Picture this. You have just been asked to finish the following:
The boy came into the dark library and…
The sky was the color of…
She fell back into the water in astonishment…
Is it true that….?
My father, you need to understand…
On my planet we…
Not going to share outcomes other than to say there was something about the new pool boy that caused the woman to fall back into …but I digress!
You’ve just been introduced to my first hour at the ‘Art of Writing’ retreat. Held at Residence Il Borgo in the lush green Casentino region of Tuscany, Italy, a place where spiritual retreats thrive and where castles, medieval monasteries and sanctuaries generate a ‘calming of the spirit’ …a blurb I recently read and with which I heartily concur. Little wonder the locals simply call it ‘the place of emotions’.
Emotional at the best of times, mine were in overdrive. Finally, a place to make sense of the thousands of post-it notes floating around in my head! Our host Lisa Clifford; an expat, down to earth, welcoming and wise, chose the setting well, thus too her supporting cast.
James (Jim) Friel, Program Leader for the M.A and Ph. D. in writing at Liverpool’s John Moores University, visiting writer at L’Universite de Rouen, France and author of four novels, a fifth due for release, was lead tutor. Lisa (Clifford) – two books under her belt including ‘The Promise’, a third on the launch pad; Morag (Anne Fraser) – 19 published Mills & Boon novels, the 20th book, and of an entirely different genre, about to launch; Deirdre Pirro – author of ‘Italian Sketches’ and regular columnist for various publications including ‘The Florentine’ an English speaking local paper and Catherine McNamara – author of ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Italy’ and two Blogs; Each added personal advice and guidance to a rich and impressive agenda.
From left: Annie, Robbie, Matthew, Susie, Sue, Liz, Susie, Jane. In front : Lorenzo (left) and Lauchlan
Collectively we learn about finding our voice, our audience and how to craft our earnestness into intelligible sentences that said audience might actually want to read. The importance of robust research, how to meld memoirs, shape scenes and a sense of place. As well, how to edit, submit, deal with rejection, market, promote and possibly, just possibly even publish…and likely remain poor but personally rewarded for the experience.
My fellow participants, a mixture of Australian and expat, an American and an expat Italian now settled in Cairo, are interesting and interested, have fabulous stories to tell and faces as confused as mine. By week’s end for most, trepidation replaced with quiet determination.
We whipped our concepts into something that may even fly, bonded over shared Ligurian feasts cooked by the delightful Umberta, who spoke not a word of English but saved by the many who have a command on Italian (how I envy them). We also milked sheep, made pecorino and ricotta cheese from outcomes, examined one of the oldest flour mills in Europe and banqueted inside the 10th-11th century Porciano Medieval Tower hosted by its gracious owner. All in a days work, well actually six days…and they went way too fast!
We also made a pact to support each other’s book launches. Or was that just the wine speaking? Italy, Egypt the US, Australia and the UK?…I’m already saving!
Penny who deals with all things administrative and Lisa the glue that binds, thank you!
From left: Deirdre Pirro, James Friel, Jane, Lisa Clifford, Penny Miller and Catherine McNamara