Excuse me for a day or two.

I’m having a retreat from a retreat.

“What?” I hear you asking, eyes creased in puzzlement.

Exactly what I said. You see, I’ve just come back from hosting the second annual Serenity Press writers’ retreat and I’m still catching my breath. And catching up on sleep.

When you are an event organiser, it’s full on. For five days, I cooked lunch and dinner for thirteen people, washed lots (and lots and lots) of dishes, ran daily morning meditation sessions … and basically made sure everyone was well fed and happy.

I set up space for two author workshops provided by the wonderful Jenn J McLeod, interviewed Jenn at Busselton library, coordinated a day trip to the Margaret River Region … and then there’s all the planning ahead of the retreat (months of it), the list-making, the shopping and the cooking (not to mention finding a projector at the last minute) and more.

It wasn’t all work. I had a therapeutic massage (thanks to author Teena Raffa-Mulligan for that gift – I needed it more than I realised), sat in a hot tub with Karen Mc Dermott (my incredible former business partner in Serenity Press – I have now moved on to listen to the muse), had a critique session with novelist Jenn J McLeod … and Karen and I made time to give ourselves the weirdest facials ever one evening.

But when you are one of the hosts, it’s hard to fully relax because you’re always watching and thinking. You’re the ones who have to make sure the lights are switched off at night, make sure rooms are set up and chase up any questions have. Oh, and find good meditations to listen to because the first one we used made us laugh.

As a host, it’s hard to write for the same reason – your headspace is constantly in organising mode (or you’re doing the organising/cooking/cleaning, not just thinking and dreaming about it).

I didn’t expect to write much, so I’m pleased that I managed to write and send an anthology proposal while I was there – only 500 words, but still. It was a box I wanted ticked.

Clearly, it’s vastly different being a host and a guest at a writers’ retreat.

But don’t think all I got out of it was a tired (but happy) head and body.

I got much more.

The gifts of inspiration and motivation from the people at the retreat – from talking and listening to them as they chatted around the long table (they talked a lot).

The gift of time – not much, admittedly, but it was still time free of my everyday responsibilities and distractions.

The gift of encouragement – when you’re surrounded by people who “get” what it means to be a writer, there’s plenty of scope for all-round encouragement. No matter how experienced we are as writers, a little pick-me-up never goes astray.

The gift of learning – talking with Jenn and her partner J about my Wherever You Go manuscript (which they loved but had a terrific suggestion for the opening) was incredible. While I loved the feedback I received, it was great to be challenged by questions such as “But why?”. They encouraged me not only to keep going but to do more.

The gift of friendship – when you spend five days with people, you get to know them much better than through Facebook comments and messages. I think everyone at the retreat left feeling as if they had made new friends and grown existing ones.

The gift of experience – what did I do that was new? Hmmm … that would be cooking for thirteen in a tiny kitchen (washing up between each stage) and only mildly swearing that time I knocked over the just-made salad dressing.

I was blessed with so many gifts, but the greatest of these was laughter. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in a long time. And it wasn’t wine induced.

What made us laugh?

Was it …

  • Taking a selfie with a friendly pony (with a killer fringe)?
  • A tree frog chilling out on a guest’s door handle?
  • Water up the nose and in the eyes and ears, thanks to a particularly violent hot tub?
  • Watching a movie while wearing a dripping sheet face mask (it’s made of wet paper and is supposed to look neat – it does on the picture – but in reality looks like you’re a putefrying zombie);
  • Using hand scrubs as facial scrubs in Vasse Virgin (those of us who did this had the softest skin)?
  • Hoping the 1kg of rice I cooked wasn’t going to explode out of the pot?
  • Posing for silly photos with statues, taking photos of each other taking photos?
  • Getting blown away by the wind down at Sugarloaf Rock?
  • Singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” badly on the drive back from a day trip to Yallingup?
  • Making up murder mysteries after dinner?
  • Drawing Self-Doubt Monsters?
  • Dozens of “what goes on the group Facebook page stays on the group Facebook page” photos?

It was all of those things and much more.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. I may be tired but I’m looking forward to more writers’ retreats.

Was it worth it for the guests? One hundred per cent yes. I might have been busy but not too busy to miss the smiles on their faces, the “aha” lightbulb moments, and the genuine way they all gave something of themselves and their experience to everyone present.

If you can spare the time and the money, do it (heads-up, Serenity Press is having another one in Ireland next year). The important thing is to find the right retreat for YOU.

Consider what you want to get out of it. A quiet, uninterrupted place to write? Workshops? Critiques? Lots of structure? Daily exercises (of the writing kind, but the other is good as well)? A location you’ve never been to before? Or one you are familiar with? New writing friends? A getaway with an existing writing group?

Once you know what you want to get out of a retreat, do your research and narrow down your options.

Have you been on a retreat lately? I’d love you to share your experiences in the comments.

PS. Thanks to Teena for stepping to help me when needed, to Karen for being my “partner in crime”, to Jenn and J for their gracious knowledge sharing and plenty of laughs, to all the terrific retreat guests (I count you all as friends), and to Inn the Tuarts for allowing this rowdy bunch of writers to stay.



Picture of Monique Mulligan

Monique Mulligan

4 Responses

  1. Definitely the gift of friendship for me. I had a blast, MM, and you were an absolute gem and a powerhouse in every way. Now it’s time for that muse to get all the attention. I am so looking forward to following your publishing journey now I know more about the beautiful storyteller you really are.

    1. Awww … now you’re making me teary.

      Thank YOU and J so much for the critique session. Just being allowed to talk like that about my writing and my story was a gift.

  2. Monique your account of events in your Blog was so spot on!
    I appreciate the organisation that went into our retreat experience. I had a Great time, Learnt many things and spent time with women I now admire greatly.
    Oh and the experience of viewing whales up close whilst taking a walk on the famous Busselton Jetty was the most exciting experience for me!

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