I went to Ruckus Retreat and was struck by lightning


I wanted to blog about Ruckus Retreat as soon as I got back. I knew the longer I left it, the more it would feel like a dream. But here I am, a week later, waking up, struggling to keep hold of the lucid-flying-fantasy details of it all.

I’d never been on a retreat before Ruckus but I have been to conferences, workshops, festivals, masterclasses – the sorts of things you’re supposed to do as an ~emerging creative~ who’s taking their practice seriously and living a creative, art-driven life. For me, the most powerful takeaway from Ruckus is what that really means.

I’ve often found myself justifying or defending or apologising for ‘Emily Holyoake, Playwright’. I care about my plays and I believe in my work, but I also feel like I have to acknowledge the silliness of making up stories for other people to act out. I put myself in inverted commas before you get the chance to.

But this is, seriously, my life. Writing is the only meaningful thing I’ve ever wanted to give to the world. And I’m comfortable defining myself as a playwright, but I’m not comfortable with what you’ll think of me if you can see that I do, truly, take it seriously.

Recently, I’ve boxed myself into a corner by believing the antidote to that discomfort is to be Paid Properly. And yeah, I’d bloody love to continue making this into my career. I’m not going to stop trying to do that. But what I got at Ruckus above all was permission to give myself a break from that creativity-crushing pressure, and to not mark down the value of my passion projects when they don’t also pay my bills.


So if you went to Ruckus this year: thank you. Thank you, to all of you but especially to Krish and Rowan, for giving me some freedom back. I’m sorry that this little blog post doesn’t record everything but I just needed to get something down before the tangible stuff slips away and I forget why I’m feeling so much better.

Anyway. This was my Ruckus.

Cresting a hill in the Brecon Beacons at the end of a long drive from Derby, ABBA Gold on full blast, and feeling my jaw literally drop at the beauty of it all. Driving with my mouth open wide until I reached Buckland Hall and trying not to cry-laugh in disbelief.


Meeting my roommate. Meeting my feedback group. Meeting everyone. Feeling at home.

And also – feeling awkward. Wanting to walk and walk, out into those hills, and walk off the strange shell of me that always feels too young, too old, too pro, too amateurish, too big to fit next to you and too small to be noticed.

Wielding my chunky af Lenovo in a sea of Macbooks.

Setting an intention and actually working towards it.

Finding a framing device for the play that’s been troubling me all year in the same thought as deciding which workshop I wanted to hit next.

Hearing the dreams and doubts of my feedback group as they talked about their projects – ‘this probably sounds stupid, but…’ – ‘I want to do this weird thing, but…’ – ‘it’s really silly, but…’ – and literally telling them to stop negging themselves before prefacing my own work with exactly the same thing.

Having my name remembered and spoken with utter joy by Krish (once they’d confirmed how to pronounce it) – again, and again, and again, until my ego was almost too big to sit down next to them at lunch.


Being given permission.



Scribbling out the bottled up angst of this year, quickly, angrily, in a dimly lit library; before a dripping ceiling forced us all out of solo quiet thoughts and into a warm little cluster to define dramaturgy and discuss contracts.


Sitting through a whole evening of poetry, spoken word, and other things that I’ve always claimed not to get and not knowing where the time had gone. Tasting pomegranates. Recognising vampires. TRAIN GIRL. And cheering on friends.

Planning carefully which workshops I would attend, and which creative free time slots I would take advantage of, and then changing my mind on the walk there to try out photography tricks instead, and make my first (and possibly last) ever zine.

And writing these things:

  • You have permission to not make money
  • You will be okay if things go wrong
  • You are allowed to take risks in public
  • You are still valuable even if no one relies on you
  • You will still write good plays even if you don’t feel the same things other people feel
  • You can participate or witness
  • You will get to do the things you want regardless of whether you say YES or NO
  • You might find it hard to measure your own impact but that doesn’t mean it’s not there
  • You weren’t supposed to die, because you lived!


(PS – if you want to make Ruckus happen next year, please support Krish and Rowan by donating to their Crowdfunder. This isn’t just about raising money for the future, it’s about covering costs from this time round – their largest sponsor pulled out days before we all went to Wales together, and they filled the shortfall from their own pockets and overdrafts. So please give or share if you can.)

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