I’m staying at Peralta in a beautiful top floor room with views out over the valley towards the sea. I have a small table to write on and a kettle and a fridge - everything I need! Neil works in a tower room and sleeps in a tiny cubicle above his studio when I’m not here, oblivious to plaster dust, as well as the heat that leaches moisture out of the ground, burning every blade of grass and scorching the trees. Even at 1500 feet there are few breezes in August.
Fiore di Henriques, the sculptor who found Peralta as a ruined, abandoned hamlet in the sixties and restored it, intended it as a community of artists and writers. One small cell is called ‘The Poet’s House’ and she always hoped that one day a poet would come and write in it. Unfortunately it’s still a furniture store, but I live in hope of being able to get in there and write a few lines, just for Fiore!
But artists and writers do come here, usually off-season when it’s cheaper, to enjoy the beautiful scnery and complete tranquility. Neil is ‘sculptor in residence’ at the moment, and the Chelsea Art Club regularly bring groups of painters. Recently two young student sculptors from Goldsmiths have been here on a bursary. Writers who've used Peralta as a retreat include David Craig and Ann Spillard, Jan Marsh, TV writer and novelist Margaret Simpson as well as quite a number of American and Canadian authors.
Mary Rose Hayes is here at the moment, from Arizona, and it's been fascinating sharing experiences - publishing has been taking a knock in the states as well as the UK and our problems with agents and publishers have been much the same. Mary Rose writes what she describes as novels with elements of the erotic, romantic and horror genres. So far she's published 8 - some of them best sellers. Most recently she's collaborated with US Senator Barbara Boxer to write two political thrillers which I look forward to reading. Mary Rose spent quite a bit of time in Washington and gained some interesting insights into female political life there. She's currently writing a trilogy whose theme is how the tentacles of war reach down through the generations. It's being written backwards - the first volume set in the nineties, and the last one will be set during the second world war.
Mary Rose teaches creative writing at Arizona university and we decided, over a glass of wine, to run a creative writing course at Peralta in May - she will take the fiction module, while I will do the life writing and poetry. All we need now are students who can afford the air fare!