Sunday, 23 January 2011

One gigantic oyster, infinite ways to eat it

Limitations can be extremely helpful when it comes to both creativity and decision-making. Starting to create anything with no structure, or no leading idea or collection of them, is hard; decisions when there is nothing to narrow down the choices is even harder.

The only thing resembling a resolution for me this year was that I would aim to persuade my employers to give me a month’s unpaid leave. This is, astonishingly, looking more likely to happen than not. I don’t know when I’ll get it yet, if indeed I do, but I do know how I want to use it. I want to be far away, in a warm place, writing as much as possible. The problem – and I admit it’s a very pleasant problem to have – is deciding where.

It’s been a long time now since I’ve travelled outside of Europe. I’m discounting short trips to New York and Montreal, since both felt peculiarly familiar to a Londoner, and one who has spent a lot of time both speaking French and playing le flaneur in Paris and at home. Even in Europe, I haven’t been away for more than 2 weeks and then always moving around, not stopping and growing accustomed to a place.

What I am craving is psychological and geographical distance from the current pattern of life. I’ve tried to look at it from afar without actually going anywhere, but I can’t sustain the trick of perspective long enough to be able to make any judgements about what I see.

It’s not just life I want to see from a different angle. I know that repetition and familiarity in life can start to be reflected in my thought patterns, and therefore in my writing. Often on a creative writing course it is not just the ideas and words floating about that jolt me into productivity, but the contrast in environment. I want a big jolt, and to be able to hang around long enough to reap the creative benefits.

Part of me thinks that only the alien will do this. Having inherited a bundle of air miles, the alien world is my oyster; I should throw a dart at my National Geographic map (once I’ve plastered over Europe with something impermeable) and commit to whatever it throws back at me.

I know from experience that there’s nothing like living in a hammock in a jungle somewhere for figuring out what you think about things, in writing and in life, even if it’s only to conclude that actually, the public transport infrastructure of Britain is not so bad. On the other hand, I know from experience that there’s nothing like living in sweat-soaked, mosquito-tortured skin for halting the writing process altogether, at least for me. I want to be comfortable, relaxed, able to sit at a table, with access to safe ice for the cocktail at my elbow, writing on paper that is neither damp nor stinking of deet.

So, which bits of the oyster are looking juiciest? I still haven’t the faintest idea. I fear deeply the no-research-just-do-it route, but also collapse in a heap just thinking about the amount of research I’d have to do in order to feel I’d made the best possible choice. Instead I’m going to play some tricks on myself, and invent some complex combination of criteria and elimination processes that will make it feel as though I’m not making one decision at all.

So that I can ultimately hold someone else responsible for where I end up, I am gathering recommendations for parts of the world that would make a temperate retreat for a lone female writer, perhaps in May, and where nature, quiet and friendly people will keep me sane and productive. Tell me where to go!


  1. Turkey - Preferably Eastern Turkey and Capadocia too.

    Would you allow Crete? Charnia is nice, and enough hills to get away to. Rory Maclean went there - read his Flying For Icarus.

    The States - Southern US; Mark Twain country.

    Costs Rica - you could go and visit the Fly!

  2. Zoe,

    It is beautiful here today...I think you've hit on why I stopped writing--routine. I've not been away for a very long time. My life has changed so much from one who would go at the drop of a hat...

    Perhaps you could do a housing swap with someone for a bit...

    It will be interesting to see what you finally choose.

  3. Try Omotepe in Nicaragua...sounds as if it might work but you'd better check on the availability of cocktails...that wasn't among my criteria at the time of visiting.

    Ritzier resorts around San Juan del Sur in Nica as well where cocktails will pose no problem at all.

    Costa Rica? Osa peninsular is wonderful...but the lodging is super expensive...or you could try the San Vito area near the Wilson botanical Gardens....

    I'd plump for Omotepe, myself...