One evening in 2017, I was sitting around a table with two friends, Dawn Geddes and Elizabeth Frattaroli. Our drinks remained untouched, tension was etched on our faces. We were trying to come up with a name for our new venture, and it was proving trickier than we’d ever imagined. We were on the verge of extending a hand to fellow writers, to offer them a retreat away from everyday life, from the domestic routine which kills creativity. Our vision was that they would be able to write, unhindered, in a glorious setting. We had the idea, the venue, the enthusiasm- but no name.
The name had to be catchy and writing-related. Perhaps even reflecting the rich literary heritage of Angus, where the retreats would be held, and celebrating the idea that, for one weekend at least, the clock would be stopped. We even had a tagline, ‘Press pause in the heart of Angus.’!
Our thoughts turned to local authors- Violet Jacob, of course, from the House of Dun -but what about, arguably, the most famous writer in the world, who just happened to have been born in a tiny cottage at the foot of the Angus Glens? J. M. Barrie. Maybe Peter Pan might have a solution to our problem…
Unless you’re some kind of Hemingway figure, locked in your study eight hours a day while your wife micro-manages your life, you, the average writer, are going to be time-poor. Everything will crowd in to take precedence over your work-in-progress: kids, shopping, cleaning, demanding relatives. What is the writer’s greatest enemy? The snap of the clock at their heels. So perhaps this quote might fit?
“I suppose it’s like the ticking crocodile, isn’t it? Time is chasing after all of us.” ~ J .M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Sure, it’s about mortality rather than creative time, but surely the reason why we write is to get those words out while we still can? Perfect.
Chasing Time Writing Retreats finally had a name!
In the last ten days, I’ve been learning a lot more about Barrie the celebrated author, with visits to Moat Brae, Dumfries, and his birthplace in Kirriemuir, preserved and maintained by the National Trust for Scotland. I’ve even had the chance to compare crocodiles!
Elizabeth and Justin Davies, joint co-ordinators of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in south east Scotland, kindly invited me along on their group visit to the enchanting Moat Brae, the house which is thought to have inspired Peter Pan and was a favourite haunt of J.M.Barrie during his schooldays.
Now a centre for children’s literature and storytelling, the once-derelict property has been extensively and sensitively restored by the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust. Moat Brae was designed by Walter Newall for a local solicitor, Robert Threshie in 1823. The house and garden were in private ownership from 1823 to 1914. The house then became a nursing home which closed in 1997. Thereafter it fell into disrepair and was subsequently purchased by a local housing association. In August 2009, Moat Brae House was due to be demolished to make way for new social housing.At the eleventh hour, it has been saved for the nation and is well worth a visit.
My other jaunt this week was to one of my favourite National Trust for Scotland properties (next to Barry Mill, of course!). Barrie’s Birthplace is a delightful weaver’s cottage tucked away in the centre of Kirriemuir, Angus.
Charmingly preserved, you can see lots of memorabilia connected with the author, and some delightful quotes and photographs. Barrie returned to the cottage before his death in 1937, to have one last look at his old bedroom. The then owner was surprised but delighted to welcome him in to his old home and a poignant photograph commemorates the visit.
The old washhouse and outbuildings where the young Jamie staged plays for his friends still survive, and the garden is undergoing a makeover.
The ‘ticking crocodile’ is not to be missed!