In May we said goodbye to Masseria Impisi, the 16th century farmhouse in Puglia, lovingly restored by artists Leonie Whitton and David Westby, where, for eight glorious years, we held our annual writing retreat. We’d shared this beautiful, tranquil space with writers from all around the world as well as Chalk the Sun’s south London regulars, enjoying work ranging from Aussie Jess’s stand up monologue and South African Shelley’s story of star-crossed lovers to Julie from Virginia’s saucy poems and Kimberley from Crystal Palace’s hilarious Agatha Christie spoof.
Fiona had her wedding reception at Impisi and suggested we tried a retreat there in 2010. She blossomed into a novelist, gave dramatic performances at end-of-retreat suppers, and almost managed not to cry as Guiseppe’s taxi whisked her away for the last time. Glaswegian Jim came every year, regaling us with comic verses and plying us with Baileys. Crime writer Hafiz usually slept for two days to recover from shifts with the Met then treated us to gritty scenes of London policing. Australian novelist David Petale-Allan began his first book on our first retreat; now he’s a prize-winning professional writer, married to girlfriend Carmen with a daughter, Ruby. Jerilyn amazed us with the breadth of her work – poetry, prose, memoir, comedy – and by giving up smoking. Theatre director Lesley wrote about Noel Coward, Aussie pilot Leonie took us up in her glider and Italia-phile Alison finished draft one of a novel and made us fluffy frittatas. Farah, from Lebanon via Australia, made us cry with a tribute to her father; Susanne from Harpenden did the same with memories of her mother.
We celebrated birthdays with Shelley from Botswana via Balham, Dawn from Down Under, Jane from Deptford, and Kate, the Kiwi vet (twice), which meant we had cake and prosecco.We enjoyed Leonie’s spectacular Pugliese cuisine, fireworks and conjuring tricks from David, an Italian quiz, an annual story competition with wonderful, wide-ranging content, and my scurrilous parodies of famous novels from a Room without a Viewto Inspector Simona Montelbano and the Mystery of the Purple Panties to The Talented Mr Westby,featuring our writers, tutors and hosts (amazingly no one sued). Most memorable of all were the fire-lit Autumn Equinox rituals and recitations organised by our hosts in honour of David’s Phoenix Warrior statue.
I’d like to thank everyone who made Impisi such a special experience: Leonie and David, Daisy the Wonder Dog, Tom-Tom, Bimba, Pusscat and the late Missy, the ‘work-aways’ from around the world who helped with our food and care, our fabulous tutors Chalk co-founder Jo Hepplewhite, children’s expert Simona Sideri, and TV director and all-round genius Jonathan Wolfman. And, of course, all our students.
We’ll never replicate our Italian experience: the crickets chirping, the scent of the jasmine, the sun tinting the white stones of Ostuni on its hilltop, the exhilaration of cycling downhill through the olive groves to the turquoise Adriatic. But as the heavy wooden doors of the masseria close for the last time, some ornate wrought iron gates are opening in Magoulades, Corfu where we hope to find a different kind of creative joy. Arrivederci, Puglia, Yassou, Corfu.
Look out for news of our Corfu Writing Holiday in 2019.