Julia Cameron, in her books The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write describes something called the “artist’s treat”. I’ve tried to programme that into my working life once a week now, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it happens without me planning it. Like the other Wednesday when I met Emma for coffee. She showed me a little quarter of Manchester that I didn’t know existed but that was within minutes of all the places I do know. I was going to the theatre than night and if I’d gone home, I’d have had turn straight back round and come out again. However, that now gave me time to kill. So, I had a good wander around Manchester. It’s a city I love, with a lot of life and buzz.
The whole point, I think, of the writer’s treat is not to have too great an expectation. You just relax and let things happen. You absorb so much subconsciously as you stroll around. I remember once a trip such as this to Winchester cathedral. It followed a surreal day – full day’s teaching at secondary school, followed by a pantomime rehearsal – even our Cinderella was male and he went, still dressed in drag, to the local station to pick up his girlfriend. Then, I and the other members of my MA group were expected to just stroll around Winchester cathedral and ignore each other if we met. We thought our lecturers had gone bananas. It so happens that a half decent short story for children came out of that. Not that one should do this expecting inspiration. It is a way of allowing a gap. Gaps are useful. It gives you a distance form your work, and it does allow seeds of ideas to be planted. Now, I try to create these occasions.
I love the buzz of cities like Manchester, but I hate retail therapy, though I do like having and wearing nice clothes. The trouble with shopping for them is it feels like pressure. An artist’s retreat has to be no pressure.
I’m off to meet my editor for lunch and then on to the CWIG conference in Cambridge. This involves negotiating the M25. Even without that, I always allow an extra half hour for every hour of journey. I could arrive one and half hour early, therefore. Also, I don’t know how long lunch will take, so I may not be able to check into the college straight away. Therefore, I’m flinging the English Heritage and the National Trust handbooks into the car. We’re members of both. If I have time to kill… but I won’t force it. It’s all about sitting back and letting something in, whilst feasting your senses and cranking up your optimism.
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