Under azure blue skies and brilliant sunshine, writers from Iceland, the US, Scotland, England and Canada gathered together for our inaugural creative writing retreat in the scenic French countryside several weeks ago.
Reflecting sheer diversity of background, among the participants was a trade union leader, a teacher, an actress, a pastor and a nutritionist.
With everyone staying in the same place - a lovely 19th century chateau with an exotic garden in the beautiful southwestern region of Languedoc - days and evenings were filled with lively exchanges on literature and writing styles and challenges - as well as philosophical musings on life itself.
It being France, with its terrific food culture and verdant vineyards, predominant workshop themes of the week included a focus on how best to use one’s senses to create well-developed characters, as well as landscapes and individual scenes in stories.
Guest authors for our ‘Conversation Corner’ included Norman Longworth who has written a number of books on lifelong learning, as well as poetry and a memoir, and Jane MacKenzie who has completed an historic ‘Catalonia Trilogy’ of novels - Daughter of Catalonia, Autumn in Catalonia and Mediterranean Summer.
To fuel imagination, participants were taken on various excursions in the surrounding bucolic countryside including a guided walk through a charming walled Medieval village with cobblestone streets; an afternoon visit to ‘The Orgues,’ a spectacular geological rock formation millions of years old; a tour of a century-old traditional French liqueur maker; and a bustling open-air French market.
In terms of relaxing entertainment, participants enjoyed an exclusive Catalan dance performance complete with costumes on our opening ‘Magical Evening’ with a special buffet of assorted French cheeses and charcuterie and an array of drinks, including wines, pastis and Byrrh, a local aperitif. Participants even learned a few dance steps.
On the last evening, writers attended a special cabaret in a local community hall in aid of Ukrainian refugees and a lively singalong afterwards at the Villa Lafabregue led by Derek Taylor, an English folksinger and guitarist.