Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

A Rule of Silence

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I thought it would be difficult, to follow a rule of silence. Four women writers sharing a house for two weeks and no conversation throughout the day, not even a simple good morning at breakfast. We would remain silent until we gathered for our evening meal.

Silence was not a guideline or a suggestion, but the central part of the agreement when accepting a residency at the Norcroft writing retreat for women, located on the American side of Lake Superior. Silence included no talking, no music, no landline telephone, no internet, no television, no visitors.

In the morning, we were expected to leave the main house to trek through the woods in our separate directions to our separate writing sheds. Each shed was a single room with a desk, bookcase, books, rocking chair, space heater, fan, and a large window with a view. And what a view – forest, wildflowers, the occasional racoon, rabbit, fox, deer.

We returned to the main house as we wished to eat lunch, take a break from writing, maybe a swim, or a walk, or to sit on the rocks along the shoreline, to ponder or jot notes in a journal. We were free to do as we wanted, as long as we did it in solitude and isolation, leaving each woman to herself to focus on her writing.

Norcroft was built on the philosophy that women spend much of their time taking care of others, whether children, partners, parents, co-workers, friends. They seldom allow themselves uninterrupted, prolonged stretches of time to focus solely on their writing. Demands intrude, and women, being caretakers, take care of those demands first.

Norcroft flipped that approach upside down. Our primary responsibility was to write. There was no tuition or fee to attend. We paid our travel to get there, and for those who couldn’t afford that, there was a travel fund.

Each woman sent a list of the foods she liked to eat (or could eat), and those foods were waiting when she arrived. Stocks were replenished as if magically. The main house was professionally cleaned, so there were no housecleaning tasks for us.

Residency was awarded through a jury system, and I had the honour of being the first Canadian resident. Norcroft closed its doors a few years back, the gracious benefactor retiring to focus on her health, and her own writing, but not before providing so many women the space to write, and permission to focus on themselves.

I learned from Norcroft how important it is to create a space for writing. Doing that means learning to be selfish, to give oneself permission to say no to other demands, to set priorities with writing near, or at, the top of the list.

I also learned how easy and wonderful it is to slip into silence.

~ Marianne Paul


Norcroft was wonderful. I have such good memories of it. I think there are a few other residencies for women that are based on a similar concept. One is Hedgebrook.

Another is Soapstone.

I haven't gone to either of those residencies, so can't vouch for them. Both of those are American. I would think there are some in Canada, and would love to hear of them if anyone knows of such places. There are lots of retreat spaces, and workshops/conferences, but often there are fees or tuition attached to attendance.

Norcroft must have been wonderful. What a shame it's no more. Do you know of any similar writers' retreats?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Marianne Paul

Marianne Paul's is the author of the novels Dead Girl Diaries (BookLand Press, 2009), Tending Memory (BookLand Press, 2007), Twice in a Blue Moon (BookLand Press, 2007) and The Shunning (Moonstone Press, 1994). Her fiction, non-fiction and poems have appeared in publications such as Vox Feminarum, Cahoots, Canadian Author, Western People and The New Quarterly.

Go to Marianne Paul’s Author Page