“Are you one of the writers?”

I found Casa Ana while googling “writing retreats” “Spain” last fall. Anne holds 2-week writing retreats 3 times a year usually in the off seasons.

I deliberately planned to arrive one week earlier to get myself settled, oriented, and then down to work. During this 1st week with 3 other guests and 2 volunteers at Casa Ana, we’ve had occasion to share walks, talk, snacks and the occasional meal together. And over that time, the topics of writing and retreats in general have been recurring ones. We’ve all had to respond several times to the question, “Are you a writer?” or “Are you one of the writers doing the retreat?” Turns out there are quite a few different ways to answer that question.

Meanwhile here in our neighbourhoods of Mecina and Ferreirola, I’ve also encountered quite a number of ‘locals’ who are expats from assorted English speaking countries including, among others, England, Ireland and Australia. One gets highly tuned to noticing the sounds of ‘English’ amidst the musical high-speed Spanish cafe talk. One of my evenings at Carlos’ restaurant, I ended up in an extended conversation with one such expat family, who live just around the corner from Casa Ana. When asked where I was staying, the rapid follow-up question was of course, “Are you one of the writers?” My reply, once again, “I’m a writer of sorts – I’m here to write academic articles, not fiction or poetry like the other writers coming here next week!” Well, despite the polite (but uhmmm … eager-to-get-past-this-topic) look in their eyes when I answered the inevitable next question (“And what subject do you write about?”;-) turns out I was ‘writer enough’ for an invitation to what turned out to be quite an exclusive local event held here last Monday evening.

A group of 8-10 ‘locals’ (the majority expats of varied stripes) led by Clem Cairns of Fish Publishing make up the Ferreirola Writers Group, and have been meeting every Monday evening for the past year. This week they met for the first time, in the new Casa Ana ‘sitting room’ and I was delighted to be invited. That’s what happens when you eat at Carlos’ restaurant 4 times in 6 days!

We began more or less on time around 6:00 p.m. I realized as I sat down that I had already seen or met at least 3 of the group members during my first few days here in La Alpujarra. As we went around the circle so I could be introduced, almost to a person, each person began by saying, “I’m [insert name] but I’m not a ‘real’ writer, I’m just doing this for fun.”

Casa-Ana-SittingRoom1 Casa-Ana-SittingRoom2 Clem (who is some kind of ‘real’ writer/publisher) then led us through 3 timed writing exercises – and after each one we went around the circle and shared what we had come up with. The only group rule according to Clem, is that no one is permitted to ‘apologize’ for any reason, for their contribution! The exercises were 1) write a prose story based on a photo passed around 2) write a brief poem using the line, “I can’t remember” and 3) write a prose story about “the wrong suitcase”.

I had forgotten how wonderful and inspiring it is to write and to share work in a trusting group. As each person read their work aloud for each exercise, the room was perfectly still, interrupted only by occasional laughter or gasps as we responded to the twists and turns of the stories and poems being read! And Clem would comment briefly and always positively on some aspect of each person’s effort. We adjourned at 8:00 p.m. [some of us heading back to Carlos for dinner and a ‘jar’], knowing each other a little better, feeling much more ‘at home’ at Casa Ana, with a little more encouragement for each of us, and to my mind at least, all of us clearly identifying in our own ways as ‘writers’.

Thank you, members of the Ferreirola Writing Group, for trusting me enough to join you and for sharing your writerly selves with me! I was also surprised and a bit inspired by the poem I wrote, so I’m sharing it here – the entirely spontaneous (10 minute) version, dedicated to my dear Dad, and Père, Louis Peter Cavanagh!


Polished silver,
     ruby red cream and suger dishes
       Uncle Frank's model T
He always stopped mid-breath
"What was I saying?"
London bombings gave me
     my private's stripe
Wilf, well, he met some girls
     Ida, I think it was
Just the basics - sardines and ham
        always good for a couple of cigarettes
Mum was delivering Franny
           cows crossing fields, eggs to be gathered
"What was I saying?"
1932 it was, when we left the farm for Wellington Street
              when Fr. Joe came for tea
"What year was it?"
I can't remember.

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