Winner of 2017 Giller Prize

Winner of 2017 Giller Prize
Michael Redhill for his novel Bellevue Square

Monday, April 11, 2011

Writers’ Retreats

Writers’ Retreats
By Joan Baril

The twisting branches of the live oaks met in the middle of the South Carolina street, each branch dripping long grey locks of Spanish moss. I expected Scarlett O’Hara to drive by in her carriage any minute. I should have brought my hoop skirt, my parasol, my 16 inch waist.

 A yellow cottage with a tall pointed roof line and pink shutters peeked from under climbing roses and other foliage. This was to be my home for the next week.

 The owner, Mary Ann Henry, showed me around. A small kitchen at one end, a modern tiled bathroom off on one side plus an outside shower tucked under the trees of the patio, a window seat with television and books in the living room, a bedroom loft upstairs and, most importantly a writing desk.

 “I won’t bother you,” said Mary Ann, “but if you need anything or just want to talk, come next door.”
 Why the place encouraged writing, I could not tell. Perhaps it was the complete quiet, the sea air wafting in from the beach at the end of the street, or the sunlight through the foliage. Or, more likely, the excellent food I purchased from a wonderful natural food supermarket called Earth Fare. Where ever the inspiration, I toiled on.

In the afternoon, I explored Folly Beach, an old-fashioned town set on a sea island south of Charleston. I walked the unending beach, glooming over my work, came back and wrote some more.

May Ann, a former writing teacher, offered a free critique of fifteen pages. She had lots to say and so back to the lap top, making changes.

Writers’ retreats and writers’ colonies are dotted all over the continent. The Folly Beach cottage is one of a cluster at http://www.writersretreat.com. My week at Holly cost $725. Mary Ann also offers a smaller facility for $625 a week. Checking over the list of retreats below, I see most run from $650 to $900 a week. Most have kitchens but a few do not. I prefer my own kitchen because I am a vegetarian and also because I enjoy buying local food and trying out new tastes.

 A couple of summers ago, I stayed in another writing retreat in a cottage in the tiny mountain village of Ouray, Colorado. I had never lived in a place so dominated by mountains. They changed colour every hour, from purple to blue to sunset. I walked the slanting streets of the old mining town and swam in the hot springs. No critique was offered but I met a couple of writers who lived nearby and we got together in the evening to read our work. A fun time.

 Ottawa poet, Rona Shaffran, recalls her week in a lovely big room with a wood stove and a view over the Vermont Hills. Spring was coming which she says created an extra incentive to write.

The list of retreats include many interesting places such as:
  • Byworth, West Sussex, England;
  • Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
  • Castellón, Spain
  • Chesapeake Bay, Virginia
  • Craftsbury, Vermont
  • Hopkinton, Rhode Island
  • Ojochal, Costa Rica
  • Sharpsburg, Georgia
  • Stanstead, Quebec, Canada
  • Ventimiglia, Italy
  • Walkerswood, Jamaica
 Every time I access the web site above, I dream of another week somewhere different, just me and the lap top.

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