Writing advice, successes and winners, a Writing Safari and Venice Retreat
Take the time you need to write something worthwhile
A distinguished reporter, the author of long, ferociously researched articles, stopped by to see me one day in great excitement, to say he was giving up all this drudgery and would write only fiction from now on. “Fiction writers never have to leave their desks, do they?” he said.
“Well, no,” I said. “Except for one thing.”
“They have to get up to vomit.”
I came across this in a New Yorker article by Roger Angell. The point is: writing, fiction or non-fiction, is not for sissies.
We are often approached by would-be writers who want to have “a best-seller by Christmas”.
Firstly, no-one can be sure of writing a best-seller. It’s so unpredictable. But secondly, writing takes dedication, discipline and a certain dogged stubbornness.
You have to hold fast to your belief that one day it might turn out to be something that at least one person might like to read. You have such a vision for it, and the execution never seems to reach those heights. You love it and hate it, in equal measures.
It’s never quick. You’ll probably have false starts. Sometimes an entire first (or second) draft can be wrong-footed, and you have to use it as raw material for the next try. Even if you don’t have to scrap it entirely, your first draft is highly unlikely to require grammatical nit-picking alone.
It will probably need at least some restructuring, rewriting of entire sections, setting up for things you pay off later. You’ll need to excise your explanations and find ways to show us what you need us to know.
And that’s only the second draft. So, that’s my advice for the month. Whatever you’re writing – fiction, memoir, biography – write because you care about producing something that matters, to you, at least. Don’t write because you think it’ll be a quicker way to fame and fortune than slogging away at your day job.
And don’t expect it to be fun, fun, fun. Oh, there will be times when you feel a soaring transcendent euphoria, but there’ll also be times when … yes, you get up to vomit.
You need time out of your busy life to write something that matters
Sometimes you need space and time out of your life to get a writing project off the ground, or to give it a concerted push.
We believe in writing retreats. Surrounded by like-minded people, you can’t help but feel inspired. And you have writing mentors on-hand daily to offer one-on-one attention. And besides all the worthy stuff, who wouldn’t like to go somewhere exotic and stimulating, to spoil yourself and indulge in your creative project?
We have a number of options for you this year. (We decided you needed a bit of travel to feed the soul, after two years of lockdown.) They’re already filling up, so do nab a place, or at least let us know you’re interested.
All About Writing’s week-long Writing Safari, starting on 9 June, is designed to deliver on two needs which have been in short supply – the need for freedom, and the need to explore the creative self.
Tucked away in a remote corner of Hwange National Park, in northern Zimbabwe, the safari offers the company of the Big Five – and the personal attention of internationally best-selling Australian author, Tony Park, and myself.
After two nights at the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls, participants will be cosseted in Nantwich Lodge, with all their needs taken care of. Set on a commanding hill, Nantwich’s nine suites each offer uninterrupted views of Hwange’s wilderness. Meals, with drinks included, are served on the long, shady veranda of the main building, a renovated retreat from a bygone era overlooking the water hole.
A game drive per day is included, to stimulate the imagination.
Tony Park, who has published 19 novels and does much of his own writing here, says: ‘Nantwich Lodge is the perfect place for writers and aspiring authors to get away from it all, and find peace and inspiration.
‘For writers and their partners, who are welcome, Nantwich offers a fantastic safari experience for first-timers to Africa, while die-hard bush lovers won’t fail to appreciate the solitude, far away from other lodges and tourists.’
As usual, we will run the retreat over two weeks. You are welcome to sign up for one week or two – from 11 to 18 October and/or 19 to 26 October.
But this year, we’ve added a surprise twist – a further week’s retreat (26 October to 2 November) in the countryside on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia. Join us for a week in Venice and a further week in Istria, just three hours to the north-east, or a week in Istria alone. Or go the whole hog, and spend three glorious weeks writing and exploring.
Ca’ della Corte in Venice is a 16th century Venetian palazzo which has retained the essential flavour of Venice, but has been renovated by its passionate owner, Caterina Pensa. Every air-conditioned bedroom either looks out on its own courtyard, or offers a peek into the neighbourhood.
But most of all, Ca’ della Corte offers unparalleled opportunities to the writer seeking a serene and inspiring environment.
We’re thrilled to be able to offer you the added week this year – to consolidate the progress you’ve made with your writing project in Venice
Istria will embed you in a history that stretches back thousands of years, but you’ll be taking up residence in the Croatian countryside in a luxury villa, Casa Famiglia, with every mod con. After the morning workshop, we’ll invite you to write, or book us for one-on-one sessions.
In the afternoon, though, we hope you’ll join us on a series of outings: to a castle built during the heyday of Venice’s empire, a visit that’ll culminate with a tasting of local Istrian wines. To Pula, a stone’s throw from our villa, which boasts the most complete Roman amphitheatre in the world – and a very literary memorial commemorating James Joyce’s visit when dreams of Ulysses were swirling in his mind. To the medieval hilltop village of Labin. To a local olive farm.
Please contact Trish if you have any more questions or would like to book for one of the retreats: email@example.com.
A Venetian traveller, Arianne James, started a manuscript under our guidance during our last retreat before lockdown. She has now finished it (working title, Skin), and is busy with the rewriting and editing process.
Here’s what she has to say:
I still think about the magical week I spent in Venice, soaking in the history, getting lost in the winding streets and alleys, such perfect fuel for the writer’s imagination.
When I came to Venice my novel was more a series of ideas and half-written scenes that had been percolating for some time. The retreat in Venice was fantastic for taking the first steps towards developing it. The initial conversation I had with Jo-Anne and Richard was wonderful and very inspiring. It always helps to voice your ideas and concerns and have them listened to by knowledgeable and experienced ears.
The novel blends historical fiction and mythology, and examines the complexities of motherhood, mental illness, place and belonging.
Skin is a tale of madness and miracles, secrets and sins, myth and reality, and the tenacity and resilience of women in the face of impossible choices. It is a novel that weaves historical fiction with folklore and Tasmanian gothic.
Cathy Park Kelly, who attended our Creative Writing Course, has published the memoir she began in our Mentoring programme, Boiling a Frog Slowly, through Karavan Press. A searing tale of physical and emotional abuse, this is ultimately a story of survival and strength. We’re very proud of her.
Here’s a word from her:
This memoir has been a work in progress (in between having a family and running my own small business) for about eight years. Throughout each draft – an early draft very much thanks to help from All About Writing – a hot flame of determination flickered inside me.
I felt I’d learnt so much from this past chapter in my life that I wanted to share these insights. Yet there was also a part of me that felt wary of jumping on the bandwagon of the #metoo movement. I wanted to make sure my motives for doing so were as clear and truthful as they could possibly be. And seeing this story out ‘in the wild’, on shelves in bookshops, on readers’ laps, on readers’ bedside tables, is even more of a thrill than I expected.
Mostly, getting messages from readers saying this book touched them, made them think, gave them courage, is very validating and inspiring for me. It makes me want to write more.
The second novel in Alissa Baxter’s Linfield Ladies series, The Viscount’s Lady Novelist, will be released on 26 April from Vinspire Publishing.
Harriet is a lady novelist who wishes to turn her estate into a refuge for orphans, but her plans are threatened by her new neighbour, a viscount determined to restore his family fortunes.
Here’s a word from Alissa:
Five years ago I attended an All About Writing retreat at Whispering Pines Country Estate in the Magaliesberg. After I brainstormed an idea for a Regency novel with Jo-Anne and Richard, I rekindled my love for this period and I have been writing in the Regency genre ever since.
We just came across this blog post by the indomitable Kate Turkington, who attended our first ever Creative Writing Course. For those sad souls who haven’t come across her, Kate is an author, broadcaster, media trainer, talk show host, and award-winning travel writer. She was the first woman to be inducted into the South African MTN Radio Hall of Fame. We enjoyed reading about why you should put Namibia on your bucket list, and thought you would like it too. Read Kate’s blog post here.
And now (belatedly) the winners of the October/November Writing Challenge
If you can cast your minds back that far, you might remember that we asked you to write a lyrical scene in which you should plant a single disquieting detail, visible to the reader if not to the perspective character.
The winner both for the lyricism and for the little flip of disquiet in the very last line of the scene, is Tariq Fensham.
A very close runner up – perhaps on another day, she would have come out on top – was Barbara Matthews, whose off-kilter note was very subtle indeed – but available to the careful reader (and aren’t we all careful readers?)
And then, for reasons apparent in their submissions, another slew of entries receive honourable mentions: congrats to Katrin Ginley, Vincent Pienaar and Angela Martinescu.
It strikes us, reading the entries, that each is in itself a promising start to a short story or something more ambitious. Read the winning entries here.
Winners of the December/January Writing Challenge
We had a flood of entries for the competition that challenged you to write a child-centred scene in which two older kids are playing with their infant sibling. What we wanted were clues about the relationship between the three characters – without any explanation.
It’s not easy writing from the perspective of young children, and yet every one of the winning entries managed it expertly.
First among equals was the entry from Claire Manicom. Hers is a very chilling portrait of two gun-totin’, murderous siblings. and we’re delighted to award you your choice of a literary assessment of 5000 words worth R2750/£150 or a voucher to the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes.
Moving on. Congrats to Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen for her scene that deftly establishes two entirely different personalities in the older siblings, and demonstrates how, over the years, those are likely to play out in their relationship with their younger brother. Heather Joyce, by contrast, takes her place on the podium for her depiction of children who still have a lot to learn about empathy and compassion (to put it mildly).
In complete contrast, but just as interesting, was the entry from Shameez Patel Papathanasiou – and finally, there’s a subtle portrait by Lois Hooge of a little boy who might one day find himself either as the chairman of the board – or in a psycho ward. Read the winning entries here.
Congratulations to you all for some fine writing! Tariq and Barbara are the winners of either a literary assessment of 5000 words worth R2750/£150 or a voucher to the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes.
And do keep send your entries in – one of the best ways to sharpen your writing skills is by entering competitions like ours. Check out our current flash fiction challenge here.
Jo-Anne and Richard