Out of Place – Writers and their retreats…
c. 1300, “a step backward;” late 14c., “act of retiring or withdrawing; military signal for retiring from action or exercise,” from Old French retret, noun use of past participle of retrere “draw back,” from Latin retrahere “draw back, withdraw, call back,” from re- “back” (see re-) + trahere “to draw” (see tract (n.1)). Meaning “place of seclusion” is from early 15c.
Whilst received opinion inevitably considers the idea of retreat as a backward move or regression, we need to reject this reductive military view of the term. It is not simply a case of moving backwards, since this lifts the concept to the purely physical and pragmatic. Far more productively, we need to remember the spiritual and psychological dimension of the term. The hermetic tradition, which includes the poets who retreated into caves in a troglodytic surrender to the creative process, during which stones were piled upon the artist, who would emerge once the poem was made, provides a useful analogy to what is often a difficult process for any writer.
In fact, the cave is not an inappropriate term to use in relation to the rooms in which we write. Wonderfully, the etymological root of ‘cave’ is associated with excavation and ‘digging deep’, something we all seek to do as writers.
Meanwhile, in the bat cave, the nibbed forms of bats in the ice house formed part of our scrawl crawl during Inkwell’s first tutored creative writing retreat at Walcot Hall, aptly titled Out of Place.
From Dylan Thomas in the Boathouse at Laugharne, Seamus Heaney in his attic in Dublin, overlooking the Irish Sea, Will Self in his South London loft, Roald Dahl in his shed, Stephen King in his viewless basement and Virginia Woolf in her bohemian farmhouse, we all need a ‘room of one’s own’ – a space in which to write.