Teaching creative writing in Mexico? That’s two of my favourite things –talking about writing fiction and travel. I’ve been to Mexico before. It’s such a beautiful and diverse country, more like a continent than a country, from the UK point of view. Going to a new part of it, to stay in a luxury Rancho – wonderful! I know from experience how much a change of scenery can have a huge positive effect on writing. I get away myself when I need a fresh perspective. What better way to invigorate your writing than by getting away from the boggy mires of day to day life, to a beautiful place in a fascinating country? On a course, you’re surrounded by people all doing the same thing – it is an intensely bonding and creative experience. You can make friends for life and it almost always gives a great to boost to your work.
But – hang on? A Rancho? That’s horses, isn’t it? Riding. That’s another thing altogether!
Oddly enough, I know a number of writers who have talked at some length about the links between writing and riding. Meg Rosof, who has been a guest speaker on courses that I’ve done with Lucy Christopher, my co tutor in Mexico, has spoken at some length, comparing the relationship a creative artist has with the unconscious mind, to the relationship a rider has with their horse. But that’s for lifetime riders surely?
Lucy is a keen horsewoman herself, and I know she feels the same way. Me, I usually go on foot. I like the wildlife, even down to the little stuff – all the way from buffalo to bugs. Of course, you do cover more ground on a horse, and what’s to stop me getting off when I want? But the main thing is – what kind of an idiot goes to a Rancho, in beautiful Mexico, and refuses to ride a horse?
Not this idiot, anyway.
I’ve been to Mexico before. It’s such a diverse, and fascinating country – a continent in itself almost. There’s no way I’m going there and not taking some time to make the most of it, see a little more. At a Rancho it has to be horseback, and there’s no way I’m letting the fact that I can’t ride put me off. With this in mind, Lucy suggested we both go off on a “progressive ride” after the course, getting deeper into the countryside each day. Off to the middle of nowhere, further than I could ever go on foot, to see wild places? Well – absolutely! The only thing is – will I have the backside for it? Of course I’ll be able to ride in the afternoons during the course, after the morning workshops. But if I want to be sure my bum is up to it, I’m going to have to take riding lessons.
OK, so the west Yorkshire moors aren’t exactly the Mexican desert and Hebden Bridge isn’t El Paso. But the moors are lovely at this time of year, painted mauve and green with the heather in full flower. Yorkshire isn’t called God’s own country for no reason. On a sunny day, there’s nowhere prettier on the planet. Pity there aren’t more of them …
So once a week I’ve been jumping on a horse, practising. Getting on, getting off. Working the brakes, changing gear, pressing the accelerator – there are two on a horse, one on each side, apparently. Last week I spent half an hour with a twelve year old ordering me to trot from here to there, weaving in between tyres, until my inner thighs felt like I’d had a practise go on the rack. This week I bumped, rolled and bounced my way for an hour over the lumps and bumps of a rosy pink grouse moor. I’m going to progress on to the canter next week, I’m told, all being well.
I have been riding before. My mum was a keen horsewoman, but I never quite took to it. Plodding around in a line through the country lanes in Surrey on the back of some fat old sofa. Plod, plod, plod. Um, no thanks.
This time, though, I’m loving it.
Perhaps it’s because Yorkshire is lovely – the moors are gorgeous at this time of year, and I do love the countryside. But I think the real reason is, that the idea is not simply about sitting on board a horse. They’re lovely animals, and I’m getting very fond of old Milo; I sympathise that all he really wants to do is snatch a snack from the willow herb, or a mouthful of sweet heather. But the thing about a horse in remote places is – he’s transport. He’s an adventure. You go places in a car – you go places with a horse. Most of the world consists of landscapes where no car or bicycle can go, but a horse can. I remember when I was five and got my first bike – suddenly, the world opened up before me. Freedom! It’s the same with riding. In the right place, your horse is the only way to get there. Never mind the roads of Surrey. I’ll get to see things I never would see otherwise. By the time I get there, my instructor has confidently told me, I will be able to gallop, trot and canter with ease. New horizons – I’m an explorer.
As for that mysterious relationship between riders, the horse and the rider and the unconscious mind … So far, I still feel I know how to ride my mind better than my horse. But – I’m keeping an open mind.
Award-winning author Melvin Burgess will be hosting A Specialist Week in Creative Writing for Young People with Lucy Christopher at the Rancho from November 12 – 19, 2016. Contact Jenny at the Rancho today to reserve your spot.