The sun shone on us again as we drove to collect our six writers and Helen from the airport for our second L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop France. We were excited at the thought of being reunited with four September-returnee writers, Helen our tutor, and to be meeting two new writers.
Both cars were filled with chatting and laughter on the drive back to La Sauzade and everyone was installed on sun-beds around the pool before 4pm. By the time our Chef, Wendy, arrived to prepare dinner, it felt like we were amongst long-lost friends.
So, what is it that makes these workshops so special?
Again, it could be the fabulous Helen Cross teaching us how to craft words in a way that entices our readers in and never lets them go.
As Helen told us after dinner on the first evening in the panelled library: “writing is a craft, which can be learnt. The more you write, the better you will get.” She advised us not to let our fear, or need for perfection to get in the way. “For the first draft, it’s all about getting the words out. Try writing with pen or pencil rather than keyboard as this can help you achieve flow,” she said.
The morning workshops focussed on an in-depth look at character development because “once we can do characters, we can do anything.” We write about character needs, desires, location, how they will change and how their dilemma will be resolved. We learn about narrative arc and conflict. We practice with writing exercises and read them out for feedback, growing in confidence and ability every day. Helen shares valuable insight and advice when it comes to finding an agent and writing a covering letter.
“I am here because my friend thought this would be something that would help me get over crippling anxiety about my writing and she was correct. Helen is a great leader, who inspires you and pushes you out of your comfort zone. She makes you want to do it and in the process you find out so much about yourself,” said Liz who had returned to L’atelier des écrivains for the second time after benefiting from the first so much.
The one-to-ones with Helen gives our pre-submitted writing direction, and this is the point at which we, the hosts, see less of our writers as everyone shuts themselves away in the many writing nooks at La Sauzade to improve and polish their work.
As Jo said: “We’ve learnt so much from our teacher. It’s been really beneficial, and the chance to implement learnings in the afternoon has been really, really helpful.”
Not all about words.
But while Helen undoubtedly unlocks something in our writers, there is more to these long weekends than just workshops.
There is also the venue – an 18th century manor house with its rustic verandas, large round sociable kitchen table, and polished creaking floorboards that has all the character you’d expect of a home steeped in two hundred years of history.
Our writers are also offered optional morning sessions: meditation in the library, yoga in the atmospheric sitting room and a silent walk along beautiful country tracks. After lunch, Sarah Tyley shares her experiences of writing and self-publishing, Spaghetti Head, in Sarah’s Snippets.
Every afternoon there is free time for the writers to use as they wish – many tapped furiously on keyboards or wrote in note-books. Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, with its subterranean church, narrow cobbled streets and quirky artisan shops is just a stone’s throw away and ripe for exploring – in fact we eat in the Place Trarieux on Friday night.
And we have to mention the mouth-watering food: from traditional French classics such as duck magret and salmon rillette to platters of cured meats and dreamy French cheeses through to melt-in-the-mouth chocolate brownies, our private chef, Wendy Meers, did us proud yet again.
All of the above plays its part in creating this extraordinary event. However, it is the writers who really make L’atelier des ecrivains – The Writers’ Workshop so special.
At each workshop we have had a really warm and supportive bunch of people. From the first moments at the airport through to our tired but happy goodbyes at the end, we laugh, we talk, we share stories and life-experiences. There is something about the energy and creativity of the groups in this space that enables something powerful to happen. Magic.
Would you like to experience the magic of L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop France? Our next event takes place between 19 and 23 September 2019. Places are filling up fast, so book your spot today.