At the crack of dawn tomorrow, I am off to sunny southern Italy on the annual Chalk the Sun writing retreat.  Bleary-eyed tutors and students, old and new, from such far-flung places as Putney and Perth, will be converging on Stansted at 5 am, clutching their regulation-size cabin baggage. Only the ordeal that is Ryan Air stands between us and sunshine, seafood and inspirational red wine.  Budget flights, like childbirth, are soon blotted out by pleasanter things (except of course, unlike childbirth, you have to do it again if you want to go home).

     Our destination is a fabulous fortified farmhouse, Masseria Impisi of Grand Designs’ fame, set amidst ancient olive groves and presided over, kindly and casually, by sculptor, David and artist Leonie.  Here, by the natural rock pool in the shade of the Romanesque colonnade, we all feel that we will think more creatively, write more fluently.  Writers’ block will melt away like Leonie’s homemade gelato; procrastination will be replaced by surging creative can-do. Poems will get composed, short stories polished, novels completed.

     But do writers really need to retreat in order to write? Of course, we will have more time to devote to writing without the demands of the day job; we will have more mental space without ringing phones, screaming kids or whinging partners (by which of course I mean husbands) but if you really want to write you will do it anyway anywhere.  I’ll prove my point: I spent a month in Sri Lanka and saw a lot of golden Buddhas, read a James Lee Burke trilogy, and acquired a World of Leather tan, but, apart from show-off emails, my lap top remained unused and my notebook empty except for suggestive Singhalese phrases. T.S. Eliot on the other hand managed to knock up The Wasteland (1922), one of the twentieth century’s seminal poetic works, whilst working full-time at Lloyd’s Bank inWestminster.  That won’t stop me relishing every second in Puglia though.

 Watch this space for more writing retreat news and lots of rubbing it in about the nice weather…

 Ardella Jones