07/11/2012 07:18 GMT | Updated 07/01/2013 05:12 GMT

When a Retreat is the Way Forward

Calling someone a whore is likely to get them thinking, on some level. And when, a few years ago, I was on the end of this particular expletive, my mind went into overdrive. True, the term was qualified by the word media, but the meaning, in essence, was the same. And it was said with venom.

Journalists have the often unfair reputation for, as one particularly cynical editor once put it, 'selling their granny if it gets them a story.' Eyes on the prize, publish and be damned and all that. Working for the tabloid end of the market brings its own pressures of this kind. And the gut spilling confessionals towards which we female journos often turn when work is thin upon the ground have a habit of hanging around rather too long for anyone's taste.

Tired of, rather than traumatised by all of the above, and nudged by the fact that the internet and the recession were combining to make the working life of a freelance journalist ever more impoverished, I began looking around for an alternative source of income. It didn't take long to realise that I was living in it - and also that the word alternative needed to carry through into however my partner and I decided to use our quirky rambling old house.

Words like bed and breakfast were hurriedly consigned to the literary bin, replace by visions of white painted rooms, furnished with desks - and kettles. Rooms which beckoned with a cell like simplicity, but which had puffy duvets, plump pillows, crisp lavender scented sheets and fluffy white bathrobes.

To cut a not very long story even more, we discarded the idea of starting a rest home for exhausted and traumatised journalists, and did the next best thing. We turned our home into a place for people to come and write. Or paint, or walk or just read and hang about. And be well


Four years later, they come and write. Or paint or walk or just read and hang about. But mostly they write. All kinds of writing. A lot.

We call it a retreat, because it feels like somewhere that people come when they're saying, 'stop the world, I want to get to off.' It seems to work very well, and people say nice things about us.

Writing will always be my first love, but I'm happy to be doing it on my own terms these days, and I don't miss the endless negotiating and cajoling that is part of the remit of a freelance journalist. I still do bits and pieces of paid writing, but these days I enjoy running the retreat more. Giving a novice writer some guidance and encouragement and seeing them bloom, is, I find, a lot more fun than hastily rewriting a piece of copy at the whim of a harassed editor. And watching a table full of people push their chairs back, contentedly full after eating a meal I have cooked and served, is deeply satisfying.

Luckily I love cooking, too.