Susan Grossey

Retreat or repel?

Many of you were very interested in my writing retreat last summer, when I hid away, on my own, in the Swiss mountains for a month, so that I could finish the first draft of “The Man in the Canary Waistcoat” with minimal distractions.  And it worked jolly well; you can see why author and critic Cyril Connolly dreaded “the pram in the hallway”, as it is certainly true that you can write (and probably paint, compose, embroider, sculpt, etc.) much more efficiently if you can be entirely selfish and work to your own tune and timetable.

So as I embark on “Plank 3” (and yes, I will be thinking of a shortlist of titles and asking for your views later in the year), I started to think about another possible retreat.  Switzerland was stunning, of course, but a bit lonely – my husband delivered and collected me, but we couldn’t meet during the month.  So I thought about perhaps retreating a bit closer to home, so that he could visit.  We live in Cambridge, so Norfolk or Suffolk seemed good options.  But it turns out that the weeks in which I can retreat (bearing in mind that I work full-time in my own business) are high season (basically, July), when Hampstead decamps to East Anglia, and all the sweet little cottages cost a fortune.  And then my clever husband came up with the solution: he will go off cycling for three weeks (which he has always wanted to do anyway), and I can retreat… at home!

It will require discipline, of course.  I will have to turn off the work emails and collect them only once a week, as I did in Switzerland.  I will have to ignore the telephone – which isn’t hard, as I hate it anyway.  But with living alone, I won’t have to worry about planning meals or doing lots of washing or compromising on bedtimes or getting-up times.  And when I need inspiration, it won’t be the Swiss Alps I will gaze at, but rather the magnificent old buildings of Cambridge and the river and the surrounding flatlands.  And I can even retreat to my favourite desk on the fifth floor of the University Library, overlooking King’s Chapel.

I don’t know whether it will work as well as a “proper” retreat – or maybe even better.  But it’s certainly worth a try, and, of course, I will let you know.


  1. Roy McCarthy Avatar
    Roy McCarthy

    It worked for me once Susan, in Lowestoft, which has few attractions. Otherwise a library to create a working atmosphere, together with students. Anywhere interesting doesn’t work at all for me 🙂

  2. ihatemoneylaundering Avatar

    It’s a tricky balance, isn’t it, Roy? I need somewhere inspiring yet not distracting – somewhere to clear the mind but not tempt me away from work… The Swiss Alps were good, as they are lovely to look at but never in a million years would I be tempted to climb them…!
    Best wishes from Susan
    PS And you’re right: Lowestoft does indeed have few attractions.

  3. Left to my own devices | Susan Grossey

    […] you may remember, I have been dithering about how to repeat my retreat success of last summer, when I spent a very productive month out in Switzerland finishing the first […]

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