A room of one’s own at Varuna
So here I am, on my last full day of a blissful week at Varuna. What a week. Beyond my computer, and half drunk cups of tea, piles of manuscript and well-thumbed books, is the window and the pink and white of the crab apple tree in blossom. It is windy up here today and the blossom is blowing off in drifts. There is purple wisteria winding up through the branches and it reminds me of the great arch of it going over the monkey bars at Millicent Street, where my grandparents lived for so long.
I have done what I came here to do. I wrote my 15 000 words (and then cut most of them away). I’ve read it through from start to end. I’ve done other things too; I’ve cried a bit. And walked. And drunk wine with the fine writers who occupy the other rooms. Been warmly looked after by Sheila and her amazing dinners. Slept. The sleep of a person who has not slept a night through without little calls in the night, and little arms and legs wrapped round head and body, for quite some time.
And oh, how I have missed my girls.
And yet, every morning and every night I have been so grateful for this time and known that there is no possible way I would have got this much done had I been at home in the rush and bubble of life. And, of course, they have all survived back home and had delightful times with swims and adventures and parties and glorious dad time. At times I have had to suppress the niggly doubt that perhaps I am not so indispensable and important as I thought to our little house…
The great gift of Varuna is not only the beauty, the quiet, the monastic rigour of writers doing their thing all day and then debriefing about it at night. Not only the way you are cared for, with good food and good company, and a break from the mind-numbing domesticity of normal life. Not only the proximity to the edge – the walks and the views out to the abyss and the beautiful Blue Mountains (‘alarming’ as Lucinda said, and breathtaking).
It is the great respect and validation given to writing, and the writer doing the writing; that this is something important and legitimate and even, perhaps, a little brave.
Until now I have tended to churn out hunks of writing in stolen time (and time gifted by my wonderful partner and family I’ll admit), but it is piecemeal, often random. It does not connect from one session to the next, and I spend so much time scrabbling back into the world of the story that I scratch out a few hundred words and then have to leave it again. But here, here I have understood process. How all the pieces can suddenly pull together and start to resemble something that I can see will one day be whole and complete. How I can go to sleep with a problem of character or plot that seems unfixable and wake up in the morning with an answer. And have time to go and write that answer in. How it is work, hard work, to keep getting the words down and make them make sense, and then take them out again, and go up against the self-doubt and fear each day, that every word is rubbish and everyone will hate it.
I went through an entire tissue box as I wrote the last chapters. Partly in sheer relief that I had got there. And also, of course, because I love my characters and don’t quite know what I will do when they are not rattling around in my head. I cried too, because I still couldn’t quite believe the gift of being here, having the time and space to have that moment, to write ‘The End’ (a little dramatically and untruthfully even because it is so far from done) on the last page of this unwieldy document.
So, back to it. There are at least six more hours I can fill with writing and editing and reading and thinking. And even though it would be a crime to take any of it for granted, I might just sit and look out at the blossom.