Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship: My Wonderfully Otherworldly Writing Retreat

Red Suitcase, Lynsey May
Category: Writing

The time I spent at Hotel Chevillon was unlike any I’d experienced before. There is something very special about the layout and atmosphere of the hotel and its commune, a certain stillness and otherworldliness that perfectly embodies the idea of a writing retreat.

There’s also a lot to be said for the opportunity to stay somewhere you may never be able to visit again. The fact that the hotel caters exclusively to the recipients of grants means that every second I spent there, I was conscious that I had to make the most of it – there would be no ‘Hope you enjoyed your stay, please book again’ in my inbox on my return to Edinburgh.

As soon as I was shown to my room, I unpacked my suitcase (a totally impractical red, retro charity shop find, justified as Paris-chic), set out all of my writing paraphernalia and simply sat and stared out the window at the small courtyard, long garden and glistening river beyond.

I spoke terrible French, ate a sickening amount of pastry and became the most popular mosquito dining cart for miles

Eventually, I started working, and soon sunk into that weird, half life writing tends to bring on. When I ventured beyond the beautiful airlock of the hotel’s lobby, I spoke terrible French, ate a sickening amount of pastry, became the most popular mosquito dining cart for miles and wandered winding streets in a daze.

The sheer unusualness of the month was underlined by the fact it was really, really hot. I stayed during June, when temperatures were flirting with the low forties and the sun was showing off all its heady glory. Being a Scot of the decidedly pealy wally variety, and one who’s never intentionally booked a sunny break, this only added to the feeling I was doing something I’d never have managed on my own.

That feeling was only exacerbated by the fact there were also a high proportion of very social visual artists in residency during my stay. The irrepressible enthusiasm and outgoing personalities of my neighbours meant that my RLS fellowship wasn’t quite the remote, silent month of contemplation I’d envisioned. Instead, I met some fascinating people, went on sightseeing trips I probably would never have done on my own and took part in my first ever midsummer’s frog dance around a Maypole.

I did take one solo trip to Paris (how could I not?) and spent a long and happy day meandering through the streets, getting lost, admiring the exteriors of the city’s highlights and paying a visit to Shakespeare and Co. But for the majority of the month, I was happy to venture no further than the small bakery across the street or the peaceful bench by a lake only five minutes to the hotel’s rear.

Before going, I wondered if a month would feel like too long. I was so wrong. I could’ve stayed twice as long, three times, easily. As it was, I came away with a good, solid amount of work, plenty of ideas and the kind of memories I’ll be mining and luxuriating in for years.

The Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship 2016 is open for applications until Wednesday 3 February 2016, midday. Find out how to apply

Lynsey May

Lynsey May was awarded a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2013, has placed fiction in a variety of journals and publications and enjoyed reading at a number of literary festivals across the country.