I spent the first week of October 2010 at an Arvon retreat at Lumb Bank. I was there to work on fashioning a manuscript from the raw material of a blog, something I started to cheer myself up a year and a half earlier when I got sick and had to spend a few weeks in bed. At the time I, a Californian, was living in the Cotswolds and felt spoiled for leaving one rural idyll to go write in another. But Yorkshire had the advantage of being distraction-free: there was no television, no Internet, no husband. It was an untutored retreat so there wasn’t even a writing class to use as a temptingly legitimate excuse to keep me from my goal.
There were, however, several rooms in which to write that I could claim as my own. Early in the week I wrote mostly at the desk in my welcomingly sparse bedroom. Later I moved to the library where I spread out a printed draft on the big table, rearranging chapters like a jigsaw puzzle. On the last night, my fellow writers and I took root in the sitting room where we read the fruits of the week’s labors aloud to each other.
Of course I still found my distractions, mostly in the late afternoons in the form of the disarming number of literary and artistic links packed into a tidy radius of Lumb Bank and starting with the fact that it was once the home of Ted Hughes. Half a mile away in Heptonstall, Sylvia Plath is buried in the church cemetery. Having been made aware of this legacy ahead of the retreat, I read The Bell Jar. I became a fan on page one with the phrase “fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway.” I did not, however, feel moved to leave a pen in the plastic jar on her grave as some other fans had. (I have felt strange about visiting the graves of the famous ever since the time I visited Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris and found it littered with half-empty liquor bottles. Pens, on balance, are less depressing.) Nearby, Hebden Bridge is packed with independent bookstores, coffee shops, galleries and retailers selling Fair Trade organic cotton. It was pleasantly confusing for this American, as if a slice of Seattle retail had been airdropped into West Yorkshire.
Despite these distractions—perhaps better thought of as inspirations—I left Lumb Bank that week with something I could plausibly call a first draft of a manuscript. It took several more years, but that manuscript has finally become a book, Americashire: A Field Guide to a Marriage (She Writes Press, May 2013), in which I chronicle my decision to give up city life for the bucolic pleasures of the British countryside. The book is about the Cotswolds, but it was the bucolic pleasures of Yorkshire and Lumb Bank where it really took shape.
JENNIFER RICHARDSON is the author of Americashire: A Field Guide to a Marriage, the 2013 Indie Reader Discovery Award winner for travel writing. Between 29-31 August, you can downloadthe book for FREE. Find Jennifer online at: