Dreams to Reality

Are your dreams (career or otherwise) languishing in the ‘one day when’ box? Sometimes the smallest thing can give a dream the impetus to take wings. I found mine when I saw a blog post regarding a Writer’s Retreat, to be hosted by the inspirational Lisa Clifford and conducted in the Tuscan mountains just outside Florence, Italy. Living up to my Blog’s edict – one chance at life – I bit the bullet and enrolled and I’m so glad I did, I had a ball. What’s more I found Lisa’s own story equally inspirational. I asked if she might share via a guest blog and she kindly agreed. Over to Lisa…

20130808-203646.jpgOne of the buzzwords on the internet is ‘dream.’ Make your dream come true, visualise your dream, indulge your dream. There are programmes, foundations and projects called Dream as well as Rebuild the Dream, Dream Hotels and Dream Travel. The focus now on making your dreams come true is incredible. So to coin a lyric from Les Miserables, I dreamed a dream and joined the Dream Team…I created my dream job.

My dream for years was to organise a retreat for writers in my adopted home, Tuscany. I had already published three books, had a fourth on the way and a movie in the pipeline. It was definitely time to give something back. Firstly, to others who dream of becoming published writers and secondly to the mountains of Tuscany, the place that helped make all my dreams come true.

The idea was to design a programme that I personally would love to do, something that offered a special kind of withdrawal into a creative space. Lots of lectures from published writers and fabulous teachers, professionals who are particularly good at evaluating what you’ve written. A writers retreat that offered time to learn, time to create and exceptional private time to chat with authors who’ve made their mistakes and subsequently wanted to share how to avoid the common and not-so-common problems of working with the written word.

20130808-203637.jpgSeveral writers, along with a British Creative Writing teacher that I have worked with in the past, agreed to join me for five days of lectures. We learn in the morning, write in the afternoons and have guest speakers at night. As time goes on, more writers and creative writing teachers have joined my team.

The Art of Writing runs always in the second week of June and the second week of September. We book out an entire Tuscan agriturismo (Italian run family farms that by law have to provide 50% of local produce on their tables) with ten apartments, for ten writers. The Art of Writing groups are small and intimate, ideal for nurturing and encouraging each other.

Here is a short video of the 2013 Art of Writing. I hope it helps you think about your dream and how you too can make it come true.

2013 Art of Writing

Thanks Lisa!
For more inspiration don’t hesitate to check in on Lisa’s own sites:





Key inspiration. Deirdre, Jim, self, Lisa, Penny, Catherine, (Morag missing)
Key inspiration.
Deirdre, Jim, self, Lisa, Penny, Catherine, (Morag missing)

By the way, there’s a lot more to the retreat besides grasping the concept of writing a best seller as you’ll see by photos and post: ‘On finding one’s voice’

NB: Jane is currently on sabbatical in Northern Italy contemplating and acting on outcomes. Feel free to follow her jaunts on this blog. Comments always welcome!

On finding one’s voice…

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.

20130618-180332.jpgFrom 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

About that park bench…

Local preparation well underway, satisfying ticks galore. Original 3 week holiday well taken care of thanks to a years worth of planning with travel mate Jenny. Additional six month sabbatical with a writer’s retreat thrown in? Less than 10 weeks!

Friend sounding boards, research, long lists, endless packing, one of the busiest work periods since the Global Financial Crisis and just a tad of angst and I’m breathing easier…wine to combat ‘whine’ supplied by work colleagues at day’s end. Have I told you how much I love my colleagues?

Looking to add a few travel and accom hints ‘n tips to your repertoire? Rejoice with me as we continue the list ticking…

Pay for Writer’s Retreat: No turning back now. The lovely Lisa collecting those participating from Florence then returning us, brimming with inspiration and enthusiasm 7 days later.
Hint – Part payments within the bank’s daily maximum international transfer limit attracted hefty transfer fees per transaction on top of poor exchange rate. If transferring funds higher than your bank’s maximum transfer limit, apply to increase the limit.

Book Paris to Florence flight: Late evening flights much cheaper than train. Promise myself I’ll take time to view the scenery via train on return journey.
Hint – If wandering Europe and have the time, a Eurail pass will naturally provide unparalleled scenic viewing, overnight journeys with a sleeper saving accommodation costs. The trains are always punctual too!

Book Florence accommodation: Booked via travel agent whereas Jenny, now joining me for a few extra days, booked direct. She saved €25 per night. Lovely travel agent let me cancel and do same. Lesson learnt.
Hint – Do a little sleuthing and book direct with the hotel, a travel agent booking will likely be at the more expensive ‘on the day’ rack rate.

Book post retreat Pied-a-Terre: A fabulous yet economical 2 month rental with stunning ocean view…tick! While busily congratulating myself, the owner was busy double booking over the leasing agent…disaster!

European getaways now approaching peak season, endless research and many wines (and whines) later, things were looking grim, park benches gaining appeal. Then..voila! Lucette, my wonderful leasing agent and new best friend (we’ve bonded over 42 emails to date) received a new listing. Same region, away from the holidaying great unwashed, a view, a balcony, a garden, two whole months. I’ll take it! No photos yet? Don’t care. Infested with cockroaches? Don’t care. Bet you can’t wait to hear outcomes?
Very handy hint – If looking to take one’s self off to a quiet longer term retreat in peak season to live like the locals or simply to recharge, book at least 12 months in advance.

June, July, August sorted…Sept to Nov?…stay tuned!



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