An inside view of the Creative Writing + Pilates retreat

SR puppy couch
SR Sophie post massage land
SR CW west wing

By Sophie, co-founder of Shine Retreats.

“You become a writer by writing. There’s no other way. So do it, do it more, do it again, do it better, fail, fail better.’ Margaret Atwood

I facilitate the Writers Retreats. I’m there to help run the show as it were. I figure out logistics, travel, itinerary. I’m the bridge between the practitioners and the people that join us on retreat.

Last year we had a last-minute cancellation due to a family emergency. There was space for me to join the classes. Up until this point, I’d only in theory had a sense that the way we configure the days on retreat worked well. Now I could try it.

I was so blessed to experience how starting the day with Georgie's Pilates to wake up the body, was such a great way to begin. I left her classes each morning stretched, toned, feeling taller, with my brain stimulated in a peaceful way and my belly happily rumbling me towards the breakfast table. We had a variety of breakfasts, but an example was home-made granola, natural yoghurt, a homemade Nutella that was to die for, eggs if you wanted them, plus coffee and tea galore. My body was awakened, my belly was delighted, and my caffeine quota had been fulfilled. I was ready to learn!


We would then head to the writer’s workshop in the bright art studio, with floor to ceiling windows at both ends of the room revealing the foliage and rolling hills beyond. Each day Aga would take us through a different aspect of what it takes to be a storyteller and the tools with which to do it. One day was narrative, another character development, and so on, so that we could get a taste of each tool that can turn our ideas into something of substance. Aga would talk us through these elements, giving handouts, reading examples, offering book recommendations, and sharing perfect quotes to illustrate her points. She would then give us exercises to see if we could internalise what we had just learnt.

We would have 15mins to write a scene and then we’d share it. What I loved about these short exercises was that I didn’t have time to go into self-doubt, procrastination or fear of what others would think. There was an implicit circle of trust in sharing what we had created each time, and it was always illuminating hearing others and getting feedback. We often had laughter, sometimes tears and always total respect for the vulnerability of sharing the written form aloud.

After the Writers Workshops we would often be hungry as our brains had been burning up calories through pure imagination. It was a glorious feeling. A feast was prepared often with views of the rolling hills, where we’d talk over ideas and what the rest of the day had in store. Sometimes we’d have time to work more on our projects straight after class before lunch. Other times, we’d run right up to it, as we’d had a little tea break. Aga was great at reading the room and when was best to pause or keep going.

Some afternoons we’d stay home, write, have a 1-2-1 session with Aga or a Massage with Georgie. Other days we would go out, explore a new Italian spot and search for character inspiration. Aga gave us assignments to find interesting people to create a story around to share later with the group. Our sight-seeing became more than a tourist trip, it was an undercover mission. It was so much fun! Aperitivo and ice cream to blend in as we studied the locals only added to the delight.

My 1-2-1s with Aga were special. She patiently listened to something difficult that I’ve experienced and tried to write about for years. Its deeply personal and not easy to share, but I know that if I do, my experience may help others. Whenever I’ve tried in the past, it read in a heavy way and sounded more self-pitying than educational, which is not what I’m aiming for. She encouraged me to try writing it in the 3rd person as if it’s a piece of fiction. It hadn’t occurred to me to try that. Other scenes that add explanation without masses of exposition came flying onto the page. There was a freedom and a sense of anonymity that just opened everything up for me. It also didn’t feel as heavy to write about through a slight sense of separation to it. On one of our last night’s, we all shared an excerpt of our writing. Aga gave me the courage to share some of these scenes. To have people hear my stories out loud, made it real. It made it alright. It made it possible and necessary.

Aga helped me see that I have a voice as a writer. I’ve written poems, songs, and factual prose for many years, but never fiction until now. It’s opened me up to an exciting new world, with a wealth of tools I've gained on retreat. I can now book in follow up Zoom sessions with her when I next get stuck on my writers’ journey. I have a list of books to read, and I have the confidence to dare to say, “I am a writer.” Now I just need to finish the work to truly make it so. I’m so grateful.

On the last day I had my 90mins massage with Georgie. As the facilitator, I’d waited until the other retreat members had left. Having Georgie lovingly guide us each morning to open our bodies, strengthen and deepen our reserves was so powerful. Having a massage treatment with her after all this learning was truly a bountiful experience. Her skills, instinct, maternal love, and incredible hot stones make her one of the best practitioners you’re ever likely to enjoy. I finally saw how this whole retreat comes together to inspire the mind, body and soul of a person seeking creative experiences.

If like me, you want the space, time and guidance to develop the writer within, come and join us for the next Creative Writing + Pilates Retreat in May or September this year.