Soon I shall be back in earnest to report on the results of this year’s Allen & Unwin bakeoff – just as spectacular as last year’s, and the Empress and I once again had a groaningly good time of the judging.
But this week I’m away writing at Varuna, the Writers’ House. If you’ve never been here and you like to write, you really should make the acquaintance of this place. It’s the former home of the renowned Australian novelist Eleanor Dark, who was writing in the 1930s and 40s.
Varuna is a huge light-filled house on the edge of a valley in the Blue Mountains of NSW, Australia. The house is set in a large garden of exotic and native plants, complete – this week – with a dive-bombing magpie who makes sure everyone who comes and goes does so holding a book over their heads. It’s like some strange school of deportment, with squeals. I have been given the most glorious room – Eleanor and Eric’s bedroom with this adjacent sun-trap of a workroom. I get to stickybeak on all comings and goings as well as basking in the sun like a lizard. Oh, and write, of course.
I have had a long and happy association with Varuna and have been here many times to work on various books (as well as doing bits of work for the organisation itself, like helping to run this very good publishing forum coming up in October).
This week I am in the company of some very gifted writers – including our own Julie Bail, who is midway through a fab-sounding novel and whom you will know as a wonderful writer from her many astute and hilarious comments on these pages; and also my dear friend Lucinda Holdforth (who, I learned last night, among other distinctions has had the enviable privilege of a fan letter from the fabulous and very witty Leigh Sales about Why Manners Matter).
Alongside us in the house, working quietly away, are Glenda Guest whose first novel Siddon Rock won a squillion prizes last year including the big Commonwealth Writers’ Prize first book award, and the gorgeous Paddy O’Reilly, a short story writer and novelist of rare talent. We are going to have a week of working hard during the day and long conversations about writing over dinner at night with Peter Bishop, who has been the creative director of Varuna for many years but has now stepped sideways into a consulting role, to focus on his own writing. Already (we got here yesterday) the six of us are finding common threads, fears and preoccupations with similar structural issues and other matters of craft.
One of Varuna’s recent guests, Mark Welker, has made this stunning short video which shows exactly what it’s like to work here – the staring out of windows, the walks, the garden, and the burrowing inside your own slow, intense thinking as the weather moves around you. So until next week, enjoy this beautiful thing.