Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The art and soul of writing

I feel like I have been away for a while even though it's only been a few days.  I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest to Busybird Publishing's Karma Kinglake Writing Retreat this past weekend, held in the hills of beautiful Kinglake.  Despite the unbelievably cold and wet weekend we had, I had a great time away.
Looking on to main house - Karma Kinglake
Karma Kinglake in and of itself is a beautiful place to stay.  Re-built after the devastating Black Saturday bushfires by the owner Karen - the HIA Award-winning main house is made of locally-sourced stone, concrete and Cypress pine.  That's where you'll find the open kitchen, dining room and lounge area complete with open fireplace.  Karen and her ex-partner used to run safari tours and other travel expeditions so the house has an African vibe which carries though to the accompanying self-contained cottages (or 'nests').  I shared one of these with another writer and her partner - there are separate bedrooms which share a bathroom, kitchen, dining and living space complete with a Coonara wood heater in each apartment.
Little barn - Karma Kinglake
Karen is also a marvellous cook and the meals we had were superb - a Morrocan lamb tagine served with cous cous, pistachio and apricots as well as pork belly with an Asian coleslaw.  Everything is homemade including lunch and dessert making the main house one of the best places to hang out, just for the smells and food alone.  Karen often joined us after meal times telling us her own story as a bushfire survivor, some of which was pretty harrowing stuff such as the number of people who died trying to save their animals.  The re-build in the fire's aftermath was also a long and protracted affair which saw Karen living on site in not much more than a shipping container/shed cooking for up to 15 workmen on a daily basis for over a year.
View from Nest 4
I travelled there late Friday afternoon with Owner/Founder Blaise van Hecke and Publications Manager Les Zigomanis from Busybird Publishing's Montmorency studio but the other paying guests came from all over Victoria and two from interstate.  Just as well we got there late afternoon as the rain started to pelt down and the mountain mist rolled in - it was just like something out of a murder mystery but added to the atmospheric feel of the whole weekend.
Kitchen/Dining area - Nest 4
If you are a writer or think you would like to write a book (fiction or non-fiction/memoir), then this retreat is perfect as the sessions cover a number of different topics including: Why we write, Writing elements, Structure & content, Workshopping, Prose and Submitting & publishing. Even for someone like me, who writes for a living, I found it an interesting challenge learning to write a different way - a style which is more cinematic in many respects rather than journalistic.  Other exercises included writing letters to our 20 year old selves and workshopping other people's writing (we'd each been asked to submit 500 words before going on the retreat).
Bedroom 1 - Nest 4
The women (and they were all female guests) on the retreat were a mixed bunch of some very interesting and impressive people who included an ex-diplomat (and high commissioner), an anaesthetist, a public servant, an editor studying a Masters in Writing, a local social worker (and bushfire survivor), a health care administrator as well as an 87 year-old former journalist and coffee plantation owner who'd spent 25 years living in Papua New Guinea.  The back stories to their lives (which were often discussed at dinner time or around the fireplace afterwards) were just as fascinating as the actual writing skills we picked up over the course of the weekend.
Lounge area - Nest 4
Given the torrential rain, the whole place was a fantastic sanctuary to be in although it got pretty cold at one point when there was a power outage late on Saturday afternoon.  Needless to say I fled to the main house as I couldn't get the wood heater going in my apartment (yes - epic fail as a city slicker) so I sat in front of the big fire by candlelight until the power was restored at dinner time.  It did get very cold at night and I will say that it would be great to have electric blankets on the beds next time as I had to ask for an extra blanket the second night I was there.
Inside Karma Kinglake main house - view from fireplace
Blaise and Les (who is not her husband as many of the guests first thought) have worked together for 10 years and have an endearing brother/sister type relationship as well as being very interesting and talented people who work as writers, editors and publishers. Les has recently signed a three book deal as an author with Pantera Press while Blaise has been writing her memoir, which includes her time living on a commune as a child.  The sessions they co-facilitated were filled with lots of humour and laughter including a running joke about 'Bob' a poor unfortunate character we created and developed as a writing exercise over the course of the weekend.
L-R: Les Zigomanis & Blaise van Hecke in action - The Barn
Both of them took me back to Banyule on Sunday afternoon and I was on a high for a good hour or so afterwards before collapsing on the couch and having a bath - it was a lot to take in over three days (Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon) but that's why going away to somewhere as peaceful and removed as Kinglake makes a lot of sense.  I think it's only when you do get out of your normal environment that you relax and are able to focus on something completely different and be present. Blaise and Les's biggest advice to all novice writers?  Just write - no more excuses!
Disclosure: Miss Rosanna's was a guest of Busybird Publishing's Karma Kinglake Writing Retreat

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