It took the first step inside Varuna last September to seal the place in my blood.
A house steeped in literary and family history, belonging to Eleanor and Erik Dark, it smells of old books and inspiration. The walls are filled with the spirit of writing, and when you sit down at Varuna, magic happens. You write. Stories pour out, and there's nobody and nothing to interrupt them.
Inside the heated walls of Eleanor's house, the same house where she raised her boys and wrote so many novels, I got to sit in solitude and write my heart out. Stopping only for wine by the fire with four other writers and the incredible Sheila who cooks up a culinary feast every night.
Last year, I was jumping circles round my lounge room when I received an email at 6 pm one winter's night, telling me I'd won a Litlink Residency to spend two glorious weeks at Varuna in Katoomba. I fell in love with Varuna in minutes. It's as though the walls have soaked up all the cheer and banter, all the creativity of all the writers it has ever sheltered, and it slowly leaks the joy and inspiration back to you.
So this year, when I found out my manuscript had won a PIP Fellowship at Varuna and I'd get to spend another week there, I could have cried. It had been a tough twelve months with my husband away training for his new job in Japan, and me at home trying my best to juggle the needs of our five amazing girls ... with a couple of hospital admissions, illnesses, a surgery, homework, sports, and just the day to day extravaganza of having five kids (turns out when you have five girls plus yourself, hair takes a LONG time to get through each morning! And don't get me started on lunches!). So upon Chad's return from training, I let him take the reins for a week, something I've never been able to indulge in before, while I invested in some quiet creative time at Varuna. Which I made the most of, breaking my record for word count by pumping out over 20,000 words in one week!
My first time at Varuna, I was so lucky to get to stay in Eleanor Dark's. It's a divine room, as is the writing studio attached to it! The second time, I got Eleanor's writing studio ... an unforgettable place to write, surrounded by her relics, and full of small drawers where those who have gone before me have dropped a couple of pages of their works-in-progress, many of which have gone on to be published. It literally feels like you're writing with the ghosts of other writers urging you on.
To top it off, both stays I was fortunate enough to spend my time with incredible people ... each of them so talented it was really quite daunting at first ... until that first night when the ice is broken by the fire and a glass of wine, and the chatter flows seamlessly, until there's just laughter and writers talking writing and life and darkness and humour. Many a night I couldn't sleep for the hyper-stimulation of the evenings. But what a reason to lose sleep, because you are among kindred spirits!
I know I will get back to Varuna one day. Hopefully in the next couple of years with my latest novel. Until then, when life drowning me to the ears in sibling arguments, or medical concerns, in school obligations, or afternoon activities that make each day feel like a marathon ... I have these photos to remind me that somewhere out there, over the Great Dividing Range I look over from my balcony, there is a place of utter serenity, and it's just waiting for me to snatch another week from the merry-go-round of life to return.