At the end of the summer, I had the pleasure of hosting the young writer, Heidi Hamalainen, who set herself the enormous task of seriously advancing her first novel while here. This is a copy of the post that Heidi put up later on her blog, UrbanJungleBird. Heidi is not only a talented writer but a gifted photographer as well. Many thanks to her for letting me use some of the photos that she took while here.
I Entered a Dreamland
The dreamland was called Bordeneuve Retreat, a rustic barn dwelling in the Midi-Pyrénées nestled in the south of France and not too far from the Spanish border. Cocks crowed, wine flowed and flowers bloomed in colourful glory, butterflies drifted like chimeric fairies and bees hummed a chorus that was caught on the bars of the gentle summer breeze. It was here I reacquainted with a long lost friend, my novel.
Bordeneuve is a retreat available to writers, artists and musicians by application. I had applied toward the end of last year and was grateful and excited to be accepted to spend two weeks working on material I had long neglected. Four months of travel was booked in beforehand to gather my thoughts and absorb inspiration from all of the new places I was to visit in Europe, but, as the time of the retreat inevitably approached I was struck with an underlying sense of foreboding. What if I no longer knew how to write or tell my story, or what if I simply didn’t care about it any more? The week leading up to my flight to France was panic-inducing as I became increasingly anxious. I even considered cancelling my stay. So long deposit. So long novel. But I did what I always do in these situations and forced my rational brain to kick in. If I got there and decided I was no longer interested in my work I still had a new destination to explore. I love travel after all. But as it happened, I was able to do both.
Before arriving at Bordeneuve I could no longer visualise finishing my story. I had an ending but the plot was lacking those vital parts in the middle that connects your protagonist with all of the occurring events and characters that are meant to tell a story. She, my main character, was floating in a fuzzy lit-space with no gravity to pull her down to earth. However, as soon as I was greeted by Noelle, the retreats simultaneously energetic and peacefully calming owner who picked me up from the train station, I knew I had made the right decision. After a short drive through some pretty hay-bale-and-apple-pie countryside, we drove down (or rather, Noelle expertly maneuvered) a winding and fantastically overgrown drive to her house—a quaint centuries old abode with the retreat a separate dwelling beside it. I was shown into the barn where I was to stay, a gorgeous two-story eco-friendly structure with all the amenities you could need downstairs, and a studio to work in on the second level. I spent most of my time out on the veranda that opened from the studio upstairs, working and taking in every moment of this truly magical place, and wondering how I’d had the luck to fall down a rabbit-hole and land there. My protagonist is now well-grounded with purpose, and I look forward to finishing my studies this year so I can throw myself back into my work.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to find somewhere to completely and absolutely let go of the outside world and any daily preoccupations, to allow time and space to focus on yourself and your passions. Granted not everyone can just skip off to a piece of French heaven to do this (I won’t lie, it helps if you have the means), so even if it’s in your own home and you find a quiet corner at a certain time of the day or week where you know you won’t be disturbed, mark it as your time and guard your precious sanctuary.