I’m on day seven of my much-needed four-week residency at Hawthornden Castle, half an hour outside of Edinburgh. The castle dates from the 1400s, though the part that’s that old (the keep, which was the former fortress) is half-crumbled into ruin. The estate is owned by the Heinz family, of ketchup fame, and Mrs. Heinz, who is a serious patron of the arts, generously turned it into an artists colony in the 1980s. It’s for writers only — no painters, composers, choreographers, etc. need apply — which definitely creates a different dynamic, as I learned last summer at Château de Lavigny. Our passions and our demons are more nearly identical, so there’s a great deal of understanding and shared experience. On the other hand, there tend to be fewer surprises than in a mixed group, meaning ideas or ways of looking at the world that really turn your brain sideways. Also, it must be said, we writers tend to be a rather serious and introspective lot when unleavened by other kinds of artists. Tonight for example we started innocently enough on the subject of food (which I’ll get to shortly) and ended up talking about the age of sexual consent for minors, and whether Roman Polanski is a pedophile who deserves incarceration or a misunderstood man wronged by the American legal system. I’ll leave you to guess which side of that debate I came down on. We are six: three Americans and three Brits. Three novelists, a playwright, a screenwriter, and a poet who's also a visual artist (we’re all a bit envious that she can do both). It’s a nice group, with none of the variously nutty types who sometimes crop up at artists colonies. It's everyone else's first residency, and they're all reveling in the unaccustomed quiet and the freedom from cooking, cleaning, laundry, email, demands of children & spouses, and all the other stuff that gobbles up one’s writing time. I’m reveling in it too, greedy thing that I am, for the seventh time! And in the beauty of this place, which both spikes the heart and soothes it. We all feel very fortunate to be here and to be so well cared for.
Which brings me to the food. Och, the food! Chicken pot pies and raspberry crumbles with cream on the side — everything has cream on the side — and custards and tarts and nightly potatoes. And cake, this incredibly moist, scrumptious, irresistible cake, handmade by Angie the cook (who is everyone’s favorite person) and served daily at 4:00 in the parlor. They call it “tea” but really it’s all about the cake. My jeans are already starting to feel a wee bit tight.
The weather has been unseasonably nice, apparently, meaning it's warmish and not pouring rain every day. The locals are all wagging their heads in wonder, as if we'd had a foot of snow. I haven’t done much exploring yet because I’ve been working hard on RED and making excellent headway, but from my few brief forays into the outside world, I can tell you that I’m already in love, or should I say luv, with the Scots. They’re much warmer than the English, if harder to understand, and I feel very at home amongst them and in this green landscape of rolling hills and river valleys and pastures. My grandfather was a Kirkwood, and I was told today by the housekeeper that there are many Kirkwoods in the nearby village of Bonnyrigg, which was a coal-mining town at one time. Who knows, perhaps we're distant kin? I’m listening hard to the locals and working on my Scootish accent, which seems to come verra natural. Yesterday, an admiring old man on the bus called me a “wee lassie,” and I nearly swooned. I think the sound of bagpipes, should I chance to hear it, might just fell me. And should I happen upon a handsome lad in a kilt . . . well, I won't be held responsible for my actions.