Tag Archives: Italy

A birthday in Italy!

Having a birthday while teaching a course for Arte Umbria, in Italy, was a lovely experience.

2015-07-23 12.09.56It seemed odd to take my birthday cards with me and stand them around my room, where nobody would see them, but word had obviously gone around regarding the significance of the date – possibly aided by nearly 500 Birthday messages on Facebook! – and there were more cards, hugs and birthday wishes. And there are far worse ways to begin your birthday than sitting on a sunny terrace with your e-reader while you sip a cup of tea and wait for someone to make you a scrummy breakfast.

IMG_3490One of the course participants had even brought me a present, a patchwork table runner made by his clever wife.

2015-07-23 16.44.09The courses are held on an Umbrian estate amidst a rolling landscape of trees, the village on the next peak, stone houses and olive groves. I claim the huge terrace as my classroom, and we began work after breakfast, as usual. More important than some old birthday – it was the first day of the course.

As luck would have it, the guests went on a trip on my birthday afternoon, to La Scarzuola. I had visited this amazing restored monastery on a previous trip, so I felt justified in staying behind. I worked for an hour – honestly, I did! My work in progress was calling me – and then I took myself down through the gardens to the swimming pool to dangle my feet and soak up a few rays. As I found the chef just finishing her swim, I chatted to her about how she’d come to work in such a fantastic venue. It’s a good story. I’m not going to tell you because I want it for a future book. (Sorry.) As with many conversations with novelists, the chat may have taken the form of me interrogating her, but she didn’t seem to mind.

2015-07-23 20.21.11When the guests returned, a little gentle work rounded out the day, until it was time to get ready for another fabulous meal, including prosecco jelly as a birthday treat.

I ate two bowls full.

Don’t tell anyone.

Here are a few of my favourite pix from Arte Umbria 2015, include those from our day off, when we went to Perugia. If you fancy joining me on next year’s course it’s 13-20 July 2016. (It won’t be my birthday!) Go to www.arteumbria.com for more information.

Arte-Umbria-15-collage

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What do you get from a writing course?

The pool and rear view of Chez Castillon

The pool and rear view of Chez Castillon

As I’ve kept it no secret that I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to run two courses abroad, this year, I thought that I’d report in on the first – Chez Castillon in the gorgeous Dordogne, SW France, which took place last week.

The way the course is (loosely) structured is that we worked in the mornings, had a break after

Castillon-la-Bataille lies on the banks of the Dordogne

Castillon-la-Bataille lies on the banks of the Dordogne

lunch and convened again in the late afternoon. The first day or two, I also managed to write 1200 words here, 700 words there. But my energy flagged slightly on the writing front, probably because I was just enjoying myself so much.

The house, Chez Castillon, is gorgeous. Three hundred years old, the town house is part of a sweet little shopping street in Castillon-la-Battaille. Stepping through its doors is stepping into a quiet, cool world of high ceilings and ornate plasterwork, with a huge friendly welcome from hosts Janie and Mickey Wilson. From the front door you can see right through to the wrought iron doors leading to the secluded oasis at the back of the house. The pool,  sun loungers,  tables, umbrellas, warm stone and rampant greenery. Further into the garden is the gite, which includes the course room. Whether we actually used the course room or settled ourselves

The pool

The pool

outdoors, in the sun or shade according to preference, we found it a wonderful place to work.

For those interested in the course content, we created characters, analysed structure, sorted out whether everyone in our books deserved to be there and what their function was, worked on settings, dialogue, viewpoint and all sorts of technical stuff. Participants were offered one-to-ones and I was able to pretty much structure the course around the requirements of the individual.

The structure of the days allowed plenty of time to write or to wander through the quaint streets of Castillon, lounge around the pool or settle down for a coffee or a glass or something stronger at Monique’s bar.

As I was in verdant wine-growing country, it would have been rude not to try a drop ...

As I was in verdant wine-growing country, it would have been rude not to try a drop …

A little drop of champagne in the cloisters of St Emillion, a few kilometres from Castillon

A little drop of champagne in the cloisters of St Emillion, a few kilometres from Castillon

And for those interested in food and drink … let me just say, ‘Wow!’ Gorgeous. Long, relaxing meal breaks filled with chatter and hilarity. I could understand why Janie said that running courses is just like hanging out with mates.

A residential writing course is a fantastic opportunity to not only try fresh techniques and swap feedback, but to really move a project forward. Groups are small so the tutor can tailor courses to suit participants.

Thank you, Janie and Mickey, for inviting me to run a Chez Castillon course – and inviting me to do so again next year.

So now I have just over a week and I’ll be setting off for Italy and fabulous Arte Umbria, in Umbria, Italy – the next course. I have every expectation of it being another fabulous experience.

Can’t wait … I’ll be posting again to let you know how it went.

Wandering through Castillon

Wandering through Castillon

Facing camera, one of our fantastic hosts, Janie

Facing camera, one of our fantastic hosts, Janie

The cloisters at St Emillion

The cloisters at St Emillion

An interesting way of raising money for St Emillion church - you pay a couple of euro and hammer a pretty pin into the wood

An interesting way of raising money for St Emillion church – you pay a couple of euro and hammer a pretty pin into the wood

Looking out over St Emillion

Looking out over St Emillion

Market day at Castillon-la-Bataille

Market day at Castillon-la-Bataille

A gorgeous detail of a gorgeous house

A gorgeous detail of a gorgeous house

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