Last year, my friends gifted me with the best birthday present ever – a voucher for a writer’s retreat at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre! Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to use it until just a week ago. I was really excited about it and could not wait!
I’ve been to the KSP Centre before – I used to attend some of their writers’ groups – and I had often thought of booking myself a mini retreat at one of their cabins just to get away and spend some time writing without distractions. Well, the time for it is now!
The KSP Centre was established on the grounds of the former home of – you guessed it – Australian writer Katharine Susannah Prichard. The house she lived in at Greenmount was built for her by her husband, the decorated war hero Hugo Throssell. Katharine herself led an eventful life – she was born in the middle of a hurricane in Fiji, lived through a war and the Great Depression, had her heart broken when her husband committed suicide as the result of his business failing and mounting debts in the Depression, and was a co-founding member of Australia’s Communist Party. Her Greenmount home was where she wrote most of her novels and it is today a beautiful place with stunning, tranquil grounds and a small cluster of cabins that can be used by writers for a retreat to work on their own stories.
I was booked for two nights into the Aldridge Cabin (my voucher is for a week’s stay but I opted to spend only two nights on my first stay, just to get a feel of the place and so I’d know better what to do or bring the next time round). I arrived not knowing what to expect, but was soon charmed by my quarters – it was a lovely spacious cabin with a bed, a desk, wardrobe and even some minor kitchen facilities like a microwave, oven toaster, kettle, fridge and toaster where I could store and heat up my food without having to go to the trouble of walking over to the main house. There was even plates, cups and cutlery – though I had to go over to the main house later to wash them up. I thought that was a great idea, especially as I had brought with me some Tupperwares of pre-made cooked meals to tide me over the next few days. All I had to do when I was hungry was reheat the food in the microwave, eat and continue writing! (Note: there are also shops and restaurants a short drive away from the centre, but not anything that’s within walking distance – at least not if you don’t fancy walking along a pretty busy highway full of trucks speeding past. I only had a few days booked in and wanted to make the most of my retreat so I decided to do food prep so I wouldn’t waste time.) There are also laundry facilities up at the main house for those on a long stay.
The desk in the cabin also came equipped with an introduction/information folder for cabin guests, wires to hook up your laptop to the Internet, desk lamp, a printer and some stationary (also some wolf’s blood incense in a drawer – probably leftover from some former resident!). There is also a white board and marker pens and a cork board with thumb tacks on the walls to help with planning and plotting your novel!
The desk sits facing wide windows with a gorgeous view of the trees. There was what looked like a bit of a minor construction site just past the trees, but it wasn’t too construction-y or ugly, and no one was working on it when I was there so there was no noise or anything like that to bother me. And far out in the distance, I could see Perth, looking almost like some white fairy city in the horizon.
I spent my first half an hour at the centre settling in and getting myself set up to begin writing. I also found a blue notebook filled with entries from the past residents of the cabin, all of whom very generously shared their experiences staying at KSP, plus some great tips for visitors!
Then it was time to work.
My goal for my writer’s retreat was to finish up the next round of edits of my current work-in-progress and also to finish reading my May 2016 science read, Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature. I spent quite a bit of my time writing and editing at the desk in my cabin, looking up every now and then to admire the view of the trees or the sight of some colourful green and red parrots or monochrome magpies flitting past (unfortunately no sign of the bobtail lizard pair nicknamed Bob and Bobbita by former writer residents).
But I could never last long sitting up straight at a desk and pretty soon I graduated to the incredibly comfortable, squishy red armchair in the corner of the cabin, my laptop perched on my lap and books, drinks and snacks within easy reach. I’ve always loved the idea of owning comfy squishy armchairs, but I’ve always wondered if I’d actually use them or flop on the sofa instead – now I know I will definitely make use of an armchair, particularly if it’s as comfortable as this one at KSP!
It’s been getting onto winter here in Australia and the weather was turning chilly. In the day, however, it was sunny and warm enough that I could leave the door open so I could listen to the birdsong and rustling leaves. But at night, as the temperature dropped, I was grateful for the air-conditioning/heating unit mounted on the wall, and adjusted the controls to keep myself warm and cosy. Western Australia can get pretty cold in winter and stinking hot in the summer, and whoever thought to install these units must be the patron saint of the comfortable writer!
When I wasn’t writing or reading, I spent time stretching my legs (definitely needed some exercise and fresh air after being curled up for hours on the armchair or hunched over the desk) exploring KSP’s beautiful and heritage-rich grounds.
How gorgeous are these grounds? Really, some of this scenery made me actually feel like I was in a scene out of Lord of the Rings or something. Preferable somewhere in Hobbiton.
I also took on the advice of the previous guests and took a stroll down to the nearby John Forrest National Park. (A writer’s centre that’s also near a national park? This couldn’t get any better.) It’s only about a 15-minute brisk walk away and it did me a world of good, especially after spending the previous day and night tucked up in my cabin, writing and editing madly.
Writers’ groups often meet at the centre, sharing and critiquing each other’s work and bouncing ideas off each other, and I took some time out to join one of these groups during my stay here. It’s always a lot of fun meeting other writers and there were a few familiar faces too! Plus, it was good to be able to meet with some people. I was the only person staying at the retreat cabins that week and it had been getting a little lonely sitting in my cabin, especially at night. It was nice then to sip some wine and have a chat with some people!
All in all, I spent two nights at the KSP Centre and I managed to reach all my goals for my stay – I’m finished with the main bulk of my editing work and also finished reading my book! It was an absolute luxury having a few days off to do nothing but read and write, knowing there would be no distractions or obligations to tear me away from my two favourite pastimes. It was a wonderful and really productive time. I really enjoyed my stay at the centre and now that I know what it’s like, I can’t wait to be back again so I can make the most of my next writer’s retreat.
Soon, I’ll share some of my tips for making the most out of a stay at a writer’s retreat. In the meantime, though, check out my tips for a DIY writer’s retreat here. Happy writing!