Finding a writing corner for one of the exercises
I was described last week by my niece as bold, because I set up a writing course where we live in beautiful Tuscany. I don’t feel bold – foolhardy maybe – but one of my mantras is “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.
So, this time last week eight very different writers arrived to spend a week at il Mulino. They left this morning and I’m missing them. Yes, I’m tired – but I’m happy too. But just before they turned up, I had a little wobble: how would it all work out? Would they fit together as a group? I’d lured them all this way to Italy, from England and Switzerland, and the feeling of responsibility overwhelmed me. Reading the feedback so far, comments are predominantly positive: “Excellent value! Been like living in a film set. Such welcoming hosts and wonderful atmosphere…”; “The whole package of tuition/camaraderie/food etc. is what appealed to me…”.
There are definite improvements to be made and I thought I’d share a few points, because we hope to make this an annual event. (I have three enquiries already for next year). This year I joined in with the writers, so I could gauge the sessions for myself. I’ve attended a few writing courses in my time. Not all group dynamics will be the same, but here are some general tips gleaned over the past seven days.
• Do break up the writing sessions into comfortable lengths (and provide comfortable chairs). We were so fortunate with the weather and all our classes were held outside. Students need to be happy physically as well as emotionally. Writing can stir up sensitive issues. Be aware.
• Do have a course time table but be flexible and be prepared to alter. Make the restaurant meals and outings optional as people need their space and won’t always want to be in a “herd”.
• Do make sure that all writers are included in discussions and tasks (if they want to participate). Ours was a mixed group with some writers having more experience than others. Our tutor, Sonja Price, was excellent at facilitating this and maintaining order. (She teaches in Germany… say no more.)
• Don’t forget to have time to yourself each day. (This applies to everybody – time out is important). I was buzzing about cooking for everybody, trying to make sure everybody was happy, including our tutor. My darling husband was a star – driving up to the village for fresh bread, milk and fruit each morning; sorting out technicalities, lighting the barbecue, peeling spuds… I couldn’t have managed without him. There was one evening when I was so tired I told him I was never holding a writing course again, but after a good night’s sleep, I forgot my tantrum. Next time I shall hide myself away for at least one hour each day.
• Don’t cook a spaghetti mountain… on the other hand, it’s better to over cater than allow students to starve. Prepare as much as you can in advance.
We definitely have tweaks to make and we’ll work on this. On the whole, I loved this week. It is life-affirming when you witness new talents emerge and feel confidence growing. To listen to nine very different takes on a single exercise and to be moved to tears (as I was) by some of the writing… and that’s good tears … was wonderful. Sharing in life is what we should do, isn’t it? And there was plenty of that. And plenty of laughter. It was a fabulous group and I’ve gained new friends.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” and watch this space for “Write Away in Tuscany” 2019. Same time of year, same place but with a slightly different format.