Are al fresco workshops more inspiring?

I used to be torn about the efficacy of writing retreats, holiday courses and away days for maximising creativity and productivity. The ‘joining-a-gym-so-I-have-to-work-out’ analogy sprang to mind– why spend five hundred quid just to do weights and Zumba twice in January then feel guilty for the rest of the year when you could run round the block, skip, or knicker-dance to Prince for nothing? Why fork out for a fortnight in Tuscany with a chick-lit novelist, when you could spend two quid on a new note book and write for three hours a day in Tooting? You either want to write or you don’t.
Then I started teaching on Chalk’s Italian writing retreat and our five-day intensive courses in Andalusia and I realised what a difference it made to get away from it all. No kids, partners, bosses, plumbers or friends-in-need to encroach on students’ writing time. No distractions in the form of tequila tastings, theatre trips, movie dates or lectures on mindfulness. No annoying phone calls about accidents you never had, PPI, little Flora’s nappy rash or the three-date boyfriend who hasn’t paid for dinner yet. A week in which to do nothing but write, learn about writing, talk about writing, practise new techniques for writing is a fabulous luxury. Ideas have room to breathe and grow; new knowledge has space to be absorbed by usually stressed out minds; writing style improves and develops with intensive practice.
A few weeks ago ten Chalk writers popped down to Birling in Kent for our Country House Day of lectures, workshops and exercises on character. We were just over an hour from London and spent a mere eleven hours away from the metropolis yet, in this brief respite from normal life, we all felt we’d made progress. Concepts clicked into place; new thoughts gelled; irksome writing problems miraculously seemed to solve themselves. Sure we eat yummy food, drank wine and had a few laughs but there was something invaluable about having time and mental space to focus solely on writing.
It seems as if more and more aspiring writers realise this too – our Italian retreat in September was fully booked before Christmas last year and our 5-day course coming up on 22 – 26 August in the picturesque Andalusian village of Gaucin is rapidly filling up with people in need of sun, inspiration and the company of other writers. As usual we have programmed in one-to-one tutorials dedicated to individual projects and problems with personalised tuition from Jo Hepplewhite and me as well as group workshops on a range of useful topics from handling dialogue and concretising description to developing themes and motivating storylines. There’s time to write by the pool or in a shady garden during the afternoons and plenty of discussion and feedback in the evenings over chilled cava.
We called the course Channelling Hemingway in a tongue in cheek way, but the great man did actually stay in the village at Hotel Nacional before the thrills of the bull ring in nearby Ronda and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War lured him away. If the rugged scenery, robust Rioja and passion-filled flamenco inspired Hemingway, we reckon it can work for us too.
Ardella Jones
We have spaces left on our 5-day intensive course 22 – 26 August 2016 in Gaucin, perfect for new and rusty writers as well as those with projects underway. Gaucin resident, Jo, can advise on accommodation for all budgets and arrange transfers from Gibraltar or Malaga which are both well-served by budget and scheduled airlines. Book now Creative Writing courses in Spain