Guardian December 2017



30 December 2017

‘Where do I think best? In bed’ – authors reveal their dream retreats

Joan Bakewell: Church Cottage,
Stratford-upon-Avon

Tucked away in a village cul-de-sac in rural Warwickshire is a precious gem known and loved by those who use it – female writers over 40 for whom it was created.

Church Cottage is the brainchild of a remarkable woman, Sarah Hosking. Drawing on Virginia Woolf’s remark that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”, Sarah has made this tiny cottage into just such a haven: one lower and one upper room, each no more than 15sq ft, bearing all the hallmarks of her country style: pictures, cushions, rugs, an open fire. Here are all the comforts for the focused life: downstairs a living room/kitchen/desk space (wifi, broadband, printer); upstairs a sumptuous double bed and free-standing bath.

Outside, beyond the tiny garden, a path winds through other country gardens, by swathes of cowslips, daisies, violets to the bank of the river Stour where there’s a bench below a yew. Horses appear in the field opposite; I sit there and wait for thoughts to arrive. And words. The cottage overlooks the graveyard of St Helen’s church, where in early summer magnolias shed their petals. The church clock chimes sweetly every hour … its midnight toll is especially comforting. I dream of it when I am not there.

Room with a ViewHeavenly quiet … Church Cottage, Stratford-upon-Avon. Photograph: Hosking Houses Trust

 
This is where female writers with a book already commissioned come for peace and inspiration. Sarah has extended Woolf’s suggestion to include writers of biography, history, film and television scripts, and poetry, even music. I came here to write my last book, Stop the Clocks, and was so happy that the place wove itself into the text. Others who have sought this heavenly quiet include novelist Salley Vickers, poet Wendy Cope, playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker. But there are many more. The word has spread that this place is special.
 
The Hosking Houses Trust, set up as a charity and active since 2002, runs the enterprise. Writers can stay for a matter of months or merely weeks. Some – including myself – come several times. It offers not only accommodation but also now carries bursaries of up to £1,000 per calendar month.
 
The trust works hard to survive: it has enjoyed Arts Council support, has important links with the Royal Shakespeare Company in nearby Stratford-upon-Avon and is developing plans with Coventry University to host artists who deal in words and calligraphy. It is one of those precious unsung enterprises, run by those who love books and writing, who enjoy encouraging creativity and helping those who need space to stop and think away from busy cluttered lives. Many of us have reason to be grateful. The evidence is in our published books that sit on the shelves around the room where they were written.

Dame Joan Bakewell
Joan Bakewell at Church Cottage during her stay in 2017