by the time the publisher wanted it. It was nice to be validated and given a little extra time to hit that deadline. But I was also a bit scared: about being away from home and my husband for three weeks (I’m not very good at that kind of thing), about spending enforced socialising time with other writers (also not very good at that kind of thing) and about bushfires.
Going to Varuna has to be one of the top five things that has happened to me. I finished my manuscript, which was a huge relief. I even felt like some of it was pretty good. I enjoyed meeting and spending time with other writer types, though yes sometimes I did feel awkward and uncomfortable and wished I could spend the evenings with someone I already knew, like my husband. It rained almost every day and never got hotter than 28 degrees, so bushfires weren’t really an issue.
But the main thing was the incredible joy of being able to write. All day, every day, all I had to do was write. Sure, I went for strolls in the bush. I did a little op-shopping. I made more than one trip to the Station Bar because they had this incredible Four Pines Saison on tap which I’ve never seen anywhere else. But mostly I wrote, or thought about writing. And I could not have been happier. I was incredibly productive. And in a way I really never have before, I felt fully myself.
I am very lucky. I have a good job with an organisation whose values I support and a boss who doesn’t expect me to do work outside work hours. I don’t have kids (lucky? Unlucky? You decide. But it does give me more writing time). My husband values my writing and is hugely intellectually and emotionally supportive of it. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for those who have demanding families, who have to work long hours, who have friends and family who can’t see the point of being a writer.
But even with the good luck of my circumstances, there just isn’t enough time or peace (mostly peace) to really sink into writing. So thank you to Varuna – and to the other writers I met while I was there – for such a brilliant eye-opening, consciousness-awakening retreat from the world. I recommend it so highly to anyone who longs to write. Apply for a fellowship and if you don’t get one, save up and pay for a visit instead. It will do you more good than pretty much any other holiday you can imagine.
Readers, if you want to help a writer, support them to go to Varuna, or support Varuna itself – there is nothing else like it in Australia.
There are some pictures here of my time at Varuna.