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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

‘This life I relish, and secure the next.’

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Yeah, sorry, I fell off the map again. I was re-revising a novel (and now it’s ready to go out!!!) More on that soon, hopefully.

And now, without further ado: a proper Hawthornden post.

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Hawthornden Castle was the home of the poet William Drummond (1585-1649). (You’d assume these lines are his, but they’ve actually been attributed to a poet called Young.) Drummond once invited Ben Jonson up for a visit, and he walked all the way from London! The poet laureate’s visit is well documented. Apparently he wore out his welcome, but was happily oblivious to the fact that Drummond no longer considered him a friend. Yikes.

Hawthornden is splendidly situated on a crag overlooking the River North Esk. The oldest part of the castle is a ruined tower that dates from the 15th century (there’s now a small library housed in the ground floor); the greater part of the castle dates from the 17th century, when William Drummond’s father acquired it. Thanks to Mrs. Heinz, it’s been a writers’ retreat since the early 1980s. Residencies last four weeks, and there are six writers there at a time. Hamish, the administrator, is effectively the host, making sure everything (from the ink cartridges in the printer to the happy vegan food on my plate) runs smoothly.

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I can’t possibly overstate what this residency meant to me. I needed the time, I needed the space, I needed the solitude and the glorious communion with nature, and I got all this “in spades” by the grace of Mrs. Heinz and the Hawthornden admissions panel. They gave me the chance to make my own magic.

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The week before my residency began I also thanked William Drummond “in person.” This portrait is on display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

Considering the following item on the application form, I hadn’t expected to dine like a queen (and hey, I would have been totally cool with eating only boiled vegetables for dinner, for an opportunity like this!)…

 

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…so I was delighted to find that the household staff had stocked the fridge with soy mince crumbles, soy cheese and almond milk for my arrival. (I get teary just thinking about it. THEY ARE SO AWESOME.) Ally is a fantastic chef–he cooked amazing vegan versions of every dinner for me: “shepherd’s pie,” veggie risotto, DIVINE curry, and so on. I always got dessert, too–fresh fruit and lemon sorbet or mango or chocolate soy yogurt. So I ate like a queen after all.

I found the castle cozy, not spooky at all, and my fellows were absolutely lovely. I’d said to myself as I was looking ahead to the residency, “everyone there WILL be nice and friendly,” and they totally were. I even got to connect with Kirsty (@kirstylogan) ahead of time on Twitter.

(Oh, and I was the only American, which was very fun.)

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Here was my favorite spot to read and dream–the “summer library” off the drawing room, with a gorgeous view over the ravine. It’s cold in there, so I brought in a blanket, hat and scarf and got cozy on the window seat. I loved to come down again around 4:30 and watch the dusk settle over the valley. The trees in that ravine are the most majestic living things I have ever seen (and I have seen sequoias!)

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I would get up around 9 and come down for breakfast (porridge with brown sugar and almond or coconut milk, wheat bread with sunflower spread, coffee and orange juice). Tendai and Helena are early (or at least earlier) risers, but I pretty much always got to have breakfast with Melanie, Kirsty, and Colin. I could never manage to get myself up earlier so I could meditate first thing, so I’d come back up to my room and take my twenty minutes of quiet time before I began to work.

Oh, and speaking of quiet time–there is absolutely no internet at the castle, so you’d pretty much have to walk to the nearest public library (or the Rosslyn Chapel cafe, which has WiFi) if you wanted to get online. I didn’t use the internet for TWO WHOLE WEEKS and it was amazing how much I enjoyed the breather. So much less noise in my head, you know?

I reread and I cut and I re-outlined. I wrote HARD and it was so, so satisfying. I didn’t really give myself any days off, and yet I always felt totally rested.

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Lunch arrived in a Fortnum & Mason basket: some sort of delicious vegetable soup (like pea and mint, lentil, or tomato basil), a peanut butter sandwich on seeded wheat bread, and carrot sticks with hummus. (That’s just what I wanted every day–you can order pretty much whatever you want for a sandwich and fruit.) On extra-specially lucky days I got soy cheese cut into sticks! (Mary and Georgina, I love you!)

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The 17th-century wellhead just outside the castle gate.

I always went for an afternoon walk (saving my peanut butter sandwich to have with tea afterward), though the break time and length depended on how the work was going that day. Most of the time I just did the fifteen-minute loop below the castle because I was anxious to get back to my desk. I went on longer walks in the last two weeks, once I knew I’d be making my goal for the residency (i.e., finishing the draft).

In the evenings before dinner, I practiced yoga either with Melanie in the drawing room or on my own in my bedroom. (I’m doing yoga every day now. I feel my arm muscles getting stronger, and I’m more flexible than ever.)

We came down for dinner at 7pm, and could always expect a lively conversation along with the meal. (There’s a separate dining room for Sundays, with a proper fire in the grate. There used to be open fires in every room, but the fire department nixed that practice.)

After dessert Hamish would say, “Shall we go upstairs?” and we’d spend an hour or two in the drawing room chatting, playing a board game, or reading in companionable silence. Then, before bedtime, I might take a nice long soak in the enormous old bathtub on the writers’ floor (which, interestingly, was built for servants’ quarters in the 19th century).

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Two of our Sundays at Hawthornden Kirsty, Melanie, and I (plus Colin the first Sunday) attended Sunday service at Rosslyn Chapel (for the architecture, history, and atmosphere, I assure you), then walked back to the castle (Hamish dropped us off). I have photos from the first time I visited the chapel back in February 2011 that I never got around to blogging, so I’ll tell you more in a future post. I snapped these icicles as we were walking home.

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Mint in the library conservatory.

Drummond was engaged to a young, beautiful and accomplished lady, daughter of Cunninghame of Barnes. The day was fixed for the wedding. She died on its very eve. Such a blow to a tender and loving heart must have been terrible in the extreme. We need not wonder that the disconsolate and bereaved bridegroom left Hawthornden for some years, and travelled to distant climes and amid other scenes…

–from The Illustrated Guide to
Rosslyn Chapel and Castle,
Hawthornden, &c., by the
Rev. John Thompson (1897)

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I browsed through this book. I know you will find this difficult to believe, but it is not as interesting as it looks.

According to Reverend Thompson, the well in the courtyard is more than fifty feet deep (‘with about 4 ft. of water when I measured it on 31st March, 1892.’) Two views, from above…

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…and below. (Taken on our tour of the caves and dungeon.)

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fairy butter

(An excerpt from Susanna MacIver’s Cookery and Pastry, 1789. Once I was finished with my rewrite I got to read interesting old books as research for my NEW novel.)

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In the last days of our residency I joked about locking myself in Colin’s humongous wardrobe so I wouldn’t have to leave. Kirsty made each of us flash fiction zines as a going-away gift. We passed many contented evenings in this drawing room! (Also, each night of our last week, one of us would read from our work in progress. That was such a treat.)

There are so many things I’m leaving out–weird things, wonderful things, things I’m not able to put words around just yet. It really was a magical period in my life, and I’ll always be grateful to everyone at Hawthornden for that gift.

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My friends and fellows: Tendai, Kirsty, Melanie, Helena, and Colin. (Photo thanks to Melanie and Mama Logan.)

I have even more photos I want to share with you, so there will be another post (a “virtual castle walk”) after this one!

Also, if you are interested in applying to Hawthornden (snail mail only, annual deadline June 30th), leave me a comment with your email address and I’ll get back to you with the details. (You could phone or write, the contact details are online, but they do have an email address.)

* * *
Previous Hawthornden posts:

Scotland 2013.

Productivity Forecast.

‘First I was born; and now this.’

Flashwrite #10: Make Your Own Ecstasy.

7 Comments to ‘This life I relish, and secure the next.’

  1. annebweil's Gravatar annebweil
    March 8, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    wonderful recap Camille. So glad it was a fabulous experience for you. It sounds so lovely and from another time.

  2. crazyliberalkate's Gravatar crazyliberalkate
    March 12, 2013 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    I cannot believe they have so much wonderful food. It sounds like they really went above and beyond!
    Although I’m slightly offended by the Sequoia comment, it does look ridiculously magical :)
    I hope you keep in touch with your new friends!
    I do not believe that the History of Orgies is not exciting 😉

  3. Melanie's Gravatar Melanie
    October 9, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Hi Camille, I followed a link to this on Twitter this morning and am now convinced that I need to apply to Hawthornden! I found their post address and plan to write them for an application form, but please e-mail me if you have any other details about the application process, or if you think there’s a better way to get the form than through the post. Thanks!

  4. meg's Gravatar meg
    February 26, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Hi Camille! Greetings from a fellow writer in Boston! Thanks for this report and your willingness to share deets on how to apply. I’d be grateful for any insight. I too have found their snail mail and could write to request an app…but is there a more efficient way? I’d also love to know how long it took to get a response to your application, whether they have ongoing monthly residencies or if the property is only used for residencies for one month of the year (trying to spec out the odds!)…and to what extent you can leave the property! Everything Ive read gives me the sense excursions are frowned upon! Thanks and cheers, Meg

  5. March 5, 2016 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Hi Camille
    I would dearly like to apply – especially after reading this great post. Any info on the application process would be wonderful. Thanks!

  6. Joy's Gravatar Joy
    August 1, 2016 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Hi Camille!

    That looks really amazing. I’m actually encouraged to apply based on your recap alone. Would love to get some information regarding the application process in my email (vjcampilan@gmail.com), if you’ve got the time. All the best for your writing projects!

  7. Christopher's Gravatar Christopher
    June 25, 2017 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    Hi! This sounds wonderful and I’m inspired to write and to apply!
    Could you provide me with any information regarding the application process. My email is chrisjamesllego@gmail.com
    Thank you and best of luck with your writing!

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.
Photo by Anne Weil