It was warm and sunny as we headed to the airport to collect our guests for the first L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop France, but the beautiful weather did little to calm our nerves: what would the ladies be like? What if Helen Cross, our lead tutor hadn’t made it onto the plane?
As our worries danced around our stomachs, we approached the airport café where we found our first two writers – early arrivals who had sat and got to know each other over coffee (and possibly a beer or two). Shades on, sleeves rolled up, they were laughing and enjoying the sunshine - immediately we knew that the week-end was going to be alright.
Indeed, as our writers (whom we now call our friends) told us at the end of our four days together, it was better than “alright” - the words and phrases “Amazing”, “beyond my expectations”, “life-changing” being included among our feedback.
So, what was it that made this event so special?
Was it the fact we had the fabulous Helen Cross teaching us how to put pen to paper in a way that would entice our readers in and never let them go?
As Helen told us that first evening as we drank wine in the panelled library: “writing is a craft, you can learn how to do it. Everything you go through in writing is relevant, even if it’s no good. The more you write, the better you will get.”
She was telling the truth. Lessons and exercises in character development, story structure, the role of conflict, the use of metaphors and abstract nouns, techniques for storytelling through the senses, how to reveal your story through dialogue… Helen packed the learning into the nine hours of workshops and we soaked it up, our confidence growing along with our ability.
“As someone who doesn’t really enjoy ‘the classroom’, I absolutely loved the pressure of the response writing we did in the workshop,” said Lottie, one our writers.
Meanwhile, another, Emma, commented on the value the one-to-one consultation sessions offered: “I found a voice in my writing that feels authentic and I got so much advice guidance and encouragement from our amazing tutor, Helen,” she said.
More than words
But while Helen undoubtedly unlocked something in our writers, there was more to this long weekend than just workshops.
There was also the venue – an 18th century manor house with its curved staircase, grand four-poster beds and creaking floorboards that had all the character you’d expect of a home steeped in two hundred years of history.
We also offered our guests optional sessions: morning wellbeing sessions of meditation, yoga and a silent walk, and Sarah’s Snippets - hosted by Sarah Tyley in which she shared her experiences of writing and self-publishing, Spaghetti Head, along with her very valuable tips on managing self-doubt.
There was all the free time that was available every afternoon. How our guests used that time was up to them – some squirrelled themselves away to put into practice all they had learnt that morning. Others swam and relaxed next to the heated outdoor swimming pool. Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, with its subterranean church, narrow cobbled streets and quirky artisan shops was just a stone’s throw away and ripe for exploring.
And we have to mention the mouth-watering food: beef bourguignon and dauphinoise potatoes; chicken basque, barbecued duck magret with cherry sauce. Our private chef, Wendy Meers, did us proud.
But while all of this played its part in making the first L’atelier des ecrivains – The Writers’ Workshop one to remember, what really made it so special were our guests.
What a beautiful, warm, supportive bunch of smart women they were. From that first moment at the airport through to our tired but happy goodbyes at the end, we laughed, we talked, we shared stories and life-experiences. There was something about the energy and creativity of this group that enabled something powerful to happen. Magic.
The next L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop France takes place between 16 and 20 May 2019. Places are filling up fast, so book your spot today.