On being ravished, or why the Iceland Writers Retreat is simply perfect

11 04 2017

IMG_1475And 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.

IMG_1443It 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 130902_a17742_g2048-600who 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 WolitzerClaudia 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.

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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!

IMG_1456All 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.

IMG_1415We 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.

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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”
synonyms: enrapture, enchant, delight, charm, entrance, enthrall, captivate

“you will be ravished by this wine”

 

I have been ravished by the Iceland Writers Retreat. I remain enraptured.

I will go again. And possibly again.

 

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The Laxness walking forest…

 

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Writing resistance

6 06 2015

So, I’ve just realized a project I thought was nearly done is in fact, only halfway there.

It’s too short. It’s 24,000 words. It should be 35-40,000. I could weep.

I’m tempted to send it around as a novella and hope it gets published that way. But I’m also tempted to rewrite the entire thing and add bits to where it is thin and FIX it. It will take me a long time. But the story will have more depth, something that my wonderful writing mentor, Donna Morrissey, suggested when I was working with her thorough Humber’s School for Writers.

But I can’t help but wonder, is this a real need or is this resistance? I just finished reading the excellent The War of Art by Stuart Pressman. It’s filled with tales of how/why we procrastinate. The tune was familiar. I could probably play it on my ukulele. Let me just see…

But I digress.

I could also felt a scene to describe it. Let me try that…

The sad thing is that I set myself up for mocking as I procrastinate. Everyone is onto me now. Truth is, I find writing HARD. I enjoy it when I’m in the flow, but the flow is harder and harder to maintain. That’s why I can actually do the three day novel contest, but no way can make it through Nanowrimo.

I’m a 50 yard dasher. I always have been, even in school. I could run like the dickens for 50 yards, but my energy petered out for the long term. It wasn’t until I laboured for my daughter for 18 hours that I realized I had strength to endure, and it’s not like I had any choice in that.

So I fling myself into a writing jag and block out people but I can only maintain it for a while. Then I find my wandering eye sliding over to a neat art project or that pile of yarn or a book to read or a tune to play…and the flow is lost.

Resistance? ADD? Or am I just not suited to writing, after all?

Every time I start writing, I go through all of these doubts and then I realize how perfectly I’ve created a wall to doing it. I need to do what I’ve done before in all sorts of other areas and just shaddup and push on through.

From Writers Circle:

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Freaking Out!

25 06 2014

Gawd. I am losing it, and so, apparently, is the rest of the world. Everyone is fighting one another, my sodding firstFH9J-born is still not speaking to me with extreme prejudice, journalists are being kidnapped and women everywhere are being killed and raped and abused and by golly jinkums, I am just about ready to lose it and go postal on the entire place. And don’t get me started on the mess that is this Canadian government, else I shall shoot coffee out of my nose and burn you with the effluent.

It’s hard being cheerful in such a world. I find it almost impossible. Why just the other day I thought, quite seriously, about driving my car into a tree. What’s it all FOR, anyway? We don’t seem to be progressing, we dwell in hatred and anger and the urge (ever larger) to cling to the almighty penny rather than share a wee bit with anyone else.

What the hell is wrong with us all.

Oh yeah, and I’m writing crap. For my course. Which means I will have to send it to someone I respect and feel her frustration and watch the edits mount up online. Which of course is the worst thing of all the above…

Just kidding. The world sucketh anon. But if it weren’t for people like Helen Humphreys and Roald Dahl and Christopher Moore and Terry Pratchett and Stella Gibbons and Bronwyn Wallace and Norton Juster and A.A.Milne and Edward Gorey and Jose Saramago and Donna Morrissey and PG Wodehouse and Nancy Mitford and Kermit, it would sucketh more, much much more.

And so off I toil, in the hope that somewhere in all this random verbiage, a flicker of magic may occur that makes some of this soul-sucking world make sense, even for a moment.

 





Sometimes you feel like a star, sometimes you don’t…

14 02 2014

ImageSo, very cleverly, I thought, I announced to the world on FaceBook that I’d been accepted to the Humber School and would be studying under the luminescent Donna Morrissey. Clever, I thought, because of accountability. See, if everyone knows I’m writing, I’ll have to bloody do it, won’t I?

Not so cleverly because I’d recently decided NOT to let people know I was writing until I actually had more publications to show them, it having been a long dry spell since the last ones. This being partially because of my initiation focus – I am SO good at starting things, much less effective at seeing them to fruition. How I wish I had the persistence of Judy Penz Sheluk, my writing colleague, who wins my personal award for the least procrastination and most persistence of any writer I know. And she writes wonderfully, too, which must help, but the thing is she also EDITS wonderfully, and that is something I aspire to but rarely reach.

One has only to see my employment history to see that. I get bored easily.

But lately, it’s been bored into my skull (ha ha) that I am going to have to grow up and do some completion tasks. I can do it, I have done it, it is possible, though never ever my preference. No, for me I prefer the climb up to the top of the roller coaster, the anticipation, rather than the end rolling into the stop part.

The Writer’s Union class I went to reminded me it takes years to hone a book. Years and years. And the talk by Donna Morrissey yesterday talked about three years per book. Which on the one hand takes the pressure off a bit, on the other reminds me of all the editing I’m going to have to do, the endless drafts, the living with my characters until they seem like family and the type of family you can only bear to see once a year at that.

But it’s time to take things seriously. So there I went, confessing my admission, not confessing my silly hopes for such a venture which shall remain my own, and I end up getting what I asked for – the class I wanted, the author I wanted to work with (It was either Donna or Helen Humphreys or Trevor Cole – I adore them all, different as they are). And for the story I’m writing, Donna is the most perfect.

And now I feel like the sardine being et here in this photo. Captured by a star, feeling a bit panicked as I go forward. Wondering if I’ll make it out alive.

All I can say is that I am counting on Donna’s sense of humour, dark and funny and wicked, to see her through my struggles…

photo credit: Elton Lin





Wishing and dreading and hoping…

6 11 2012

I have just read a novel of such unspeakable beauty that I am overwhelmed. Donna Morrissey’s Sylvanus Now is breathtaking, right from the first vision of Sylvanus jigging fish: right forearm up, left forearm down, left forearm up, right forearm down; to the vision of Adelaide’s eye, sparkling blue. It’s a novel about the changing of the fishery in Newfoundland, when large trawlers came in to rape the seas and the governments abandoned both the sea and the careful tenders of her in favour of cheap fish and way too much of it. It’s a story of a people forced to change their ways of life, and it seems as fresh now as when it was written, as we all cope with a changing economy and hang on the American election with bated breath, wondering what our future in Canada holds, tied as we are to the tails of the American Bald Eagle (a carrion-eater) and the Chinese Tiger (endangered by environmental change).

Donna Morrissey has won many awards for her writing, and they are well-deserved. Her power in a sentence is vast. Her ability to evoke the feelings of the people she describes, complicated and earthy and thoughtful and hidden as they are is astonishing.

I can’t believe I hadn’t read her before.

I feel small, I do, as I struggle to bring my words to life in even a tenth of the way Morrissey does. I know there are many authors who don’t write this way and are still successful, and who write perfectly acceptable stories and thrillers that make you want to stay up all night or love stories that make you yearn for the glory of new love (well, except for we cynics). But all of my life, despite my stated fondness for the “good enough” story, I’ve yearned to write like Morrissey, like Helen Humphreys, Frances Itani, Bronwyn Wallace. I want to wrestle feelings from readers, transport them, make them feel the sea spray or the bombs thundering or the mud or the fear.

It’s funny the reaction I have when reading such writing. I relax into the book, knowing I am in the hands of a master, knowing the book will take me on a ride and enclose me in its world. I stay awake, eyelids flipping up and down like a blind in the hands of a misbehaving preschooler, unwilling to let the world go, reading just that one more page. With lesser books, I stay alert, less involved, easier to distract, more likely to put it down, even if it is a good book. The great books show me their hearts. I can’t help but respond.

And the feeling lingers. After Sylvanus Now, I want to go out and see the sea, inhale it, feel its call, see the salt-bleached houses, run the wind through my hair.

Fortunately, I live in Nova Scotia. The sea is fifteen minutes away. “Go on, you foolish thing,” I can hear Florry say.








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