The Irish Times - Saturday, November 12, 2011
A perfect place to write
GETTING AWAY: Whether you’re an established author, or someone who has always had a secret urge to give it a try, going on a writers’ retreat is a tried and tested way of finding inspiration, writes CAROLINE MADDEN
Eyeries, Beara, Co. Cork
The library at Anam Cara says it all – eight shelves are needed to house all the books that writers have worked on while staying at the west Cork retreat. Several are even dedicated to the woman who modestly calls herself a “literary midwife”, Sue Booth-Forbes.
Writers who retreat to Anam Cara will find themselves first nourished physically, with three hearty meals cooked from scratch every day. “My father was a poet and my mother took care of him. He wouldn’t have been the poet he was if he didn’t have her,” says Booth-Forbes, who was born and raised in Utah.
Then there is the place itself, with its views of the Coulagh Bay and the Beara peninsula. The house sits on five acres of land with walking paths that lead down heather-covered hillsides, through a hazel grove, past a duck pond, and then skirt along a river bank past a cascading river-island waterfall. In all there are more than 30 nooks and crannies – from hammocks to meditation huts – dotted around the grounds, where people can sit and think.
“The Beara is such an inspirational place where people can come to really focus, in the quiet, on their own work and for the first time in a long time, to hear their own voice,” Sue says. “It’s amazing the impact of giving yourself time and space in a quiet place, just telling yourself that you are retreating.”
At Anam Cara, working hours are sacrosanct, and conversations during those times are to be kept out of earshot of others. In the evenings the writers and artists gather together for dinner and sometimes share their work, but other times it’s just a chance to unwind and enjoy each others’ company.
“Last night we all ended up in the hot tub out on the deck and the stars came out and it was just fabulous. We sat out there in the bubbling warm water and talked,” says Booth-Forbes.
However, according to writers who have stayed at Anam Cara, the magic ingredient is Booth-Forbes herself. As an experienced writer and editor, she can provide support if people have hit a block or would like some constructive feedback on their work. Chef, food writer and poet Gerry Galvin worked on his first novel, Killer à la Carte (a thriller about a London food critic who is also a serial killer) at Anam Cara and describes her as “a great mentor in a most low key way”, being both kind and rigorous. “What Sue gave me was a very clear picture of possibilities, and a sense that just because I hadn’t come to serious writing until my 60s that that was no barrier,” he says.
Irish crime writer Alex Barclay has spent time at the centre for each of the 13 books she’s written (and she has dedicated a book to Booth-Forbes), and describes it as an alternative universe where you can shut out the rest of the world. “Anam Cara is a beautiful, inspiring retreat with breathtaking views across the sea. But, really, Anam Cara is Sue,” she says.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing your first book or your 20th, whether you’re published or unpublished, even if all you’ve got is a pencil, a sketchpad and a plan, you will be welcome, and you will be supported.”