Farewell to Annaghmakerrig

My month-long writing retreat at the beautiful Tyrone Guthrie Centre has come to an end. This morning I boarded a bus, along with fellow Australian, Ross Donlon,(an amazing poet by the way!) and took a bus to Dublin. I’m writing this post in the shadow of Christchurch Cathedral, one of Dublin’s greatest landmarks, built after the arrival of Christianity in the 13th century

It’s hard to put into words the effect of my stay at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. On the writing front, I added 25,000 words to my manuscript. Not a huge jump in word count, but the dedicated time available to just mull, has set the novel on firm foundations. I know where I’m heading. The rest will be easy. What was more remarkable, and heartwarming, was the way the people of Annaghmakerrig embraced me, and I them. There was a kind of unbridled joy and enthusiasm about the place – a daily celebration of the creative human spirit. It was paradise, and I’ve made friendships that I hope might last a lifetime. There’s nothing wrong with listening to Irish accents all day either!

First dayBut it was time to leave my Shangri-la. Time to leave Tyrone Guthrie, that mystical, harmonious artist retreat isolated from the outside world. I hope one day I’ll be back. Here are two photos of the same magnificent oak tree that stood outside my window.



Last dayOne photo was taken on my arrival, and the other today. The tree is a metaphor for my time there, my imagination unfurling along with the leaves.

Tell Me About Yourself Award!

My dear fellow blogger, acflory from Meeka’s Mind, has most graciously nominated me for the ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ blog award. Thank you acflory! Now, according to the rules of these awards, I must first display the award logo on my blog. Check. Then I must write seven things about myself that I haven’t revealed before. Hmm … okay. Then I have to nominate seven other bloggers for the same award. That bit will be easy. So without further ado, here are my seven things.

1. I always thought I was fat when I was young. Now I look back on photos of me and I wonder what I was worried about.

2. I applied to enter the zoo-keeper internship program at the Melbourne Zoo when I was eighteen, and was devastated when I missed out.  I would have made a fabulous zoo-keeper!

3. I love old-fashioned, patterned wall paper.

4. I’m not generally obsessive compulsive, but ever since I was a child, I thought bears would get me if I sat in the bath until the water ran out. I still think that.

5. I’m more of a mountain person than a coast person.

6. Right now is the happiest time of my life.

7. I can trigger myself into conscious dreaming, but don’t do it anymore, because I don’t like the person I turn into when I enter a world of no consequences.

Okay … now for the nominated blogs. Drum roll please!

1.Notes From Olvar Wood. A blog by inspiring writer Inga Simpson, and my absolute favourite nature writing blog

2.The Truth be Told By Kate Rizzetti – A lover of truth and fiction

3. storie by Diane Simonelli – a talented writer and Meanland blogger

4. Sue Healy – craft tips for writers (my only non-Australian. Sorry!)

5. Fleur McDonald – voice of the Australian outback

6. Cathryn Hein – writer, gourmand and horse lover. What’s not to like?

7. Call my Agent – a helpful and anonymous Sydney literary agent. Will she reveal herself?

I’ve had to leave out so many of my favourite blogs. Please forgive me.

The Magical Friesian

The true value and beauty of a retreat like Tyrone Guthrie is in the friendships formed. There is nothing more inspiring than living and working among a group of creative, like-minded people. You get to know a bit about everybody else’s projects. We’ve had readings after dinner. Some of the talented visual artists have invited the rest of us on tours of their studios. I’m like the cat that ate the cream here.

Remarkably for a horse-mad soul like myself, there’s also been a bit of an equine theme rippling through the big house. Lots of people have horses, and the breed of choice seems to be Friesians – those stunning jet-black fairy-tale horses so beloved of film makers. Now I must confess I’ve only ever seen one of these horses in the flesh. He lives in a paddock near my house, back home in Australia. Every time I drive by, I check to see whether he’s there or not. If I’m in luck, and have the time, I pull over and stalker-like, admire the stallion from afar. They really are that charismatic.

Friesians have an ancient and proud history. Their strength and size made them excellent war horses.The Friesian horse is well known for its beauty, shining black coat, luxuriant mane, tail and feathering, and powerful, high-stepping gait. It is also beloved for its easy-going temperament and companionable nature. I had read that whether competing in upper level dressage tests, performing on the carriage driving circuit or just going for a trail ride, these horses quickly become members of the family. The besotted Friesian owners I’ve met here, swear all this is true. One woman described her horse as being ‘like a big Labrador dog’ . Although apparently that magnificent mane and tail can take two hours to shampoo and condition, and the mane must remain almost permanently braided to prevent tangles.

Friesians are natural show horses and have been featured in many movies including “Ladyhawke,” “Mask of Zorro,” “Interview with a Vampire,” “Sense and Sensibility,” Emma,” and “Disney’s-Tall Tales.” Many have credited the 1985 movie Ladyhawke where Michelle Pfeiffer rides the gorgeous Friesian stallion Goliath, as being a major influence on the breed’s popularity. In the 2004 movie Alexander (starring Colin Farrell) an amazing Friesian stallion was selected to play Alexander the Great’s legendary horse Bucephalus.

In my dreams I imagine myself riding one of these magical animals. The image is certainly in keeping with the mythic surroundings of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Despite his size and strength, my dream stallion can dance with the grace of a ballerina. Maybe when I make my fortune I’ll buy one? Or maybe I should just stick to Australian stock horses. Their manes require just one quick comb through, and you’re done. And anyway, I wouldn’t want Sheba getting jealous …

Irish Wildlife – Past and Present

European RobinThe Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig is set on a five hundred acre estate, consisting mainly of coniferous plantation forest (Sitka Spruce) but with some pasture and remnant native woodland as well. There are white swans on the lake (I’m used to black ones!) and swathes of bluebells as far as the eye can see. The wood is very dark, like something out of Macbeth. I’ve seen Red Deer on its edge, but unfortunately have yet to see a badger or pine marten.

I’ve been intrigued to see what wildlife lives here. Birds abound. Species spotted so far include: Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Jackdaw, Rook, Magpie, Common Swift, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Song Thrush, European Robin (Robin Redbreast) and what I think was a Eurasian Kestrel. A little thrush is singing in a tree outside my window as I write this post, and it rivals Australia’s Butcher Bird for the beauty of its song. I haven’t mentioned birds which I commonly see back home as introduced species, such as blackbirds and sparrows. The very first bird I saw at Dublin Airport was disturbingly an Indian Myna, a destructive invasive species worldwide, but thankfully they don’t seem to have reached this far into the Irish countryside.

As I wander about this beautiful estate, watching for wildlife, I am aware of what is missing, almost as much as what is present. Once upon a time this was a vast oak woodland. Grey wolves and brown bears roamed, along with elk, beavers and lynx. Six bird of prey species have gone extinct here, although attempts are being made to reintroduce the Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle and Red Kite into nearby national parks. Only twenty-six land mammal species were ever native to Ireland, because it was isolated from the European mainland by rising sea levels after the last ice age. Many of those that have survived are now under threat from invasive species, habitat loss and illegal hunting. Wherever I go in the world, the presence of our lost creatures seems very real to me. Maybe ghosts haunt more than houses.

Maurice Sendak – In memoriam

Maurice Sendak has died, aged 83. He was arguably the most important children’s book author and artist of the 20th century. According to the New York Times today

‘He wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche.’

His Where The Wild Things Are, published in 1963, is one of the most cherished children’s books of all time … and this is such a charming reading!


Here I am in Ireland, at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, a renowned, creative residential retreat on the shores of beautiful Lake Annaghmakerrig. The magical Victorian Big House, as it’s affectionately known, sleeps eleven people. Over the years, outbuildings and barnyards have been converted into further workspaces and studios, so that there is plenty of space for artists of all kinds. Composers and playwrights, painters and poets, novelists and film makers – they all come together at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. The only rule is that you attend dinner each night in the grand dining room, along with your fellow artists.

I’m on the first floor in a spacious room named after John Jordan. Jordan (1930-88) was a writer, poet, lecturer, broadcaster and man-of-letters in the Dublin of his day. The room is elegance personified, and overlooks the lake. It’s easy to write here, surrounded by so much beauty and history. Unfortunately the first few days of my stay were marred by a very modern problem. Flanagan, my HP Folio Ultrabook bought especially for the trip, packed up on the second day. HP support diagnosed a faulty motherboard over the phone. It was still under warrantty, being only four weeks old and I supposed If I could get it to Dublin, their technicians could repair it. No dice. That apparently would void the warranty, so I have to lug this useless thing back to Australia with me and get it fixed there. Two days writing lost and some frayed nerves, but thanks to Dropbox,  I could retrieve most of my manuscript. I made the six hour round trip into Dublin yesterday to buy a new laptop (Paddy) that I could ill afford. When Flanagan gets fixed I’m selling him. Some false friend he turned out to be. Anybody in the market for a cheap HP Ultrabook still under warranty? They’re great for travelling apparently!

A very talented young painter and photographer, Nina Panagopoulou, joined me on my trip into Dublin yesterday. She wanted to buy paints and canvases. The photo of the lake at the top of this post, and this one of the house, are both hers. Don’t you love the lamp post? Very Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. You certainly meet some gifted people here …

Nina was born in 1984 in Athens. She took drawing and music lessons from an early age, and attended the musical high school of Pallini in Greece, with the piano as her instrument. Then she decided that painting was what she really wanted to do. She studied Fine Arts at the University of Ioannina, and completed successfully her Masters in Fine Arts at the University for the Creative Arts in Kent. Nina has travelled in England, Ireland, France, Italy and Spain and she speaks fluent Greek, French and English. She has participated in exhibitions in Greece and UK. At the moment she is attending a residency in Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland in order to create a series of paintings.