The 3 Rs: Residencies, Retreats, Respites

The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Co.Monaghan, Ireland.

When people say that they’re jacking in the day job to write that book, in the same breath they usually tell you where this project is taking place. “I’m going to move to Paris/rent a shack in the woods/go to a monastery/live by the sea” they say, as if the locale will lend more credibility to their project.

It doesn’t. You can spend a year on a prestigious writers’ colony and come up with a heap of unpublishable, self-indulgent nonsense. Whereas, an amazing novel can be written in a council flat full of screaming kids, between the hours of 6-7pm every day – the important factor being “every day”.

Still, time and seclusion in an attractive environment do nurture creativity and attending a writers’ residency or retreat is not a bad idea – so long as you don’t think that the mere fact of being there is going to produce the goods. Personally, I’ve found the greatest benefit from such places to be the cross pollination of ideas via conversations with other artists. So, yes, I recommend residencies and retreats, so long as you’re prepared to put the work and craft in too.

I’m Irish, so I know most about the residencies and retreats in my country – and there are a disproportionately large number in Ireland, a land noted for its writers. Surprisingly, there are far fewer over in the UK, even though they have a much larger population. America is where the writers’ colony was born however, and it still provides the best, the most prestigious and the most difficult colonies to get into.

Yes, “get into”. Therein lies the difference between a “residency” and a “retreat”. Residencies are institutions to which you must apply and demonstrate your professionalism as an artist via a portfolio, and perhaps references and a CV that shows you are considered by your peers to be a practicing artist. Residencies are often funded by an arts and/or educational body and can mean you must also provide a service such as creative writing classes in the locality. Residencies can last from two weeks to a year.  In Ireland, prestigious residencies include The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Cill Rialaig and the Heinrich Boll Cottage, Even if accepted, you may have to pay for your stay. However, attending one of these establishments is an impressive addition to your C.V. and you may come into contact with some top tier “names” during a stay.
Then you get retreats. These are institutions that sometimes offer courses – the UK’s ‘Arvon Foundaction’ is a good example which has three properties around England and holds intensive writing courses throughout the year. Other retreats just offer room and board to writers for a fee, somewhat like a hotel but with an emphasis on creativity and productivity during your stay. Anam Cara and the Molly Keane house are Irish examples. They’re not as prestigious residencies, so you won’t find yourself having dinner with Seamus Heaney etc… but you might meet some interesting people and the surrounds are usually very picturesque and perhaps inspiring. Retreats are good for novice or emerging writers who are not yet at the stage in their career where they might gain acceptance on a “residency”.

Finally, if all you want is some peace and quiet, why not rent some respite a holiday cottage in the wilds of Connemara in autumn, or stay in a B&B on Dartmoor or a shack in the Catskills – you may be able to get a ‘low season deal’ and it may provide the inspiration you seek.

A sample (and by no means exhaustive) list:















If you know of more, please feel free to post!


About suehealy

From Ireland, Sue Healy is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre, London, a full-time Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln. Her book on theatre literary management is published by Routledge, December 2022. Sue is an award-winning writer for stage, TV, and prose writer. TV Her current project, a 6x60minute TV series, is under option. She is under commission with Lone Wolf Media, producers behind PBS’ “Mercy Street”, to co-write the pilot and treatment for a six-part TV series. Stage Her most recent stage-play, Imaginationship (2018), enjoyed a sold out, extended run at the Finborough and later showed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. Her previous stage productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Sue’s short plays have been performed at the Criterion (Criterion New Writing Showcase), Arcola (The Miniaturists) and Hackney Attic (Fizzy Sherbet Shorts). Radio Her radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. Prose Sue has won The Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award, Meridian Prize and has been published in nine literary journals and anthologies including: The Moth, Flight, Tainted Innocence, New Writer, Duality, HISSAC, New European Writers. She has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from annual artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy. An academic with a PhD in modern theatre history, specifically the Royal Court Theatre, Sue has presented her research internationally. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She has a PhD in modern theatre history (Royal Court Theatre) and is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumnus. View all posts by suehealy

14 responses to “The 3 Rs: Residencies, Retreats, Respites

  • Joe Ponepinto

    Incredible list! It happens that I am looking for a residency in the US. You’ve found quite a few more than I did.


  • jaharms

    It’s nice to dream about a place where there is peace and quiet to just think and write. In the meantime, you’re right, writing every day is important. I’m not there yet.

  • Freedom, by the way

    You’ve given me a new goal. I want would love to go to an Irish or English retreat and combine travel with writing. It sounds lovely all the way around! Thank you for giving me an idea to run with (or run away with)!

  • WhitneyCarter

    Pretty picture… I just want to retreat to that dock lol.

  • Carol Lovekin

    I could never afford the luxury of a retreat so I shall continue to be grateful for my study. My study. Saying the word still gives me a shiver of satisfaction. Six years ago I moved into a flat where, for the first time in my life, there was a small room available for me to write in. (I came over terribly Virginia Woolf for a while.)

    I feel privileged & try never to lose sight of the fact that I have this space; that it isn’t the end of the kitchen table or a desk squashed into a corner of the sitting-room.

  • Marvin the Martian

    I wonder what Irish lake frogs sound like.

  • suehealy

    Reblogged this on suehealy and commented:

    I’m currently organising my October residency in Ireland – which prompts me to reblog this piece I wrote on the same a couple of years ago. Apologies in advance if any links are now defunct – but do let me know.

  • butimbeautiful

    I find the idea of being stuck in a remote location with other writers and would-bes kind of offputting. I don’t know why. It’d be even more offputting if they were,for instance, hairdressers (although god knows I need a retreat full of hairdressers).

  • Tracey

    Writers might also be interested in La Muse Writers & Artists Retreat in southern France, where I am now. This is a wonderful and affordable retreat set in a village in the mountains bordering Spain, where writers and artists gather for one, two or three week (or longer) retreats in an 11th Century, 10-bedroom house owned by writers John Fanning and his partner Kerry. It is self-catering and we have the freedom to work at will, but with guidelines for quiet times. I love it here: it keeps me focused, and is inspiring, beautiful and even magical, especially at night under the massive stars. #retreats #France

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