Artists’ Retreat at Cill Rialaig
I’ll start with the image of the teapot in sunlight, captured by chance one glorious afternoon in October.
I had arrived a few days earlier at the Artists’ Retreat at Cill Rialaig, Co Kerry, and as I walked into the kitchen of my cottage, this scene caught my eye.
A white teapot, just like the one in the photo, was the image used on the cover of my first novel In the Beginning, almost twenty years ago.
It was an image shared across many different languages and somehow, it seemed fitting that here it was again, that emblematic teapot.
I had come to this remote and wonderful place in Co Kerry in order to work on another novel, my eleventh. In many ways, my arrival there felt like coming full circle.
I liked the way the teapot waited on my windowsill, silently. It first drew my attention towards its shape, before finally directing my gaze outwards, towards the wider world beyond my window.
For me, the image made me respond in the same way a novel does. Engage with the words first and the world becomes illuminated.
There is something magical about places like Cill Rialaig.
Something happens when the writer or the artist or the musician is removed from ordinary day-to-day surroundings. A burst of creativity awaits: and it is partly due to the removal of all distractions such as Facebook, email and Twitter.
By disconnecting from the chatter of the virtual world, we somehow become more connected to the universe of the imagination.
But it’s more than that. The solitude, the natural surroundings and the Spartan way of living give an intensity to each day, so that every moment feels more fully lived.
Look at the photo of my desk – I took along with me a diary, a large notebook and my laptop. I needed the virtual files I had with me, but I noticed that I began to use pen and paper more frequently. I began writing by hand, teasing out ideas, and the connections seemed to flow more easily. I became aware of the silence outside my cottage window: it became a presence, a friendly ghost that kept me company. I loved looking upwards at the intensity of the blue sky above me.
But more than anything, I became aware of how little we listen to ourselves. Constant busyness means that often the internal voice that has some wisdom to impart is drowned out. We need time apart, time alone, to begin hearing again.
I live in the city and I love its buzz.
I love being surrounded by people. I love the bookshops and the theatres and the cinema. I love walking through the morning streets, people-watching. I do not have a romantic fantasy about upping and leaving my home in Dublin in order to live on the side of a mountain. I’d probably last a week.
But I now understand, more than ever, how taking away that external busy scaffolding from time to time makes me stronger on my own internal feet.
The glorious weather at Cill Rialaig changed eventually, of course – well, it is Kerry, after all. The Atlantic gales and the driving rain brought with them another sort of beauty, though. It was great to light the fire, wrap myself in a blanket and write my way through the storm.
Places like Cill Rialaig help me to do my best work.
My ten days there were astonishingly productive.
I’m conscious of what a privilege it is to spend time there. And I’m grateful to the Irish Writers’ Centre and to Cill Rialaig for making that possible.