UK | 2000
David Hughes wrote several novels, including The Man Who Invented Tomorrow,The Imperial German Dinner Service, and The Pork Butcher, winner of the 1985 W.H. Smith Literary Award. Among his works of non-fiction are a study of J.B. Priestley, and Himself & Other Animals, a portrait of Gerald Durrell. His last book was an examination of the media, The Hack’s Tale. He died in 2005.
This is only a tiny token of the letter that I will be sending you in full appreciation of my weeks at Santa Maddalena. They were miraculous, as were you as a hostess and a help, as were your staff as a support, as was the place as an inspiration despite the [November] weather–but I want time to reflect on the miracle and think about the good things that being there did for me in stirring my mind in new ways even at my age (and thanks a great deal to Grisha’s constant and invigorating presence for that boon), as well as nourishing my spirit in setting it free from my usual routines at home, not to mention the very practical help to my current project about Boccaccio and his contemporaries in France and England–I don’t know how I would have managed that Italian element in the research without the time you gave me and the space I found in your home. But, I repeat, this is only an interim report, despatched to you out of the confusions of returning to a city even more drenched in gloom and storm than Florence….
From my own experience, I don’t doubt that unique works will occur, or be immeasurably assisted, as a direct result of the Foundation’s existence and generosity. Writer’s block seems a million miles away, even for those who habitually suffer from it….
The proximity to Florence by train might be emphasized [to future Fellows], not as an escape from work but as a reward for doing some. The Retreat is right to discourage spouses who are not writers (though your own extra-curricular hospitality–in our case notably a Florentine luncheon with Bona Frescobaldi and a festive visit to Clare Bertolucci’s film set at a villa near Lucca–was a delight and a refreshment, not to mention those invited to dine with us). But the thing that most pleases a writer about Santa Maddalena is the enlargement of time that strikes you at once on arrival, thanks partly to the place which is ravishing, partly to the silence which is total, but also to the comforts provided (and what comforts, in food, drink, accommodation, space) which for once release a writer from any responsibility for his own upkeep and wellbeing, a working ideal that rarely intrudes in “real” life….I will just end by saying that it was the huge sense of freedom that swept over me (and remained throughout my stay) which I regard as the invaluable gift that the Foundation has put within the reach of writers.