And now for the other side of the story, and why it is so likely that I will be going to the IWR again.
It’s hard to encapsulate this event. To say it was life-changing sounds trite and overblown, but it was so for me. When I went, it was with a mind set of failure, wondering why I had spent so much money (again) on the writing I never seem to get done properly. It was, I thought to myself, the final kick at the can, the Y in the road. If I couldn’t tolerate the conference with my MS brain, then I knew all was lost and crafts would have me forever (not that that is a bad thing, precisely, but…).
And then I entered the vortex that is the IWR.
It is set perfectly in Iceland, an island. A place sufficiently different to make the visitor feel vaguely alien, set apart, unreachable by real life. Nature like the surface of the moon, isolating us together. A place where both other human beings and that nature are reachable and attractive, in the way that magnets are attractive. You are inevitably drawn to the poetry here – the visual, musical, otherworldly poetry.
It rains here. Rain is so much better for writing than any other weather. Mists swirled.
And Eliza Reid and Erica Green have pulled together those trailing mists and created magic.
The Iceland Writers Retreat is a big conference these days. On the last day, I saw people I hadn’t seen all week. Yet, it feels intimate, safe, friendly, warm, and oh so supportive. The group of fellow writers, from the professionals to the new, were to a person kind and willing to share.
Usually, at a conference, you will meet the designated asshole, the one who dominates everything, who is filled with nothing but complaints. I didn’t meet that person. (unless it was me – gasp!)
The classes were small, with an overwhelmingly spectacular faculty: Meg Wolitzer, Claudia Casper, Chris Cleave, Esi Edugyan, Carsten Jansen, Bret Anthony Johnston, David Lebovitz, Paula McLean, Nadifa Mohamed, Paul Murray, Madeleine Thien, Hallgrimur Helgason, Viborg Davidosdottir, and many more Icelandic writers I didn’t have the pleasure to meet. They were so approachable they likely needed a long space in utter silence after they left.
Paula with mini-Bob
I am presently in love (in an acceptable way) with David L. as he offered me such reassurance and good cheer I feel ready to write on for months purely on that. Of course, some of my time will have to be spent on reading his lovely cookbooks. Bret was a no- nonsense writer and
dropped pearls of wisdom threw rocks of wisdom, each veined with marble, each ready for use. Meg gave us our Wonder Woman bracelets of fiction writing. Claudia spoke wisdom about the publishing world and promoted Canadian writers, gods bless her. Paula gave us the idea of mapping out our character’s world, and using that to highlight what was important to them, and to us. All of them shared books they loved, useful books, ideas and stories. Suffice to say my reading list has grown another five feet tall!
All were hilarious and excellent teachers. Writing well does not necessarily equal teaching well, but however the two E.’s selected this group, the faaculty were masters of both. I never felt tired, or feared dozing, in their classes. All of us were deeply involved in every one. That is truly rare, especially in jet-lagged, well-fed folks. And we were very very well-fed. Yum. If I could have an Icelandic breakfast every morning, I could take over the world. But I digress…
I learned so much, from them and from other writers – like my fellow Dorothy from Australia, who spoke to me of how to work the trauma in my YA book and my cookbook class who told me to write the damn MS book and pull in the royalties.
I am smiling thinking of it all. Even our tour guide, the charming Sigurlin Bjarney Gisladottir, aka Bjarney, was a writer, a multiply published poet. Who can also cook eggs in a hot spring.
We were taken to meet the President of Iceland, Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, a charming man who coincidently has translated several books by Stephen King! I pressed two felted mice on him for his daughters. I fear he thought them an unacceptable gift, but it was all I had to say humble thanks for the warmth and kindness of his country’s welcome.
We went to the home of Halldor Laxness, the Nobel Prize-winning author of Independent People. I’d read that book, and to see where he wrote it was beyond compare – to say nothing of his beautiful home itself, with its view of the mountains and its geothermal swimming pool, steaming gently in the frosty air. He walked every day, a pattern highly recommended by many of the other authors for jogging your brain into submission.
In the Laxness dining room
I’m taking that idea on. We have fog here as well…in all senses of the word.
I missed much of the fun of the retreat, as I ran out of energy early in the day and skipped the evening events. Instead, I had time for in-depth discussions with fellow writers, many of whom I hope will remain friends.
We were discussing dating at the lunch table one day and in my usual inappropriate way, I told my tablemates that I simply wanted to be ravished. The literary definition of ravish is: (ignoring the more violent ancient definition…)
fill (someone) with intense delight; enrapture.
“ravished by a sunny afternoon, she had agreed without even thinking”
I have been ravished by the Iceland Writers Retreat. I remain enraptured.
I will go again. And possibly again.
The Laxness walking forest…