It’s a week since I drove to North Wales for a writing retreat, run by Jan Fortune, who created Cinnamon Press, for nine of the writers she’s mentored this last year. Last Friday was perfect – the sky pale turquoise, sun so warm that I sat outside watching the Wagtails in the courtyard as I drank coffee at Lymm service station. I last visited Conway when I was nine and had forgotten how enchanting it is – a medieval fortress with a castle that could be an illustration from a children’s fairytale book, Telford’s railway bridge spanning the estuary, and dramatic views over Snowdonia and the sea. There were few people around, and I walked the walls alone, from the end of the seafront, up and downhill between the 22 towers, built to guard the town. It felt like a holiday, from work and from the rain
All Friday night and Saturday the wind howled and rain battered the windows – disturbing dreams. In the afternoon, we hunkered down in our rooms, writing, or sleeping. For the first time in as long as I can remember I spent a day scarcely moving except to run across the yard between buildings. The weather intensified the sense of being cut off from normal life in a rarefied world of writing and the imagination. Everything seemed distilled, the act of listening, reading aloud, giving criticism – that effortless shift from awkwardness with each other, to ease, that comes with sharing our work. Amongst skilled and talented writers, it was possible to see the shape and edges of my own work – especially when reading aloud – to see more clearly what needs to be done. I recall another, long ago, rainy weekend in Wales where I learned how to develop photographs, watched in amazement a landscape appearing on blank white paper in the tray of silver nitrate.
On Sunday, abandoning all struggles with writing, I headed out in icy rain, to a path that had become a stream, winding steeply up through damp forest, to the church of the 6th Century Saint Celynnin. Up in the mountains, beyond the tree line, the tiny stone church is set in a walled churchyard. In the lee of the south-eastern boundary there’s a rectangular basin of rock surrounded by slabs of stone, a Holy Well said to have healing water. I sat for a while, looking through the gleaming skin of the water, pocked with raindrops, down to the heart of the well. Above me, the raggedy wind-blown crows, and a path that wound upwards, high into the mountains.