Making Space in Italy

16 Jun


I’m staying here, in the mountains in Italy for a month. I’m on a writing retreat. I’ve been here a few days now and I’ve been thinking about what it means to have space and slow down.

I was working in the piazza earlier in the week when a girl asked to draw in my notebook. She was about five and her name was Claudia.


She started her drawing with a line at the top and bottom of the page. She smiled at me and I said “very good” in Italian. She continued to draw a figure at the bottom of the page. She explained it was her and she wrote her name. I smiled and went to take my notebook back. She pulled it back and started another picture on the next page, with a line at the top and bottom. She explained in Italian, this was her friend Bernadette:


She turned the page and explained she now needed to draw Stephanie. At this point I turned the page back and pointed to the space above her self portrait. She could draw Stephanie there.

She shook her head and smiled and turned the page again. I turned it back. There was loads of space and this was the only notebook I had. 

She said something Italian in a loud annoyed voice and shook her head. So I said okay and she turned the page and grinned. She left a page defiently and grinned again before drawing Stephanie. And then she left me to play with her friends.


We All Need Space
And I realised the thing she wanted was space. It was part of the picture. Yeah there was room to squeeze Stephanie into her first drawing but she wanted to use more pages. That’s why she marked out the top and bottom first – the whole page was part of the picture, space included. And even at five,  she wasn’t going to let anyone take the space from her.

When we’re busy our space gets less and less. We’re not always good at drawing lines to mark our boundaries like Claudia did. We squeeze things into every gap and we miss out on the space in life.

Space to rest. Space to think. Space to create. Space to notice others. Space to love. Space to be.

I had an email from my literary agent Lindsey earlier today. It was reminding me that I had the luxury of time and space. Normally I’m writing to deadlines, this trip was something different. Lindsey said:

give yourself room to breathe

So I’m going to try to do that here. I’m listening to Lindsey and I’ll try to be like Claudia, the kid I met who used lots of pages and knew she needed space.


Posted by on June 16, 2015 in illustration, Writing


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7 responses to “Making Space in Italy

  1. Great Big Jar

    June 16, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    I have forgotten what space is. I think I need to find more of it. Somewhere. Lovely post. Love the spirit of children – they know exactly what they want.

  2. Stuart Potter

    June 16, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    Wonderful and insightful … we often forget how much we can learn from children… and sometimes we don’t take the time to really listen to them and see the world back through their eyes.

    Fantastic that you have the space over there to do that.

    • auntyemily

      June 16, 2015 at 4:12 pm

      Thanks. Children are brilliant! (:

  3. belledelettres

    June 17, 2015 at 8:25 am

    I am off to do the same –in London…must be bonkers!

  4. JA Condie

    June 18, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Dearest Emily

    I’m going to have to come back and read this later since I seem to be blinded by jealousy right now.

  5. Sandra Vick

    June 23, 2015 at 9:54 am

    I needed to read that just now 😀 You are so right. We do fill our lives with doing this, doing that, getting that done, getting this done and kids never quite get it when you try to fit things in. As a child the important things are the only things that matter – whether it’s the drawing, the lego model, the imaginative game – and when you interrupt to announce tea or school, is it any wonder that it’s met with resistance. They have it right. We need space to be creative. It’s what creatives do best – use space wisely 🙂


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