Thursday, August 9, 2012

Writing Holidays That Inspire.

Writing holidays that inspire

By Jan Cornall ArtsHub | Wednesday, September 14, 2011
We all know writing can be a lonely business. I spent years wondering - was I was really depressed or did I just need to speak to another human being every once in a while. A decade ago when I began teaching writing, my motivation was purely selfish. I needed a workshop to find out if other writers were going through the same torture and thought perhaps I could offer a thing or too about my writing process that might be helpful. 
After leading workshops around Sydney, I began running weekends at a friend’s B&B in Braidwood and in 2004 I took a group to Bali in conjunction with the first Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, which I was also helping out with. I’d been a student of meditation for many years and so it was second nature for me to develop a meditative writing method which I still use, to take writers deep into sense memory. It began producing startling results. People couldn’t get enough of it and so I was back and forth to Bali every three months working with local writers, expats and Aussie travellers who weren’t about to let the threat of terrorism ruin their writing holiday.

Around the same time I was approached by Raymond Hawkins, a walking guide who runs trips to the Central Desert and Tasmania’s old growth rainforests. I jumped at the chance to work closely with writers in these vastly contrasting landscapes and have just completed my tenth ‘walk and write’ with his company Into The Blue.

I decided to call my company Writers Journey because that’s essentially what I do – support writers on their journey in the most inspiring places I can find. At the moment I have four annual trips going out but I’m always on the lookout for more.

The Writers Journey year starts in March with Breakthrough Writing in Fiji. The first thing you notice when you get off the plane is the way Fijians walk. It’s the slow relaxed gait of people from a tropical clime. There’s no point in hurrying and besides it’s just too darned hot. The rush, rush of our city-folk ways seems suddenly ludicrous and as you begin slowing it down and remembering this is the pace human beings are supposed amble along at.

It is just the kind of advice writers need. We think we have to push, push, push, to get our work out there, but first we need to slow it down to below the beat of our heart. Daku Resort in Savusavu Bay on the second island Vanua Levu, is just the place to do it. This sleepy little backwater with only one main street doesn’t know the meaning of traffic jam or deadline. It’s all ‘rubber time’ here and so it should be in a writer’s world. That doesn’t mean we slack off or don’t turn up to the morning workshop, but in a week of breakthrough writing, we let time stretch out so there’s room for everything.

By the end of the week these writers can’t understand why they still feel so relaxed when they have all been working so hard. We pack our bags, sorry to leave, resolving to keep the slow Savusavu roll in our step when we arrive back in the land of the busy.’ Finish what you start’ is my parting advice and ‘remember, when it all gets too hard, just come back to the writing, that’s all you have to do’.

Next up at the end of June, is Desert Writers. Timed to coincide with the Alice Springs Beanie Festival we buy our outrageous fashion beanies to keep our heads warm on the cold desert nights ahead. By day we have sun hats and sun block out but for sleeping in swags under the spectacular Milky Way, nothing can surpass wearing a tea cosy to bed. Each day we walk (3-4 hours) and each day we write (as much as we want to) with workshops in camp and on track. Our first camp is below Mt Sonder, a women’s dreaming place, with day walks to Ochre Pits, Ormiston Gorge and along the wide riverbed of Davenport Creek. Then we swing around past Gosses Bluff to our Tjilpa camp, kindly provided by Traditional Landowners Mavis and Herman Malbunka, who join us for dinner to tell the stories of their country and take us off next morning for secret men’s and women’s business.

All week we work not only with the senses but the elements; earth water, wind, fire, space; noticing their action on the landscape we walk through, using them as prompts for revising writers craft and asking what our writing needs more of – the fluidity of water, the grounding of earth, the freedom of air or wind, the intensity of fire or the openness of endless space? We arrive back in Alice like journeyers who have been out back for a long time, hungry for the mod con’s of life, while already missing the sense of having connected so deeply with earth and sky and the camaraderie of fellow writers.

Backstage Bali, is a different version of my old Ubud writer’s retreat follows in July. Since the phenomena of Eat, Pray, Love turned this serene hill town into a grid lock of busloads of newly arrived western women (hoping the same thing that happened to Elizabeth Gilbert will happen to them), I knew I needed to find a new venue. It just so happened that my Bali publishers had taken over the running of their family hotel in Kintamani, high up on the ridge looking over the lake of Mt Batur, a majestic volcano rising up from its shores.

In her early twenties New Zealander Sarita Newson married into a Kintamani family whose ancestry can be traced to the earliest ‘tribe’ who arrived here. It is into the bosom of this extended family we land for our six day journey following the compass of Balinese cosmology around this magnificent lake. Each day after morning workshops we head out with tasty lunches wrapped in banana leaf, on excursions corresponding to the elements, senses and directions: to a temple of writing in the north, a forest hermitage in the east, the hearth of a traditional Bali Aga house in the south, the holy springs of Sebatu in the west, and finally into the centre of the caldera itself.

Our guides are Sarita’s son Kadek (environmental engineer) and her daughter Trisna (architect) although it seems everyone working with us from drivers to musicians to cooks are somehow related. We have also sponsored some local writers to take part, something I am committed to doing wherever possible. A young writer from Java, West Papuan poet John Waromi, Balinese artist Made Suryadharma, Bali poet Ketut Yuliarsa and local expat writers join us, adding an infinite depth to our workshops and insights into the country we are visiting for just a short time.

The week is over too quickly but for me it’s time to get busy with my November trips - two weeks by the Mekong River in the charming heritage listed town of Luang Prabang, Laos. Taken individually or rolled into one, the first week we will write all day and read by night while the second has morning workshops with afternoon excursions to source materials and inspiration for making small artist books and zines. Meanwhile temples, night markets, local restaurants and riverside cafes, perfect for writing in, are all within walking distance.

 If two weeks seems too short who’s saying you have to leave? There’s a clever publicity slogan being used by sustainable tourism operators all over Laos – ‘Stay Another Day’ This time when I wave my writers goodbye I will stay more than another day, for my own writing time, because in the midst of all this journeying, the idea of being a lonely writer again has somehow turned into a delicious fantasy.


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