She adds: “There’s something about being surrounded by other people who are working too; something about the camaraderie of knowing we are all trying to do something that is often very difficult and very lonely. Retreats — or at least the ones I’ve been on — are an amazing gift. They’re time out from the pressures of one’s ordinary day, and they offer the opportunity to dive headlong into a writing project, and give it total and unwavering attention. Retreats are often where the good writing happens, or at least where the foundation work occurs.”
Writers can, of course, create their own retreats. Damon Galgut began visiting India almost 20 years ago with the intention to write: he had very little money at the time, and could make it stretch a long way there.
“My life in Cape Town is very interrupted a lot of the time, and by going to India, where I had no phone and knew nobody, it was a way of just retreating for six months from the world and knowing that I could use my time in an entirely selfish way,” he says. Galgut also found being on the other side of the world helpful when writing The Good Doctor and The Impostor — both of which deal with the complex aftermath of South Africa’s transition to democracy. “In theory, you can write anywhere. Maybe real writers write anywhere.... I just happened to find it psychologically easing to look at South Africa from the outside, or from a long way off,” he says.
Most writing retreats are in Europe and North America, and there are precious few opportunities for African writers, although they are often eligible to apply for overseas residencies. It’s my dream to one day change that by creating South Africa’s first dedicated writers’ colony — a place rich with space and silence where this continent’s authors can write, read, and reflect. I just need to pen a couple of bestsellers first.