It has been snowing in Banff for the last three days and Toronto has suffered an ice storm with pictures in the press of a landscape that ice has rendered unrecognisable. It has truly been writing weather. No sunshine, or trekking, or town visits, or taking the gondola to the mountain top, we have all been huddled in our various spaces dotting round campus furiously drafting.
The space I have landed in, or splurged across if you could see it, is the Painter House. I have a small room at the top of an entire house dedicated to playwrights, that overlooks trees, snow and occasionally nonchalant deer. We have been warned against elk (which intermittently invade campus and are enormous), cougars and bears. There are many apocryphal tales doing the rounds of sightings, close encounters, injury and of course, a fatal encounter with a big cat. But all we see outside of our windows at the house are serene large deer who know how to mosey.
I am not sure how to do justice in this blog to the alchemy that happens in this special place. I don’t want to go all mystical on you, or turn in a blog full of purple prose, but Banff is simply extraordinary.
Yes, it is beautiful, cocooned in a nest of soaring peaks, big sky and endless forest. The centre itself has been renovated and has exceptional facilities – we are of course enjoying great food, a bar with a view straight out of a Bond movie and a swimming pool with a glass roof so you can swim late and watch the stars as you execute a rather lazy and imprecise back stroke (that’s me then).
But the alchemy for me begins with time… I am here to write. In my own way. In my own time. In my own space. I am removed from my life in Bristol and the associated time pressures of fitting in teaching, running Raucous, delivering workshops, research projects, meetings and funding applications.
We have two dramaturges on hand when and if we need to talk through any struggles we may have with the play. We have a company of actors who will read and help devise work with us. In return we have one purpose, one role – that of writing a new play.
I also have a cohort of amazing, funny, friendly, talented playwrights from across the world who are generous in spirit, tell great stories and who are endlessly curious as to who you are as a writer and a person.
There is nowhere like this in the UK. A place, in an inspiring landscape, that provides a concentrated time to simply be a writer with no pressures, no deadlines, no measurable outcomes. This morning I listened to an extraordinary reading of Marjorie Chan’s new play, I am now sitting looking at the mountains and writing this blog, I will have lunch with other writers to discuss our morning’s work, then I will walk through the forest for 5 minutes until I reach my writing retreat. I will holler out for the others as I slip my shoes off at the door and find out who is in residence today and then I will settle down and redraft the work I did yesterday. I will work until I am done. This immersion is an extraordinary gift.
Winning a Bruntwood judge’s prize was…. well it still renders me speechless. So this offer of coming away to Banff so soon after being awarded the prize to work on Plow was a gift that I didn’t expect. Being in this creative and stunning environment has lifted my confidence as a writer, the script as a piece of storytelling and my bravery in trying out new routes through the play.
So now how do we get one of these in the UK?