By Elaine Fraser
In 2010 my husband and I traveled to Tuscany to celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. We stayed in the wonderful Le Fontanelle in the Chianti region and lapped up the joy of being under the Tuscan sun.
One afternoon, overlooking a valley with terraced vines and pines, I sat on a lounger and wrote. Inspired by an incident I witnessed in a piazza in Aix-en-Provence, I wrote the opening scene of a novel.
After the trip, I put the notebook away, but kept thinking about how to develop this story into a full-blown novel.
For the next three years, I wrote the beginning three thousand words of the novel and visualised the rest of the story. I worked on three other YA books in the meantime, but in September this year I went back to where it all began.
I attended the Art of Writing retreat in Tuscany. It was fabulous to be in a quiet farming region with twelve others for the purpose of focusing on creativity.
We shared meals, classes and walks along quiet paths as we shared this precious time.
Going back to Tuscany where I had begun this novel was important. The setting took me back to that place where I imagined this story, and I was to be guided by three accomplished and encouraging tutors: Lisa Clifford, Jane Corry and Conrad Williams.
The daily routine of classes in the morning, personal sessions and writing time in the afternoon and evening Skype sessions with agents and publishers was an effective way to develop my novel.
Everyone was at different stages of their projects, and the sessions were designed to help us not only write better, but also to aid us in developing our projects to completion.
A key session, Writing From A Sense of Place, by Lisa Clifford, was fabulous. Lisa used examples from her books and the surroundings to help us develop a sense of place in our own writing. The session keyed us in to the five senses and the exercises helped us to bring life to our writing.
Jane Corry, who writes under four names, ran most of the classes. She is both an excellent writer and teacher. Jane’s sessions stretched us in our techniques and pushed our boundaries. We had a lot of fun as we worked alongside each other and read our work aloud. Everyone listened to each other read and gave encouragement with generous spirits.
The afternoons were spent writing on a terrace outside our room, on a hammock in the garden or in the gazebo. We had access to Wi-Fi, so could keep up with research or social media, however, I found that I hardly checked Facebook, Twitter or whatever. With notebook in hand, I wrote every day and late into the evening.
I had sent 3000 words of my WIP to the tutors and each one gave written feedback and talked through the suggestions they’d given me. In the workshops I wrote some parts of scenes and developed characterisation.
I also had the opportunity to discuss structure in individual sessions with each of the tutors. I was tossing around the idea of having three streams to the story the central character’s past and present as well as another character’s story.
I was going round in circles trying to figure out whether to write in first person throughout or vary it between first and third.
By the fourth day, I’d nailed down a structure that would work, along with central scenes to develop and the point of view was established.
In the evening, the Skype meetings with agents and editors were interesting and gave us an opportunity to ask questions directly about anything to do with publishing.
Each of the participants had fascinating life stories and discussions around the meal tables were full of laughter and deep conversation. From England, Dubai, Australia, the USA and Italy it was a mix of culture and experience that was uniquely cohesive. Lifetime friendships were birthed in this group.
Mealtimes and aperitifs were times to continue discussions about our writing, however, as we all connected so well personally, as well as professionally, the discussions were a warm mix of exchanging life stories, discussing where we all were in our life journeys, as well as our writing lives.
Being in Tuscany caused us to be more mindful of our surroundings. As we wrote here, we absorbed the inspiration to be found in the landscapes, the warmth of the hospitality along with the local produce and wine. It was a stop in life that had an amazing effect on each one of us as the significance of where we each were on our spiritual, creative and life journeys.
In setting aside a week to be mindful in our writing, we also became mindful of our surroundings. Each moment became an inspiration, a spark and memory that will enrich our lives and creative work.
My primary goal in attending the retreat was to get direction for my novel. The bonuses were that I was encouraged to finish my book and to pursue publishing, along with making some special friends.
I think that’s why it’s worth going on journeys. They take you out of your comfort zone, heighten awareness and open up your soul in ways you never imagined.
My next writing adventure will be at the Christian Writers’ Conference near Melbourne. Perhaps I’ll meet you there!
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Find out more at: www.elainefraser.co http://www.elainefraser.co