I have never before been away for two weeks to an artists’ residence or colony, just to write and work to my heart’s content, but I can really recommend Fundacion Valparaiso if this is something you feel inclined to do. The formula, to my mind, is perfect: each artist has their own large studio/room (if you are a visual artist you get both), there is a terraced garden of almond, citrus and olive trees – with views across this desert-like part of Andalucia, a good library, and plenty of walks (but no nearby distractions apart from the hilltop town of Mojácar). You make your own breakfast, help yourself to lunch which is left out between 1 and 4 pm, and then meet your fellow residents for a glass of wine before dinner at 8 pm. For the rest, you do what you want.
The house was converted from an old olive press and the Foundation established by Paul and Beatrice Beckett in 1990. They had vision and the place is possessed of a calm and focussed energy that I found nourishing from day one. Recently, the Foundation was closed for a couple of years while it was restructured, and currently it takes only four artists at a time rather than eight, and whereas before the artists came for free, now you have to pay your way, though at a heavily subsidised rate. My fortnight is working out at 35 euros per day, with all food (which is delicious and home-cooked and plenty of it) and wine and everything else included.
As a young child I used to stand on my head to gain perspective, to find new ways of seeing the world. I’ve been doing that here (metaphorically only!) – trying some things I haven’t done before or haven’t done for a while, changing my habits, turning right instead of left at each crossroads, defying my own tried and trusted intuition. It’s refreshing. I’ve also re-embraced the discipline of keeping a reflective journal (I used to do this and haven’t for a year or three) and for this I have enjoyed working with Philip Cowell’s wise handbook, Keeping a Journal (Sheldon Press, 2016).
I wanted these two weeks to be mainly about recalibrating, reading, catching up with myself and my projects after a humdinger of a year in 2016 when I never seemed to have more than a few hours to focus on any one thing. I’m so happy and grateful that this residency has proved to be both restorative and productive. I’ve compiled the first draft of a completely new and extended version of Breastless, programmed for publication in 2018; I’ve worked on the editing/shaping of my next poetry collection, Them; I’ve kept up with the final stages of preparing Springlines for press (due out with Little Toller in a few weeks) and I’ve carried on by email all those things that should and must be carried on. Other things are waiting until my return on the 14th February!
I’ve long had an ambition to be away from England for part of February, and I can report that the doses of sunshine, the regular walks and finding objects along the way (that skull belonged to a fox), the company of other artists (see photo below) – all these treats have been a tonic. I have even swum once in an azure Mediterranean – it was quite a lot warmer than the North Sea was in November. And I haven’t for one moment missed shopping or cooking.
I might just try to come back, some other February – if the Foundation will have me, if I can get away.