Ever since my school home economics lessons when, to my utter amazement, I got an A for cookery in my senior school exams, I have felt strangely empowered in the kitchen. Now, in the hectic run up to Christmas, I indulge myself. I love the mechanics of baking; mince pies, spicy cakes and fruity puddings are hidden away in sealed containers, all over my apartment ready for the festive gatherings. The days have grown shorter, the nights colder and soup bubbles on the stove, lasagne tans in the oven and a wholemeal crust, spinach and goat’s cheese quiche sits cooling quietly on the work surface. All ready for the home coming of my family.
When I started my writing workshops and holidays for Write It Down! six years ago, I immediately decided that providing nourishment and delight for the ‘corpo umano’ – by treating my writers to the very best food and drink – would be as important as feeding their hearts, souls and brains with creative and therapeutic writing exercises.
Cooking has always been my form of therapy – whether it is for myself or for others. As soon as I put on my striped blue and white cotton apron, with numerous stains and one string ‘temporarily’ pinned on with a safety-pin, my blood pressure normalises, my shoulders relax and I am back in my childhood kitchen in Basingstoke. Despite a less than perfect relationship with my mother, I fondly remember her home cooked dinners [had at lunch time] of vegetables from our garden and meat from my grandfather’s shop. With gravy, always with gravy. Good food, cooked with care and attention and served with pride is a silent expression of love.
In London, I make cakes every week for my Mums, Babies and Bumps Creative WritingWorkshops. In Spain, at Finca Buenvino for my writing, meditation and walking holidays, Jeannie Chesterton and her son Charlie cook up a storm in their Andalucian farmhouse kitchen. They also run cookery courses there and have published a fantastic cookbook filled with their own recipes – beautifully illustrated with photographs by my friend Tim Clinch – so we are privileged indeed to share their table. And share we do, all of our meals, eating outside in the spring and summer, under the wisteria in the kitchen courtyard watching nut hatches, tree creepers and geckos or in the candle-lit Moroccan courtyard where, as we eat, we hear owls calling, watch the small, black bats flying high between the cork oaks and see the sun dipping over the Sierra De Aracena, flooding the sky with an astounding pink and purple hue which I have never witnessed anywhere else in the world.
Sharing food, taking time to taste and relish what we’re eating, talk about what we’re eating, listening to each others life stories and not having to worry about the washing up when we leave the table is bliss and it bonds us closer together as writers, sharing our journey, planning fresh adventures, forging new friendships and discovering new strengths and directions in our work.
It has been so important to me to find somewhere to run my retreats that has the same ethos about eating and enjoying food and cooking that I have, and that I try to bring to my own home and family. When we write, we must use all of our senses. We note the scents, the sounds, the touch, the sights, the tastes – in a setting, in a dramatic episode imagined or in a memory retrieved from our past.
Holidays should be a time to embrace the good things in life – in summer and in winter. We give ourselves a hard time enough during the year, juggling so many aspects of our lives. Snacks and meals are snatched hurriedly between work and other fundamental obligations. We stand, we perch, we rush from A to B. We grab the Pepto Bismol and always mean to write, to meditate, to go for a walk in the countryside and learn how to breathe again.
My aim with Write It Down! workshops and holidays is to give you that space, to give you that time and to feed you well. Only then, can you relax and truly write down your life…