I have just returned from a writing retreat on a mountaintop in France. Let me just let that one sink in, so you have a chance to be like “ooh lah lah, someone think she fancy.” But, there it is. After getting a writing degree that required twice a year stays in Paris, I just had not had enough from the eternally gorgeous country of France and went for a weeklong stay at La Muse, an artists’ retreat housed in a 12th Century building in the tiny village of Labastide-Esparbairenque in southern France.
La Muse is run by Irish John Fanning and American Kerry Eielson, a couple who met in New York City, moved to Alaska to write, and then bought a run-down French estate in rural France in 2001, and have hosted loads of writers and painters as their family grew to include three children and a dog named Homer.
La Muse is a magical, remote place that is part hulking stone estate/part forest paradise in the quaint French village of your dreams where chickens and rabbits outnumber people. A retreat at La Muse is an interesting type of “vacation” because it requires little planning, no pressure to seek adventure, no feeling like you’ve missed out if you don’t see the top attractions. It’s so remote that the “attractions” are few: There’s a single restaurant in the nearby town. There’s a guy who sells honey sometimes, a woman who will sell you a rabbit sometimes. Someone carved a tree trunk into a chair to have what feels like the prime socializing perch: Smack in front of the village’s spring-fed water spigot that dispenses fresh and icy water.
During my weeklong stay, my days settled into a lovely routine: Wake up to the rooster crowing (he never stops), carefully plod down the creaky old stairs to make a single cup of pour-over coffee in the communal kitchen, drink coffee while writing, break from writing to make a simple lunch, eat while reading or talking with the other artists at the retreat, more writing, and then a four-hour hike on one of three stunning forested trails, stopping to look at beautiful old churches or cemeteries, keeping an eye out for old stone structures used for cover in WWII, some of which look like they’re are being gobbled up by moss-covered trees.
A few rushing waterfalls. Some hulking wind turbines a top a mountain. Always nearby was Homer, the lucky dog whose life is one long (leash-free) walk after another. By then it would be evening and I’d make dinner and drink inexpensive but delicious French wine. Once, the other writers and I shared our favorites poems in the book-filled library. On the last night we all read a piece of writing on our own from the mustard yellow couches in the library, only this time someone lit a fire in the wood-burning stove. Then I’d go back to my antique bed and pull the covers up and sleep some of the best damn sleep I’ve had in ages. Wake up, take in that view from my window, and repeat.
I left my pants-wearing job a few weeks ago, in order to spend the last three months in Jerusalem finishing my novel. Remember this was my plan in January of 2016 when I declared it was “crunch time“? Turns out having a job did not make value my free time more – ie, spend it writing – as I naively declared it would. I’ve been writing this book since late 2013. That’s almost five years. I’d love to have it done by the end of our Jerusalem tour in mid-July. I planned this writing retreat to be the kickstart to get back in to the novel. And it feels like it worked. While at the retreat, I re-read what I have so far, going back to fill in missing plot points and details, and even wrote a few new scenes. I feel good about what I’ve written, and can see the end in sight. It was also inspiring to be around others who are writing their own mystery novels, memoirs, one-woman shows, and to exist in a mindset where I could devote hours each day to thinking about writing and then actually writing. So the retreat was regenerative and motivating. And so, so relaxing.
To finding your muse,
Em in Jerusalem