This year I suggested an experiment to the lovely hosts at Arte Umbria – a writing retreat. To dip a toe-in-the-water, I went onto Facebook and Twitter and asked whether anybody was interested. So many people were interested that all places were taken and deposits paid in a couple of days.
Seriously. A couple of days – and the retreat was full!
So how did it work out? Brilliantly!
I ran the Great Writing course, as usual, the week before. The participants were a fantastic bunch and we had a truly inspirational week of workshops, private writing time, feedback and one-to-ones. It just whizzed by.
This Italian terrace has long been my favourite ‘classroom’ and it has been the scene of many an interactive workshop, generally accompanied by laughter and fruitful discussion and perhaps followed by private writing time, when the loudest noise to be heard is the buzzing of the cicadas. (Or was that the whirring of writerly imaginations?)
In previous years I have left at the end of the week at the same time as the course participants – but this year I waved them off from the doorstep. My first writing day had begun!
At lunchtime, the first of the writers booked on the retreat arrived, looking stunned, as I was on my first visit, by the gorgeous venue and awe-inspiring views.
What can I tell you about a writing retreat, if you’ve never joined one? The camaraderie and sense of purpose are each amazing. It’s an opportunity to disconnect from the chores associated with home, from your commute, your friends and family (however fantastic they are) and your day job … and simply write.
My favourite place was still the terrace. I found I could see my laptop screen under a canopy of split bamboo, and it was warm enough under there to satisfy my sun-loving soul. There are outdoor power outlets on the terrace so I was able to plug in whenever my laptop needed charging. To cut out other distractions I listened to music from my phone via my earbuds. I’d prepared my research before travelling in the interests of not overburdening the satellite wifi, which is all that’s available in that particular part of the world. I’d also been able to take a lot of photos while on a day trip to Orvieto with the course participants the week before.
And during the week of the retreat, I wrote over 23,000 words.
I have never, literally never, written that much in one week before.
There were eight writers on the retreat, from unpublished to frequently-published, writing in all kinds of genres. Some, like me, wrote steadily all day every day and others wrote in short bursts in between enjoying trips out or time around the pool.
It was one of the most positive and inspirational experiences of my life to be able to forget all the other stuff that, at home, wars with my writing time even though I’m lucky enough to be a full-time author. All year I’d been looking forward to writing a book set in Italy, while I was in Italy. It did not disappoint! It was very special to be writing with the view my hero was painting spread out before me.
Here’s an idea of how each of my days went. I’ve included (very rough) times just to give an idea of how I arranged my day. Others arranged their days differently or preferred to write in their rooms.
08.15 Take my laptop to the salon to get on the wifi and write emails and social media posts.
09.00-10.00 Breakfast on the terrace.
10.00-13.00 Write on the terrace
14.30-17.30 Write on the terrace
17.30-18.30 End the day with a swim. Verbal shorthand for this soon became “Pool party?” as many of us realised what an agreeable way it was to end the day, meeting at the gorgeous pool where we could swim, chat, laugh and admire the fantastic views.
18.30 Get ready for dinner.
19.00 Dinner and an evening of chatter and laughter, helped along with free-flowing wine.
NB I offered to facilitate a daily feedback session but we only ever had one ‘official’ one. After that, writing, promo and publishing conversations evolved naturally over meals and at the pool party.
Meals were long and convivial occasions and I think everyone agreed that Arte Umbria‘s reputation for gorgeous food is well-deserved.
Owing to my own tight publishing schedule I won’t be running a course at Arte Umbria in 2018. But the good news is that I’ll be heading up TWO retreats! They will run as follows:
Retreat 1: one week from 20 June 2018
Retreat 2: one week from 27 June 2018
There’s much more information on my page on Arte Umbria’s website but, in a nutshell, the venue is a 200-acre estate with interesting and individual accommodation in a stone house that was once a hunting lodge. Hospitality is generous. There are plenty of different places to write, indoors and out. Trips out can be arranged by the hosts at a small extra cost and there’s a private pool in the beautiful grounds. You need to arrange your own transport but the majority of people take the Stansted-Perugia flight and are transferred to/from the venue by the hosts at no extra cost.