After driving through winding roads and wondering if you’re going the right way, you see it emerge from the gum trees: Karma Kinglake, a rustic house rebuilt from the ashes of Black Saturday. There’s an old-style charm about it, a character that welcomes you and tells you that you’re going to be in for something special this weekend.
The first thing you notice as you get out of your car, the trees swaying around you in greeting, is the cold: it’s sharp and biting, but it’s also clean up here, away from the congestion and the pollution of the city. Then there’s the haunting beauty, this place that’s seen so much tragedy and sadness. And yet here it is, standing tall once again, sweeping and naturally beautiful, a testament to the indomitability of Mother Nature.
You check in and meet Karen, one of your hosts at Karma Kinglake. She’s charming and poetically eloquent as she greets you, and shows you where you’ll be staying. You bring your bags in and absorb your surroundings, thinking about how this is where you’ll be sleeping the next two nights.
From there it’s into the lounge to meet the other participants, as well as your facilitators: Blaise and Les.
Blaise van Hecke – the director of Publishing at Busybird Publishing, and President of the Society of Women Writers – is a writer at heart, and last year finished her novel, ‘The Colours of Ash’, a story about a young couple trying to rebuild their relationship following a tragedy, and in the face of nature’s fury. She’s been busily revising this year, whilst also working on a memoir about her unusual childhood, growing up on a commune. Les Zigomanis is an award-winning writer and the chief editor at Busybird Publishing. His memoir, ‘Overload’, was short-listed for the Finch Prize in 2012. Les knows about structure in story – having written several novels – so you’re in the best of hands.
Once the introductions are out of the way, there’s talk about what you’re working on, followed by a dinner Karen has painstakingly prepared (all dietary requirements have been catered for), followed by casual discussion in the lounge, by the warmth of the crackling fire.
In the evening, there’s an optional meditation session to set you up for writing over the weekend, before retreating to your room, snuggling into the cosiness of your bed as the wind howls outside, whipping through trees that rustle like they might be shivering. You’re glad you’re in here, warm and safe, and look forward to what the next day might bring.
The birds wake you in the morning, so free and unbridled. They speak of the unlimited potential wrapped up in today. You get out of bed to find Blaise already up, bright and full of energy, hosting an optional session in yoga or meditation, or – depending on the weather – a walk through the surrounds. Then it’s time for breakfast in your room where Karen has set everything ready.
Up into the conference room after breakfast, where Blaise and Les begin the first workshop, an introduction exploring why we write, and the story we want to tell. Whilst you have a general idea about what you want to do, sometimes those ideas are not wholly formed, so it helps to articulate them. Following a short break with a cuppa, it’s off to the next session, which looks at good writing practices and writing authentically. Now, those amorphous ideas take shape, and you grow excited about where your project could go.
After the busy morning, you go down and find Karen has a delicious lunch waiting, and everybody talks about what they’d like to do, what they want to write, their dreams of publication, and things they’ve enjoyed reading. It’s stimulating chatter over a hearty meal and you think this is what’s missing from your writing life – this interaction with like-minded people.
Then it’s right back into the workshops, one where you share an excerpt and the group talk about it. It’s an interesting exercise, and a first for you. You might’ve shared some of your writing with friends, but now you’ve exposed it to a greater audience. They like what you have to say, but they also have feedback. It’s great seeing how your writing connects with others. Over the next workshop you put your head down and commit to the writing exercises Blaise assigns – exercises that compel you to go deeper and consider the finer details.
A bit of free time then, to reflect, before dinner, and then talk about what you’ve learned today, and how you’ll be able to incorporate it into your writing. There’s a lot to think about. A lot. And there’s a lot to digest. But as you dissimilate it, you see how you can apply it not just to the project you want to work on, but writing as a whole. Although this weekend is about life writing, it’s also about writing in general, and you’re learning so many new things.
There’s an optional meditation session then, which helps you unwind, before bed, and you look forward to the next morning, but you also feel a hint of regret that already you’re coming to the last day. You drift off to the sound of the wind and the gums quivering, a lullaby that’s almost hypnotic.
In the morning, again there’s a yoga or a meditation session, or – if the weather permits – a walk through the gums. You marvel at the trees as you think that just seven years ago, Black Saturday razed this whole area, and you ponder at the tragic loss of life and property. But there’s hope here also, the promise of tomorrow interlaced with the relentlessness of the human spirit.
After breakfast, it’s right back into another workshop, which looks at revision and editing, and how to polish your work. There are lots of things to consider now – things you had never known existed. Then, following a short break, it’s a final session that looks at where you can submit, and your publishing options as a whole. You’re brimming with excitement now and can’t wait to get finished so you can share your story with the world.
A final lunch, and now the melancholy hits – the weekend is over. Over a wrap up, everybody talks about how they’re going to tackle their writing once they get back, and what they’re going to do once they’re finished. It’s all so exciting, and the weekend has bonded you to the others and you wish them the best, want to see their stories out in the world … right amongst yours.
You check out from Karma, and glance back once at the Retreat, now indelibly imprinted on your memories, before you get in your car and drive back into the real world.