Whether you opt for a COMMUNAL WRITING RETREAT, follow in the footsteps of the LITERARY GREATS or seek inspiration in a luxury hotel, there’s no excuse to delay YOUR BEST-SELLER …
You know the story: you promised yourself that 2017 would be the year you’d carve out some precious time for yourself and finally start that novel – and now it’s almost September, and you haven’t so much as cracked open your Moleskine notebook. If this sounds familiar, then a writing holiday could be just the solution. And the good news is that there are as many ways of kick-starting your project as there are genres of fiction, whether you want the structure of a course or prefer to hide away on your own in an inspiring location.
For most aspiring writers, the first port of call is a traditional writers’ workshop or retreat. These generally involve a week or two in a communal (usually rural) setting, where you can immerse yourself in the task at hand. The more structured kinds revolve workshops or seminars where you share your work with fellow participants, engage in writing exercises and get feedback on your ideas from a tutor – this approach often works well for beginners, who will find the supportive environment and practical approach helpful and productive. For self-starters who prefer to go it alone – and perhaps have more experience under their belt – there is also the hands-off “retreat” model, where you are given a room and a desk and the quiet and space to get on with things yourself. Both set-ups often have a built-in social element, be it an evening meal together at the end of each day, or outings and activities. If this sounds a bit daunting or commune-ish – well, the truth is it can feel that way at first. But then the whole idea of writing is to open yourself up to ideas and experiences and to imagine yourself into another person’s mind, so getting out of your comfort zone and into the company of like-minded strangers (often from completely different walks of life) is a good way to start, and most people find it ultimately rewarding. Though do expect a few ups and downs over the course of the week … all grist to the creative mill. “It’s all copy,” as Nora Ephron famously said.
If, however, that’s all too touchy-feely and you’d rather combine your research with a five-star holiday, then there are any number of historic spots where you can do so while following in the footsteps of the literary greats. Perhaps lunch at The Round Table restaurant in New York’s Algonquin Hotel, synonymous with Dorothy Parker and her “Vicious Circle” of wits, or a stay at The Savoy, where previous writers-in-residence have included Stephen Fry, Fay Weldon and Ireland’s own Frank McCourt? Some hotels are almost characters themselves: the iconic Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes played host to Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in the 1920s and makes an appearance (under an alias) in Tender is the Night, while Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express while staying at the opulent Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul. Or – the 21st-century option – you could simply rent an Airbnb in the location of your choice, pack your laptop and ideas notebook and let your imagination do the rest.
Whatever you choose, though, remember this: where you go may well leave its imprint on what you end up writing. With this in mind, we’ve rounded up six great getaways and matched them to a would-be work-in-progress – what happens next is up to you …
YOUR LIFE STORY
WHERE: Atsitsa Bay on the Greek island of Skyros.
WHAT: Single travellers with a creative bent have known about Skyros for years: with holidays devoted to everything from writing and painting to yoga and wellbeing, the focus is on community and personal development (think Shirley Valentine does self-improvement), all in a tranquil island setting. It’s the perfect place to shed your inhibitions (retsina helps too) and delve into that memoir you’ve been talking about for years – sign up for their two-week course on “The Stories of Your Life” and find your inner muse. www.skyros.com.
THE HISTORICAL ROMANCE
WHERE: Abri Retreat in the Cévennes mountains of the Languedoc, France.
WHAT: The romance and rich past of southwest France has proved intoxicating to novelists from Joanne Harris to Kate Mosse, so where better to escape and work on your flight of historical fancy? So what if you’re thin on actual research – inspiration is everywhere in this lush, mountainous landscape and it’s an opportunity to don some pretty tea dresses and Persols. With its distraction-free setting, writing desk in every room and one-to-one writing tuition on hand when you need it, Abri retreat provides everything you need to get going on your magnum opus. www.abricreativewriting.com.
THE SPY NOVEL
WHERE: The Grätzl Hotel, Vienna.
WHAT: With its reputation as the espionage capital of the world, Vienna is a city full of secrets – the ideal place to dream up Le Carré-esque plots of spy swaps and skulduggery. Go undercover in one of the individual suites in the uber-cool Grätzl Hotel Meidlinger Markt – so cool, in fact, that it’s not even a traditional hotel but a collection of restored commercial premises dotted around the city’s hippest neighbourhood (our favourite is “The Clerk” with its window seat and street view). Avail of their “Joy of Writing” special and you’ll get a ten per cent discount, on condition that you write a short essay about your stay. www.graetzlhotel.com.
THE ESCAPE FANTASY
WHERE: Ubud, Bali.
WHAT: When Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love came out (followed by the film starring Julia Roberts), it inspired a generation of women to pack in their humdrum lives and follow their dreams – or at least to fantasise about it. The last stop on Gilbert’s odyssey of self-discovery was Ubud in Bali, the island’s cultural capital and now home to the Ubud Writers Festival (25-29 October), which offers a range of workshops with international authors in laidback surroundings. When it’s all over, check into the luxurious Como Uma Ubud resort and spa (with Heidi Klein one-piece), to unwind and absorb all that you’ve learned. www.ubudwritersfestival.com; www.comohotels.com.
WHERE: A cottage on the Cornish coast.
WHAT: If Dubliner Aidan Turner set your pulse racing in Poldark, then perhaps you’ll want to channel those swirling passions into your own tale of swashbuckling heroes and damsels (or Demelzas) in distress. Hole up in Argus Cottage, nestled beside a lighthouse just six miles north of Land’s End in Cornwall, with stunning views out to sea – and when the cabin fever gets too much, take bracing walks along the dramatic headland. A dark and stormy cocktail is the perfect accompaniment, while vintage Vivienne Westwood is the style vibe you’re after. www.ruralretreats.co.uk.
THE GREAT IRISH NOVEL
WHERE: The Moth Retreat in Co Cavan.
WHAT: The husband-and-wife team behind The Moth magazine know a thing or two about writing – the list of past contributors reads like a who’s who of Irish letters (John Boyne, Belinda McKeon, Paul Durcan, to name but a few). Their base is also smack-bang in the country’s literary heartland, near the home ground of heavyweights Patrick Kavanagh, John McGahern and Patrick McCabe. Their recently refurbished retreat is a quirky, pared-back dwelling for one down a country lane, with an artist’s studio, writing desk and fresh eggs delivered each morning. Pack your cashmere and wellies. www.themothmagazine.com.
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