THE SISTERS' SONG is OUT NOW from Allen and Unwin.
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So I’ve returned home from Varuna, a writers’ house in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains of NSW. I’ve spent time at Varuna before (see here and here), back in 2014 when I was the recipient of a residential fellowship, so I knew it was exactly what I needed at this point in my manuscript—uninterrupted time to write. Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint.

Varuna is a majestic property adjacent to the Three Sisters’ National Park. It was the home of Eleanor Dark, an Australian writer, and is now run by a foundation named in her honour. The house was donated to the Australian writing community by Mick Dark, Eleanor’s son, about thirty years ago. Since then, each year hundreds of writers have penned thousands of words under its roof.

When I stayed in 2014, the gift of two weeks away from home to write felt indulgent. I was early in my writing career and my children were much younger. Two weeks without worrying about cooking and laundry and school runs and extra-curricular activities was like entering an alien universe. It took me about a week to shake it all off, and even then I remember getting voicemails about rescheduling violin lessons and organising the music raffle.

It wasn’t like that this time. My kids are older and I didn’t feel so guilty about leaving them, and writing is now my career, so it felt more necessary than indulgent.

I’ve been trying to describe the week I’ve had and it’s impossible without using superlatives such as amazing, brilliant and wonderful!

Varuna differs from a lot of other retreats in that at any one time there are five writers in residence. Everyone does their own thing during the day, but comes together in the evenings to share a meal and talk. In my opinion, this time with other writers is as valuable as the time alone.

It’s not just the writing and writers, but being in the Blue Mountains and having the national park—the Three Sisters, the ochre rocks, the silver waterfalls and the deep gorges—on your doorstep helps, too.

Then there are the gardens, including the magnificent Liquid Amber tree outside the kitchen that’s currently dressed in its autumn colours and casting a reddish hue over the whole backyard.

There’s also the majesty of the house itself. It’s grand, without being pompous. Old but not aged. Quiet but not silent. The décor makes it feel as if time has stood still, yet, while there, hours pass in what feels like a few seconds.

The rooms are cosy due to their new heaters, and the sun coming through the window warms the room while you work. Each day, I watched the light and shadows shift as the sun made its way across the sky.

And there’s the separation of your sleeping and writing quarters, and the sheer, seemingly weightless, curtain that covers the window and mutes the light and makes the bedroom soft and inviting.

But best of all were the other four courageous, brilliant and wonderful women writers with whom I spent the week. They all have amazing stories, not just the ones they’re writing but the ones they’re living, too. We got along so well that when I left, the only thing that kept me buoyant was knowing we’re already planning another retreat, to write and tell stories together again.

As always, I’ve returned from this writing retreat renewed and replenished. Varuna gave me time to write and, with nature on my doorstep and solitude without loneliness, it was as close to perfection as a writing retreat can get.

I’ve had a blessed week and I’m deeply thankful.

(Click on the photos for larger view.)

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