Friday, 22 February 2013
The Art of Writing - a Summer Writers' Retreat in Tuscany
A couple of years ago, when 'The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy' was accepted for publication, I went to my first writers' event, the wonderful (and scenic) Women's Fiction Festival in Matera in southern Italy. It was here that I met fellow Australian Lisa Clifford, accomplished radio and television journalist and prize-winning author, resident in Florence with her Aussie/Florentine family. Lisa's book 'The Promise' recounts her tug-of-war love affair with her Tuscan boyfriend/future husband and his elegant corner of the world, and 'Death in the Mountains' delves deep into a shocking family mystery.
Last year I drove down to Lisa's for a spot of delicious lunch (Lisa is an excellent cook!) and she revealed her plans for The Art of Writing, a writers' retreat to be held in the inspiring Casentino hills, an area close to her heart, a hidden part of Tuscany where many have gone to seek inspiration (Dante, John Milton; also the setting chosen by Anthony Minghella for 'The English Patient').
Lisa has engaged an array of inspiring tutors and writers including the expert Jim Friels, with a mouthwatering Tuscan menu in place. If I weren't part of the programme with an evening session on grassroots promotion, I'd be signing up right now. Tell us more Lisa!
Why now? Why a writers' retreat?
I’ve lived in Italy for 15 years and had spent 33 years coming back and forth. During that time I wrote three books, two on Tuscany and one on Naples (it’s out with Penguin in November) so I really felt it was time to start teaching and sharing what I’ve learned over the years. I also adore Writers Retreats. The inspiration and good, solid writing that comes from spending secluded time with other writers is invaluable. It had been a dream of mine to set up a programme, my dream programme, based in the Tuscan mountains for some time. It’s an area that has given me so much inspiration and I had wanted to share it for ages. Why do it now? Good question! I suppose I was ready, the tutors (some of whom are friends) were ready too. Everyone voiced such wonderful enthusiasm and support for my idea that it really formed legs of its own and took off. English writers in Italy spend a lot of time on their own, locked in their offices, writing away. I wanted to be with other writers. I wanted to grow and share with emerging writers and spend more time learning from established writers. To set up my own writers retreat seemed like a win win solution!
How long? How far?
The retreat will be held one hour’s drive away from Florence. It is five days and six nights. Every morning we have lectures and workshops and in the afternoons we write, have our manuscripts assessed in private sessions with James. In the evenings we have a good time with guest speakers and wine and yummy food. The guest speakers that cannot come personally are going to live skype with us ie: Michelle Fabio from Gemelli Press and US literary agent, April Eberhardt.
Tell us about your ties to this area.
My husband and his family all come from Casentino. I adore, adore, adore it. Tourists don’t know about it so none of the people there have tourist burn out syndrome. They are friendly and cannot do enough to help you grow to love their Casentino as much as they do. I first mentioned it in The Promise and then I set Death in the Mountains there, amongst the poor Tuscan farming community. My mother-in-law gave me the family farm house when she became too old to look after it. So I have a genuine, profound love of the land and what it produces, also the people who produce it. For me, it was the perfect place to book out an entire agriturismo (b and b farm house that must by law put 50% local produce on the table) and get writers to immerse themselves in their craft.
I'm a beginner/stuck on my second novel/not certain of my plot line. Can you help me out? Will I feel silly?
The Art of Writing’s goal is to help ALL writers with their stories in an atmosphere where they won’t feel intimidated. It’s been so interesting to watch enrolments come in. Many are beginners, there are also those who have half a book written and need help moving it along. All our emerging writers have ideas but are not sure how to use them. That’s where I can help. When I say that I think I have found my purpose in life helping people understand how to translate their ideas, I am not kidding. It gives me enormous pleasure to talk through a plot line and help an emerging writer understand what will work and what’s too much. Emerging writers think they have to have many ideas and that they’ll put all of them into one book. Just one, good, solid idea that can be fleshed out, extrapolated, is more than enough.
I heard the menu is astounding. Could you elaborate?
Delighted to! We will eat the local produce and will have five courses (including the veggies) every evening. Ombretta Stoppioni is the agriturismo’s owner and she has labored over every meal plan. From artichoke soufflé for antipasto to the area’s specialties like homemade tortelloni stuffed with spicy potato and fresh tomato sauce to pork in a fennel sauce on a bed of bay leaf cream, Ombretta has really outdone herself with this menu. It’s exciting to be a part of putting this together as the meals alone give us a chance to taste Casentino.
Go on, tell us.. What's the best thing about calling Florence home?
I never tire of how close Florence is to the rest of Europe. In a little over an hour I can be in London. By car we can drive to France in about 5 or 6 hours. As I write this we are skiing in an area with two names - Mont Blanc/ Monte Bianco. These slopes are right on the border of France and Italy. I love that. Travel is a huge part of my life and being able to access Morocco direct from Pisa airport is so wonderful. I will take the kids to Fez for a week in summer and it will cost a song to get there. How fantastic is that? Florence is so well situated. And the city itself is one of the most beautiful in the world. I will never take Florence for granted and I will never be able to see all that it has to offer.
Lisa thanks for your words and good luck with The Art of Writing. See you in June! Xxxcat
I've just heard that all ten places have been booked for this year's The Art of Writing. So if you think you'd like to take part in Lisa's wonderful venture do keep this in mind for 2014!