By Elena Bowes
Pack your sunscreen, books, notes, laptop and an open mind. It’s time to write. Vacationing while writing or writing while vacationing? Take your pick. Whether you’re a beginner or a published writer, whether you want to escape to a Greek island, buzzy Athens or the hills of Andalucía, we’ve got the retreat for you.
Write Now! In Syros
First up is Faber novelist and 26er Elise Valmorbida’s week-long retreat on the Cycladic island of Syros, a secret haven of culture and indulgence. Valmorbida is joining forces with fellow expert writing teacher and author Anne Aylor to lead this 7-day course set in the heart of the historic town in a 19th century townhouse full of antiques and lovingly restored by its owners. Enjoy some armchair traveling with this video.
“Syros is a very well-kept secret,” says Valmorbida. “It’s not just a holiday island. It doesn’t fall apart in winter, it’s got a proper cultural life with great cafes and shops, a university, a theatre, and a cinema… There’s quite a lot to delight the eye in Syros but also in Villa Maria.” What’s more students are being taught by two highly qualified teachers. As a former student of Valmorbida, I can attest to her inspirational and clever coaching.
“The beautiful thing is you can write your head off, or if you feel like you’ve been getting a bit stiff in the joints because you’ve been sitting down for too long you can walk down the road to a café, or to the beach. We also have on tap a really fantastic guy who teaches yoga in English – that’s an extra.” And for those who want a holiday with just a bit of writing, that’s fine too. “It’s not like you have to write War & Peace.”
Elise and Anne will give students exercises and one-to-one tutorials throughout the week with lively writerly discussions at mealtime reinforcing learning. Course details are here.
International Creative Writing Summer School
Next up is Kingston University and the British Council’s joint international writing course in Athens. Esteemed authors from Kingston’s terrific Creative Writing programme teach students in week-long modules every June. While this year’s course is full, next June’s session looks to be a humdinger as Athens is playing host city to UNESCO’s Year of the Book.
Centrally located in Kalanaki Square, the summer school has a real international flair with students in this year’s programme hailing from Greece, Tunisia, Morocco, France, Canada, Pakistan, Sweden, Russia and the UK. A Syrian refugee was given a place for free. The course offers a series of writing skills workshops (fiction, flash fiction, poetry, creative writing non-fiction and writing for the web) and a publishing and editing course.
At £250 a week, the programme – which includes nightly workshops, individual tutorials and public readings – is great value. The best works get published later by Kingston University Press. Accommodation is not provided.
And for those who are as passionate about their downward dog as they are about their next novel, 26ers Neil Baker and Samantha Short’s Riverheart Retreats set in the hills of Andalusia on a semi-wild parkland with rivers, streams and waterfalls, might be just the ticket. Writing courses here merge the physical with the mental, moving the body to help the mind.
The courses are: ‘Writing and Meditation’ based on the simple formula of ‘sit, write, walk’. ‘Creative Writing for Daydreamers’ with lots of imagination games to clear the cranial cobwebs. And finally, ‘Creative Writing and Yoga’ combine two of Samm’s favourite things.
“What sets Riverheart apart,” explains Samm, “is that it’s all outdoors…So it’s very much about being in nature.” Outdoor enthusiasts can bring their own tents and pitch it in the garden. Accommodation ranges from tents to cabana to casita.