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So, what exactly happened last week?


Talking deer, love and romance, ghostly apparitions, magical dancing boots, pirates and smugglers, alien takeover of Earth – these were among intriguing subjects for stories penned by participants following discussions on topics such as ‘character development,’ ‘dialogue,’ and ‘show, don’t tell’ during last week’s writing retreat.

Ever heard bored deer basking in the sun chit-chatting idly about Man’s many idiosyncrasies?


You should read the delightfully witty story by Mary Fraser after she spent an enjoyable afternoon at the stunning Glenveigh National Park and Castle, one of several trips organized for participants throughout the retreat week to entice the Muse.


Excursions. Entertainment. Exercises.

These sum up the essence of the ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ experience.


And boy did this week’s activities feature a hatful of them all, from exclusive concerts, singalong sesiuns and traditional Irish dance performances to food-tasting in a 100-year-old thatched cottage, a boat-ride on 'The Cricket' and stroll along an historic island linked to Robert Louis Stevenson, author of classic tale, 'Treasure Island.' Even a lively team quiz in a local pub.


Out of these jovial jaunts through the bucolic coastal countryside of west Donegal on the picturesque ‘Wild Atlantic Way,’ participants produced diverse stories that were then critiqued ‘forensically’ in-class, with each assignment featuring its own unique characteristic. Some were mainly dialogue, other were based on a single question, still others were adventure stories in any genre, from romance to sci-fi to humor, all set in a specific place such as a castle, cottage or island they had visited.


In this way, innovative ideas emerged with equally innovative writing styles and characters to match. In this way, participants melded as a self-supporting group, each helping the other to improve their work, all classes being held under the guidance of an experienced tutor.


The week also featured four separate authors, all having written books in very different genres including memoir, contemporary fiction, children’s and horror. The authors spoke about their backgrounds and how they became interested in writing, then answered questions on how they originated their story ideas, their day-to-day writing schedules and the various challenges they faced in developing plot, structure and character.


These authors included:

Sean Hillen, lead writing coach who wrote 'Pretty Ugly,' a novel focusing on the cosmetic industry.

Tara O’Grady, a talented song-writer, who combined a talk about her recently-published memoir, 'Migrating Toward Happiness' with some excellent singing, and whose father even entertained participants with his fine fiddle playing.


Margaret Gordon, writer of 'The Fairies of Drumboe Woods' who is now working on her second illustrated children’s book on local faery-lore.

Colm Ferriter, native Irish speaker and award-winning journalist, who is following up his last novel, 'Ö' with a sequel, both based on witches and vampires.


The retreat week's result? Better to show, than tell:

I came to the 'Ireland Writing Retreat' for inspiration and to become immersed in Irish culture. The experience was more than I hoped for. I'm leaving with the start of three new stories set in Donegal and new friends from three continents. It has enriched my writing and my life.” Laurie Wagner, Director of Development, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, Denver, Colorado


The ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ was simply superb, like an Irish jig - lively and wild and wonderful. It is gifted with the expertise of Sean and Columbia as well as their enthusiasm and sincere commitment to the participants. They built a space of trust. We were immersed in culture which fed the imagination and the inspiration flowed to the pen.” Cate Dunn, actress and teacher, Foster, New South Wales, Australia


Thank you so much for this week. The workshops exceeded my expectations. I’m inspired and excited to get writing.” Natalie Hines, high school teacher, Indianapolis, Indiana


"This is a special place in the world, a magical place. It inspires and frees the creative spirit. Sean keeps you thinking and asking questions to ignite your imagination. Columbia has you so well organized you won’t know how to function without her. The Irish and local authors both entertained us and challenged us to be like them. They are real people. The combination of writing with immersion in the culture cannot be duplicated anywhere else. The land, the sea and the people are delightful." Denise Stablein, retired high-school teacher, Washington DC


"What a wonderful week in Donegal at The Ireland Writing Retreat. I really enjoyed how writing, storytelling and author events were woven together to create this magical event. A great opportunity to write, dance and soothe the soul with new friends and great hosts, Sean and Columbia. Thank you so much, I will be back." Mary Fraser, Human Resource Specialist, UK

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