Writers’ retreats offer authors an opportunity to get away from daily concerns for weeks and focus on their writing. They come in many forms, some in faraway locales, others, closer to home. Long-time workshop leader Solveig Eggerz, who has led workshops as a visiting writer at the Anam Cara retreat in Ireland, shares her interview with director Sue Booth-Forbes.
Last summer I spent one week teaching a memoir class at Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat on the Beara Peninsula and another week doing my own writing. In this beautiful setting of blue ocean, green meadows, and purple wild rhododendrons, my restless urban world receded and the writing I’d struggled with back home flowed. Having experienced this miracle of unleashed creativity, I was curious to learn about the origins of Anam Cara. In an interview, Anam Cara’s director, Sue Booth-Forbes, who originally hails from Utah, describes Anam Cara as her dream realized. Back in 1997, she was working at a stressful job in Boston and ready to make some changes in her life.
What inspired you to found Anam Cara?
In August 1997, I decided to spend a month in a thatched cottage overlooking Galway Bay in Connemara, Ireland, with two longtime writer friends. We organized our days around our own writing. I hired a horse for the month and learned the skills necessary to run the beautiful cottage—building turf fires, picking and preparing our huge harvest of blackberries, using stones from the strand to cook Kansas-style barbecued ribs.
How did that experience impact your own writing?
We all found that the rhythm of life and nature in Connemara supported our writing and our souls. Our days there became the model for Anam Cara. I discovered that if I had a place where I could slow down inside—enough to hear my own voice—I could do my best creative work. My daughter Maren and I spent the first week of December 1997 buying Anam Cara, which means “soul friend,” named in the hope that it would house many, including myself, who would become soul friends to themselves and to each other. By June 1998, I had moved in and had begun recreating for others what I had experienced.
How did you choose the house for Anam Cara?
Claudia Harris, a writer and English professor, who ten years before had introduced me to her beloved Ireland, came to West Cork. Claudia saw a "For Sale" sign on a house with a lovely view. She had visited us in Connemara and knew that she was seeing here what I had described to her as what I was seeking. That house is now this retreat and my home.
Over 400 books fill the alumni shelves and art work covers the walls at Anam Cara. Can you talk about the origin of these works?
The books are written by writers-in-residence, the art created by artists-in-residence, the end products of people pursuing their passion, honing their skills, and giving themselves permission and time to retreat from the dailiness of their lives. These include Jhumpa Lahiri, Billy Collins, Leanne O'Sullivan, Alex Barclay, and nearly 1,000 other creative people, who found that working at Anam Cara supported their producing their best work. One of the first writers to come to Anam Cara said that the peace of Anam Cara and of Beara made it possible to quiet down inside and hear her own voice.
What would you say to writers and artists planning a retreat at Anam Cara?
Come focused on your work and replace any expectations with your good intentions for your time on retreat. The best part of being Anam Cara's director is getting to know the writers- and artists-in-residence and their work. They have taught me much about the creative process. Your genre or medium may be similar to someone else's, but your approach and creative process are always unique and inspirational. My aim is to provide a space for you, as you work with your creative gifts, that will help you recognize the "soul friend" in yourself, in your work, and in others.
To contact Sue Booth-Forbes at Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat, http://www.anamcararetreat.com
Solveig Eggerz is the author of the award-winning novel Seal Woman. Her writing has appeared in The Northern Virginia Review, Palo Alto Review, Lincoln Review, Midstream, Issues, The Journal of the Baltimore Writers’ Alliance, The Christian Century, and Open Windows: An Anthology. She holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature with a focus on medieval English, German, and Scandinavian works.