A Bundanon Day

Jun 06, 2017

Partly because I imagine I will forget, and partly to illuminate this strange zone of how I write when I have all day to write – here is a day in my life at Bundanon, an artist’s retreat in a magnificent valley in Shoalhaven, where I’m currently lucky enough to have a week’s residency to work on my second novel.

6.45 Alarm goes off so I can jump out of bed and scoot through the cold to turn the heater on. (I imagine I could program it to come on, but so far such technicalities have escaped me.)

6.47 Back under the blankets. Avoid checking phone. Try and stay in the grey light space of waking. It’s such a treat to go straight to writing from here.

7am Coffee. (I drove up from Melbourne. So I brought my coffee machine. Wasn’t going to tell anyone. Now I have.) Write for an hour. Pink sun hitting the cliff across the river. Cows on the move. Write, then watch, make second coffee, write, watch. At the end of the hour I have 1000 words.

8am Walk. Up behind the cottages and into the bush. White pocked Eucalypt, mossy grey rock, heart-leaved vines. At the top of the hill, the sun lights it all up and I stand it it, look down on the next bend of the Shoalhaven river glittering in the light. Find a phone tower and good reception. Stand on a rock, too close to the edge and speak to the kids. I miss them. Take a picture of a grasstree that looks like Grug to send to them.

Coming down a steep gravelly road, I slip and fall. Shocked, flick my wrist back and forth to shake out the jar, imagine if I couldn’t type! Then I imagine a bit further and spook myself. I’ve got water and an apple but no whistle like they recommended in the walking track pamphlet. No phone reception at all now that I’m down the hill. Wonder how long it would take someone to realise I wasn’t in my little cottage. Tread more carefully (until I forget and, in glorious sun, nearly step on a red belly black snake). Stunned by the landscape. Stop and take pictures. Then, on the home straight, characters start talking to each other, fighting. Worried I’ll forget. Stop and take notes in my phone.

10.30 Back. Shower (still can’t get over the fact I can do this UNINTERRUPTED any time of the day I want). Eggs and avocado and lemon from mum and dad’s tree. Ravenous. Quiet. Feels wrong to stream breakfast radio, can’t handle the instant mood set of music, so I turn on random podcast while I am cooking and eating. Fills the quiet, feels like radio. Make tea.

11 Face the desk with Grandma Clare’s knitted rug on my knee to ward off the chill. Turn off wifi.

Watch cows.


11.30 Check journal document. This is where I set out my tasks and word counts for the day and note down all the random thoughts and ideas and marvellous insights that won’t feel so insightful tomorrow. Word count on this doc alone is 25 000. Remember where I’m at. Check phone for notes from the walk. Resist urge to flick wifi back on.

11.45 Start on the scene and then I’m away.

1pm Need something. Food? Caffeine? Decide it’s coffee. Stretch, pace, make coffee. Sit back down and finish what I started. Another 1500 words down. Could cry with relief.

1.30 Heat soup. Congratulate self on being so wise as to squirrel away containers of soup from the last few weeks to freeze and bring. (Note: may not think this at end of week when I have only eaten soup. And sweet potato chips. And M+Ms). Read interview with writer whom I would like to be. Feel equally deflated and inspired.

2pm Write another scene. This is one I’ve already written chunks of, but a recent shift in character and plot means I’ve got to chuck a lot of it out. Think about cutting it all and starting again, but I feel like there’s some good lines in there, lines with energy that get right at the thing I’m trying to say. Plus I’m distraught at the thought of the word count slipping back so far. Go through paragraph by paragraph, dumping most of it into another document as I go. In the end, hardly any of the old words remain – it’s essentially the same scene, renewed. Feel vindicated that I know what this scene needs to be, having now written it two completely different ways. Then feel sapped of energy.

3pm Walk to the river. The way this valley is, the light changes by the minute. Much of it, where my little cottage is for instance, is in shadow most of the day. On the river beach, at this time, there are fingers of sun still there between the long shadows of the trees. I sit in one. Watch water birds (mum would know their names) swoop over the water, perfect mirror images in their reflection. So quiet I can hear the tiny schlock of the current against the rocks on the opposite side. I imagine Arthur Boyd and his family kicking back here on long afternoons. Then I think of mine. Heart aches a little. Think about quiet and space and what an incredible privilege it is to have this time. Kind of like knowing myself again. Wish my non-writer girlfriends could access this place, too. Wish everyone could.

4pm Beer o’clock. Have purposefully left new scene with old flame until now. It’s like arriving at happy hour, enjoying the drink and curious as to what these two are going to say. And do. Enjoy writing it, feels sexy and a little dangerous. Stop at a point I know will be easy to come back to. Have hit target 4000 words for the day. Do small dance.

6pm Phone call with the kids. 4yo tells me she is also writing a book. It’s about a poo and a fart. Heart sings. Girls tell me they are hugging me down the phone (can you feel it, mum, can you feel it?!). I tell them yes. Essential life admin with partner – he’s just handed in a massive essay, is dealing with the kids, the week, illness in the family. Feel guilty. Stop. Determined to be even more productive tomorrow.


7pm Heat formally unidentified freezer stash. Some kind of stew. Delicious. Add many spinach leaves so as to feel somewhat virtuous. Eat while listening to RN books interview and checking twitter. Life goes on outside this valley, it seems. Feel a bit lonely, and a bit lucky. Get off before I’m stuck there.

7.30 Write to do list for tomorrow. Where I want to get from and to. When I’ll walk. Answer some emails. These prompt me to look in diary and suddenly realise everything I’ve got coming up once I get home. Panic.

7.45 Still panicking and now writing out daily To Do list for next two weeks.

8pm Realise I only have three more days without children or interruptions and I need to finish the draft. Breathe. Do dishes to calm myself down. Make tea.

8.10 Tea and mum’s fruit cake and reading a novel in advance of a panel I’m chairing in a week or so. Write notes and some questions.

9.10 Fill hot water bottle. More tea. Watch episode of Big Little Lies – tell myself this is both entertaining, a break for my brain, and professional development.

10pm Teeth. Turn off all the lights (running joke with my bloke that this is always his job). Feel decidedly independent and autonomous doing this one small thing. Bed. Read.IMG_4258

11pm Still reading. I can read all night if I want to.

11.30 Realise I won’t finish book tonight and need to sleep. Lights out. Think about my own characters as I drift off, in the hope that they’ll sort out the next scene for me and serve it to me as a dream.

11.45 Cows mooing. Didn’t realise they did that at night. Strange. Sleep.


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Hi Kate,
What a wondrous day, it sounds both marvellous and confronting at the same time. Thank you once again for your marvellous event with us at Great Escape Books. I will send through some photo’s now, everyone looks thoroughly enthralled. Nicx

June 6, 2017 at 8:02 am
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Hi Kate, Here¹s some terrific shots of our event with you.

It was such a pleasure to meet you and many people are dropping by the bookshop to tell me how much they are enjoying Skylarking.

Good luck with your new novel, I¹m sure it will be equally as wonderful.

June 6, 2017 at 8:14 am


Gosh, I LOVE this post more than anything! … so lovely and visually indulgent to live 24 hours in your world right now! Can hear your ‘voice’ so strongly…. xx

June 6, 2017 at 9:45 am
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Love this post Kate. I feel like I’m there with you. What a wonderful experience xxx

June 6, 2017 at 10:26 am
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Joanna Nell

I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in the writers cottage last year. Just reading about your day made me feel warm and fuzzy. What a magical place. Apart from the late night phone call from a taxi driver who was lost (I was the only person staying that night so a little freaked out!). I was mesmerised by the wildlife. Did the itchy wombat wake you? Good luck with your novel. I’m sure it’s benefitted from the Bundanon touch. How is you daughter’s nook coming along?

June 26, 2017 at 9:27 am
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    Kate Mildenhall

    Yes, it is magical isn’t it, Joanna! The itchy wombat did indeed wake me, and I can imagine a late night phone call would have KEPT me awake! Lovely to hear of your Bundanon experience, thank you for sharing. (A little editing still required on my daughter’s book ;)). Kate x

    June 27, 2017 at 3:25 am

Kate’s first book, SKYLARKING was published in Australia by Black Inc. in 2016 and in the UK by Legend Press in 2017. Her second THE MOTHER FAULT is published in Australia by Simon & Schuster in 2020 and in the UK by Harper Collins UK in 2021. Kate’s third novel, THE HUMMINGBIRD EFFECT was published in Australia by Simon & Schuster in August 2023.

Stay in touch with Kate via her newsletter, The Bowerbird.