A writing retreat in Switzerland

Flüeli-Ranft, with Gasthaus Paxmontana in the centre

What a wonderful six days on the writing retreat in Switzerland this October! Let me share the experience with you through this short write-up.

The participants were an absolute joy to teach: lovely and interesting people, enthusiastic about writing and about everything Switzerland has to offer! It seems right to give them the first word – so here are a couple of testimonials.

We stayed at the Gasthaus Paxmontana in the historic village of Flüeli-Ranft, which sits in enchanting landscape. Built in 1617, the intimate Gasthaus (only 16 rooms) belongs to the nearby Jugendstil-Hotel Paxmontana, an icon of Art Nouveau. The staff were unfailingly kind, attentive and ready to offer assistance with a genuine smile.

Breakfast at the Jugendstil-Hotel was a daily treat. How better to start our day than with the awe-inspiring views on our 1-minute stroll there, with the stunning Veranda Restaurant and a buffet rich in authentic local specialties?

Every morning we had a two-hour workshop on an element of the writing craft: characterisation, story structure and plot development, sense of place… Each session involved a mixture of lecture time, writing exercises, discussion and feedback. Though sharing one’s work was optional, participants were more than happy to do so in a safe and encouraging environment. This openness supercharged everyone’s leap forward, as people learnt from, and contributed to, each other’s work. Over the course of the week, participants acquired tools that helped them define important aspects of their projects.

For lunch we were provided with generous sandwiches to be consumed wherever we preferred on the day: either in the indoor restaurants of Gasthaus and Jugendstil-Hotel, or in their external dining spaces in the autumnal sunshine.

Originally, I planned to leave the afternoons free for independent writing time. However, in pre-retreat correspondence, this group expressed the wish to cover a range of topics which required workshops also on some afternoons. Below, you can see the accordingly customised schedule.

We loved our daily walks in the peaceful landscape around Flüeli-Ranft. Walking and talking in such glorious surroundings was relaxing and an all-round pleasure. As you’d expect, our conversations touched on all kinds of topics. The hikes stimulated effective problem-solving: they facilitated access to fresh perspectives and inspiration for our projects.

We spent an afternoon in the Bernese Oberland, with a stop-over on Lake Lungern and an easy hike on a breath-taking trail in the Hasliberg.

We looked forward to the amazing three-course dinners served at the cosy Gasthaus restaurant, and, on two evenings, in the elegant Veranda restaurant. Both places boast superb cuisine. A vegetarian option was always available.

After dinner, we briefly read something together on an agreed topic, before breaking up for private time and a good night’s sleep!

We left the retreat not just with warm memories, but with new friendships. We can’t wait to see how everyone’s projects develop!

Why not join me on future retreats? The next ones will be:

  • in February 2023 – at a chalet in the Alps of the Bernese Oberland
  • in May 2023 – again at the Gasthaus Paxmontana in Flüeli-Ranft.

You can check out this page to learn more. And you’re always welcome to drop me a line.

Language as a writing prompt

Starting something ‘from scratches’? Not ‘from scratch’? For a split second, the sentence jarred. But its author, Iwona Fluda of Creative Switzerland (see her post, where she kindly mentions my writing retreats – thank you, Iwona!), had not made a mistake: perfectly aware of the correct idiomatic expression, she was being joyously playful with language.

That freedom to take apart idioms and clichés, to view them with new eyes, may come easier to non-native speakers of a language. Foreign students of English soon discover that ‘a pretty kettle of fish’ isn’t, actually, a good thing (no, not even if you love fish); that people can ‘fly off the handle’ (really? how?); and that you can ‘go Dutch’, whatever your nationality. You see what I’m getting at: taken literally, expressions we use every day can be a source of amusement, bemusement, discoveries, reflection… The same is true of single words: in my first novel, the protagonist deconstructs ‘nostalgia’, so that for him it means not the yearning to return home, but pain at that prospect.

The world around us offers countless sparks for our creativity. They’re everywhere: in landscapes, objects, fellow passengers on a train, overheard conversations in a café, a piece of music… And they’re ‘inside’ language(s), too, as Iwona highlighted. The trick is in spotting all these creative prompts hiding in plain sight, and transforming them into fruitful writing material. We can train our capacity to do that.

Flüeli-Ranft, Switzerland

But how? An effective way is to attend creative-writing workshops. In the ones I teach, I combine prompts with the transmission of specific skills, so that participants may continue practising and perfecting them autonomously afterwards. For example, I’ll show you how to extract ideas for a story from a small object, in the context of how to create a three-dimensional character; or how to develop an engaging plot structure from a photo. You can free up your creativity and cover key elements of writing (characterisation, sense of place, etc.) on the retreat I’m running from 9 to 15 October 2022. Click here if you’d like to find out more about the venue, schedule, etc.

If you’re curious about what writing retreats are, what to look for, and how they might benefit you, here’s an article I wrote for Writing.ie Resources.

Any questions? Just get in touch via this short contact form or email me on mvaleriavw [at] outlook [dot] com. 

Image credits:

‘Journaling over Coffee’ by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash.

Top 10 reasons to go on a writing retreat

Ever wondered what a writing retreat is all about and whether it would benefit you? There are at least 10 reasons why writing retreats are invaluable. You’ll find them in my article (FREE to read on this link) for Writing.ie, the magazine for writers and readers.

Image of Writing.ie Resources page

Click HERE for the full article (a 5-minute read) to find out:

  • what writing retreats consist of
  • at what stage they’re helpful
  • whether they’re expensive
  • the top 10 reasons why they enable significant leaps forward.
Image of Writing.ie article: Why Go on a Writing Retreat?

Below is a super-brief summary of the ten reasons:  

  1. Allow yourself time and space for you and your writing, away from daily responsibilities
  2. Stimulate inspiration and creativity
  3. Hone your craft with workshops and discussions
  4. Productivity: let full immersion boost the quantity and quality of your stories
  5. Feel supported and make friends
  6. Let quality feedback highlight your strengths and enable you to overcome weaknesses, in a supportive atmosphere
  7. Learn from each other’s work and experiences  
  8. Gain motivation and confidence
  9. Re-energise: through workshops, social occasions and time on your own, all in idyllic surroundings
  10. Meet writing buddies and mentors.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful (and the full article even more). My next writing retreat takes place in Switzerland from 9 to 15 October 2022: clicking here will take you to details of it and future writing events.

I’ve been teaching creative writing since 2013 to a variety of audiences: from secondary-school pupils to university BA and MA students and from Adult Education classes to individuals. I’m a novelist and the Literary Programme Director of the Hampstead Arts Festival in London.

Credits:

Images of Writing.ie website reproduced with kind permission.