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Participants at Black Sea Writing Retreat explore 2,000-year-old tomb

Under clear blue skies with bright sunshine, an exciting and enjoyable inaugural Black Sea Writing Retreat ended several days ago in the tranquil village of 2 Mai on Romania’s winding coastline.

Reflecting the week-long retreat’s innovative nature, the last segment comprised practical workshops focusing on travel writing, including role playing exercises at a mock press conference during which one of the participants, Jeff Holt from Michigan, took on the identity of ‘Jeff O’Journey,’ a fictional tourism press officer, while the other participants became enterprising reporters on the hunt for exclusive, genre-specific travel stories.

With participants and writing trainers coming from such countries as Australia, Canada, the US, Ireland and England and different walks of life, including medicine and social services, there was never a shortage of topical subjects to be discussed, both inside and outside the ‘classroom.’

An open garden terrace under a meandering grapevine several hundred yards from the beach added a touch of exoticism to the retreat.

Such activities as morning swims, evening strolls along the coast, a short trip on the eclectic ‘Dragon’ ferry-boat, a lively traditional music and dance performance in a Romanian cultural center, organized by ACE Zestrea Calatiana, led by Slagiana Vesici, a visit to Callatis Archeology Museum led by an expert guide, Mihai Ionescu, a leisurely walk through a rustic Tatar village and even glasses of home-brewed palinka and Cognac and free-flowing conversation at midnight – all reflected the week’s diversity.

Everyone agreed one of the outstanding highlights was the rare experience of standing inside a recently-uncovered ancient underground tomb, courtesy of Magdalena and Dan Stefan, leaders of a project organized in collaboration with the Archeology Institute in Bucharest and Callatis Archeology Museum.

It was truly dramatic to see history up-close in such an inspiring setting,” said Amber Wilcox O’Hearn from Newfoundland, Canada, now living in Boulder Colorado.

We were so lucky. The archaeologists themselves were on-site excavating the ruins and stopped their work to explain to us at length about the dig itself, then let us climb inside the tomb and, in effect, travel back in time. To witness two-thousand-year-old finger-prints and medieval drawings on the inner walls was thrilling.

Participants were delighted to enjoy two separate countries – both Romania and Bulgaria.

A day trip across the border meant they could wander through one of the oldest human settlements in Europe, dating back more than 5,000 years, and enjoy a leisurely stroll in bright sunshine along the scenic Kaliakra peninsula, the setting for historical drama over the centuries.

Dinner on a seaside terrace in the nearby village of Krapets complemented one in a similar setting in Romania’s coastal town of Mangalia, so participants were able to compare delicious ethnic foods from both countries.

As for the writing workshops, the retreat comprised four different writing guides focusing on separate topics.

As part of the retreat’s first-day welcome ‘Magical Mystery Evening’ with traditional Romanian foods and drinks alfresco, an informal Q&A was hosted with multi-book author Arabella McIntyre-Brown from Liverpool about why she moved from the relative security of northern England to the heart of the Transylvanian countryside, the challenges she faced and satisfaction she has gain from this dramatic lifestyle change and her day-to-day writing strategy.

The next day, Arabella wowed her students with a highly-inventive workshop entitled ‘Freemagination,’ aimed at doing exactly as the title suggests – unleashing the power of the right side of the brain to help develop more rounded characters and more interesting storylines.

One of the themes of Dubliner Tina Gregory’s workshop was ‘introductions ’ - how to produce innovative opening book chapters strong enough to entice people into the story, with specific examples from authors she admires. Her husband, Mark, a forensic editor, talked about the minutiae of writing, the importance of fine-tuning after the initial draft has been completed.

Sean Hillen, journalist and author of novel, ‘Pretty Ugly,’ hosted two workshops on travel writing. A former foreign correspondent in Europe and the US including The Irish Times and The Times and Daily Telegraph of London, who writes for World Itineraries and, Sean defined the various genres within travel writing and the various styles.

We thank Atlassib for providing professional and efficient transport for everyone during the retreat.

Having not been to a writing retreat before, I arrived without expectations, yet the week has been amazing. The writing integrates with cultural and historical excursions culminating in a memorable experience. All in all, I laughed, wrote, absorbed and learned. I would highly recommend.

Barbara Hopper, Seattle

This was my second time at a workshop run by the Ireland Writing Retreat and I am already planning a return. All speakers are published and yet relatable, willing to dig in and help individuals with their projects. The cultural program gave a wonderful orientation to a beautiful place."

Mary Holt, Michigan

A wonderful week of learning more about writing and about Romania. Accommodation was clean, comfortable and well-located. A very memorable time.

Deborah Southwell, Brisbane, Australia

“The retreat provided a great combination of interesting trips and opportunities to write and learn. Each trip represented a chance to write stories or practice travel writing. Arabella did a fantastic session on character development, the highlight of the week for me.”

Doctor Jeff Holt, Michigan

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This Artist's Retreat is available for rent this summer, in the same village where Black Sea Writing Retreat took place

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