Sounding the retreat

Kangaroo at Eumarella Shores

Writing’s a solitary occupation, and it’s easy to lose sight of things when you’re the scribbling phantom locked away in the skull cave. It’s worth sticking your head out once in a while, not only to check in with the society you’re writing about, but to remind yourself that you’re not alone. All those poison pygmy darts — the doubts, the fears, the cliches that just won’t leave your prose alone — aren’t yours alone, and it’s refreshing to hear others going through the same trials.

Which is partly why I’ve just spent a month on the road, road-tripping with writerly pals from Adelaide to Melbourne in time for Worldcon, then flying north to my former home country for my Edge writers group annual retreat, and dipping by Sydney on the way home to schmooze with my stablemates at our agent’s annual seminar and banquet.

Hanging out with writers is fun. It bolsters confidence and stokes ambition, whether over evening meals or at convention panels.

Our retreat this year was at Eumarella Shores (pictures here), an amazing bushland retreat on the bank of a gorgeous lake, where our group was spread amongst some of the best cottages I’ve ever stayed in, convening for superbly catered lunch and dinner and group critique sessions (check out my piece on how to organise your own writing retreat). Sadly, both my beloved and I were suffering plague this year, so the wordage wasn’t great, but the camaraderie was priceless, especially with energetic and insightful mentors such as Rob Shearman and Jack Dann in attendance, and Sean Williams in the mix to boot.

It’s hard to come back to the cave after such shoulder rubbing, but here I am, still flu-addled and looking for words, clinging to the energy of my fellows — successes were marked at Sydney’s shindig, and they proved more than anything the value of perseverance and industry. Write, write, write! But don’t forget to take time to share the love!

A weekend of peace at Olvar Wood

Zoe, Veronica, Helen and myself at Olvar Wood

Zoe, Veronica, Helen and myself at Olvar Wood

It already seems like years ago, though it was only yesterday…

My Corpse writers, just the four of us, spent the weekend at Olvar Wood at Palmwoods on the Sunshine Coast. Olvar Wood is a gorgeous, secluded retreat set on 20 acres of native bush, reached by a narrow, fairytale path overshadowed by branches and trees. The building is eco-friendly, boasting four bedrooms, separate dining, living room, wrap-around veranda with a view of either treetops or the Blackall Range, a massive kitchen and separate office, even a laundry. An atrium-style tropical garden with water feature is a centrepiece with glass walls, and a gorgeous unpolished pole occupies the landing between the dining area with its Jimmy Possum table and the generous lounge with its wood-burning heater and leather lounge suite.

Very occasionally, the sound of birdsong and wind-whispers is broken by a vehicle on the invisible access road. It is idyllic for writers, with no televisions at all, just a CD player in the sumptuous timber living room with its floor-to-ceiling glass walls and doors opening onto the veranda. Each of the four bedrooms — one is detached with en suite, two small ones share a bathroom and toilet — has a desk and dictionary. I scored the Hemingway Room, with its amazing flower-petal fan, dark timber bed, shower and spa bath, separate toilet and walk-in robe, and a wall of louvres offering a view of nothing but trees and sky.

Only a short, secluded drive from the village of Palmwoods, Olvar is ideally placed at the foot of the Blackall Range. Palmwoods has a superb Asian restaurant and pretty darn fine pizza cafe, with a couple of other cafes and greasy spoons and a bakery with superb pepper steak pies if you can get there early enough. There’s a bottle shop and an IGA and a pub and a funky shop or two, a chemist, a servo: all you need, really. The adventurous can scoot up the range to the tourist villages of Montville and Maleny or hit the concrete apartments and shopping precincts of the coast, but that wasn’t what this trip was about.

desk at Olvar Wood

desk at Olvar Wood

I confess I slept a lot. It took a while to leave the drudgery of everyday life behind — time and a few glasses of red, anyway. And then the words and ideas dribbled forth. Nothing another week of such serenity wouldn’t have helped.

This description doesn’t do the property justice. The kitchen is amazing, the gully with its rocky waterfall, the attention to detail right down to the dragonfly motif running from floor mats to tea towels to vases, the pantry large enough to lock children in … the whistle of the red kettle on the gas stove announcing the water’s hot, come and get a coffee and have a chat; the organic food and the organic toiletries, the smell of wet earth and leather and wood smoke … it’s special, all right, and highly recommended for the writer on the run who needs a space to stop and take stock. And maybe even get some words down.

More pictures  of Olvar Wood

Booked in Bundaberg

I’m excited to say that I’ll be joining some excellent writers at Bundaberg Library’s Booked program in May. Stephanie Laurens, Kirsty Brooks and Kim Michelle Toft will be sharing the love and angst at panels, chats and, I believe, over lunch. I grew up in the Wide Bay region and still have good friends in Bundy, so it’s a bit of a return to my old stomping grounds, bringing some Gothic vampire love with me 🙂
Booked is on Sunday, May 17, conveniently dovetailing with Writefest the day before, run by Bundaberg Writers Club. So I’ll be popping in there for a look-see, too. Sue Abbey is among the professionals running workshops at Writefest: I can’t speak highly enough of her skills and friendly advice.
Two other events worth noting: the mob organising the national science fiction convention, Conjecture, in Adelaide in June have extracted their digit and posted more information on the website, allaying mounting fears that the long period of silence heralded a fizzler. Mind you, with that many wineries within cork-popping distance, that was never really going to be an issue, was it?
Another cool event that has got cooler is Continuum, in Melbourne in August, where Melbourne writer Narelle M Harris has been added as a guest of honour. Harris has had a vampire novel published by Brisbane’s Pulp Fiction Press; they make a commendable team 🙂
The other key convention for spec fic writers and readers this year is Conflux, in Canberra in October, but unfortunately I won’t be making that. Rather I’ll be at my Edge writers group’s annual retreat, hoping to make something beautiful come of it.