An Interview with IWR Alumni Catherine Wayne

An Interview with IWR Alumni Catherine Wayne

We are profiling some faculty and alumni leading up to the 2018 Retreat. Catherine Wayne joined us in 2014 and 2016.

Catherine is the author of the Edda Melkorka children’s series:  Too Many Pets and So Many Rainbows as well as a number of specialized College text books. She lives with her husband in Merritt, British Columbia. For more information you can check out her website Global Grammas.

How did you find out about Iceland Writers Retreat originally?

My daughter, Robyn Phaedra Mitchell, has lived in Iceland for about fifteen years.  She and I had been talking about writing the Edda series (based on the adventures of my Icelandic granddaughter) and she told me about the IWR.  Going to the Retreat was an excuse to also visit Edda Melkorka.

Have you ever participated in a similar kind of retreat, either as faculty or as a participant? If yes, how did the experience benefit you and/or your writing?

I’ve been retired for a few years now but during my working life I both attended and led seminars on technical writing which is quite different from story writing.

What did you most look forward to about the Retreat?

Meeting with others who are as passionate about writing as I am to exchange ideas and experiences.

Did it match up to your expectations?

I think the Retreat exceeded my expectations.  Talking to people from all over the world who have things to share about how they see life was quite a treat and getting to meet with very successful writers in a number of genres was inspiring for me.

What was the biggest lesson you took from the retreat? Or perhaps a piece of advice, or writing exercise that had an impact on your writing?

Two things:

First, that there is no one “right” way to write.  Everyone I spoke or listened to has a different process.  The process I heard about that I could really relate to was Miriam Toews’ who said she thought about and suffered over her stories for ages and then just sat down and wrote them.  That describes my process perfectly.  I think about the story; do some research; lie awake at night figuring out the details; obsess about characters for a few weeks and then just sit down and slam out the first draft.  It’s nice to know I’m not alone in the process.

Second, was a writing exercise in one of the workshops that had everyone in the room contribute one word and then all the people in the room having to write a quick story using those words.  It was a great demonstration that language, even if it’s not language you choose yourself, can still tell the story you want to tell.

What and/or who do you find inspiring?

Catherine's book So Many RainbowsI am consistently amazed at the creativity of children and I guess that’s why I like to write for children.  I love listening to kids expound on their views of the world and how it works.

How has writing influenced your life?

Writing is my way of staying in touch.  I think so much is lost to the ether when your message is limited to 160 characters.  I still write long letters to people and send them by post.  I get letters too from nieces or brothers or cousins which is something I really enjoy.  I think I get this from my Mom who was a great correspondent and taught me early that if you send letters to people, you get to look forward to getting mail.  I think of my stories as a way of corresponding with future generations.

What do you find to be your biggest challenge in your writing life?

Discipline.  I could spend forever thinking about my stories and figuring out each and every small detail.  I have to make myself sit down and actually write.  Once I start, I am good for a few hours at least, but it’s getting that first word on the page that I have trouble with.

What are you working on currently and/or is there anything exciting that has happened in your writing life since the retreat?

I currently have a couple of projects on the go:

  • I have been doing genealogical research about my Mom’s side of the family with the idea that I will tell a fictionalized version of that story.
  • The next in the Edda series is in process. This one may end up being a cookbook.  Not sure yet.  We are still in the thinking, researching, and suffering stage.

Any final comments you’d like to share with our followers?

I will be forever grateful to the “Viking” who took my daughter to Iceland.  If not for him, I would never have discovered this astounding little part of the world.  If I was able, I would attend IWR every year because there is so much to learn and so many people to learn it from.  IWR is a fabulous opportunity to meet and talk with storytellers from all over the world.

An Interview with IWR Alumni Megan Herbert

An Interview with IWR Alumni Megan Herbert

We are profiling some faculty and alumni leading up to the 2018 Retreat. Megan Herbert joined us in 2014 and 2017 as a participant, and in 2017 as a participant and off-venue faculty member.

Megan worked for almost two decades as a storyliner, script writer, script editor, story producer, and development writer for television shows including long-running Australian drama Neighbours, and BBC dramas EastEnders and Holby City. While living in Iceland, she was Head of Development for Pegasus Pictures. Also a visual artist, she writes and illustrates children’s picture books (and many other things). She now lives in Amsterdam with her husband and son. Her new children’s book, The Tantrum That Saved The World, is available at https://www.worldsavingbooks.com/ .

How did you find out about Iceland Writers Retreat originally?

I was living in Iceland the first year the event took place. I think I saw a Facebook post about it. I signed up almost immediately.

Have you ever participated in a similar kind of retreat, either as faculty or as a participant? If yes, how did the experience benefit you and/or your writing? 

I’m an illustrator as well and I’d attended several art retreats before. They were always hugely beneficial, giving me time to think and plan and gain new insight into my work. The IWR was my first writer’s retreat though. Perhaps because I’d worked as a writer since graduating university, I hadn’t found the need to attend something like that until when, in 2014, living in Iceland, I found myself suddenly writing a lot more for myself than for TV shows. And needing inspiration and guidance and community. The timing was perfect. I skipped 2015’s event when I was back in Australia, but returned in 2016, hungry for more. In 2017 I returned again, this time as both student and an off-venue faculty member, which had a nice full-circle feeling to it. 

What did you most look forward to about the Retreat?

The first year I attended, I was balancing writing with new motherhood and freelance work, and the chance to put all that aside for a few days and to really immerse myself in what I was writing, as well as others’ ideas on the craft of writing, was a real luxury. It was fantastic discovering ‘new’ authors too, many of whom are now my among my favourites; Eliza and Erica are excellent curators of literary talent.

I’ve also made it my habit, every time I’ve attended, to live draw the event and share the results with the other attendees (you can see some of my previous efforts at http://megan-herbert.tumblr.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/meganjherbert/ ). Trying to capture both the likeness of a faculty member while also distilling what they’re teaching into a pithy caption is perhaps the best mental exercise I know. It’s a challenge I relish.

 What was the biggest lesson you took from the retreat? Or perhaps a piece of advice, or writing exercise that had an impact on your writing?

 Having attended three IWRs, I am lucky to have been able to glean all sorts of invaluable information from faculty members. Some of the rarest gems snuck up on me when I least expected it, like tips on writing engaging creative non-fiction from Andrew Westoll (when I was convinced I was writing a memoir). I have in my arsenal writing exercises from Iain Reid, Vincent Lam and Elina Hirvonen that I still use to this day. And tucked away in my notebooks are nuggets of pure gold on the topic of effective research (and turning that into sparkling prose) from Geraldine Brooks and Susan Orlean. I won’t describe them here because what worked for me won’t necessarily work for anyone else. That’s what’s great about the IWR; everyone walks away with their own treasures.

  What do you find to be your biggest challenge in your writing life?

 The biggest challenge for me is finding enough time to see through to completion all the ideas that come to me. Being a cross-disciplinary writer and illustrator (my work ranges from TV and film scripts, to kids’ books, to product design, to journalism, graphic novels, and everything in between), it’s difficult to stay focused in one area long enough to see through things through. I’m getting better at it though, one idea at a time!

 What are you working on currently and/or is there anything exciting that has happened in your writing life since the retreat?

 I’ve just published my latest kids’ book called The Tantrum That Save The World – a picture book explaining climate change to kids in language they can understand and empowering them to do something about it. It’s part story book, part science book, and part call to action, and was a collaboration with climate scientist Michael E. Mann. I first started work on this book around the time of the first IWR, so that gives you some idea how long these projects can take to get over the finish line. I’ve been thrilled by the response to it so far; hearing from complete strangers how much their children are captivated by your story is perhaps one of the most gratifying experiences a writer can have. (It’s available for purchase now at worldsavingbooks.com J )

How was the process of crowd funding for the book? Is it something you would consider doing again in the future?

 The best thing about crowdfunding a book (or any creative project) is that it provides you with deadlines. Deadlines that, in my case, almost killed me… but they also resulted in a finished book, printed and distributed ahead of schedule. For anyone considering crowdfunding, I advise to do your research (there’s a ton of great information out there from crowdfunding veterans), and to start planning and building your campaign early (i.e. a minimum of 6 months before you launch). And have a finished product before you launch because the running of the campaign itself is equivalent to about 3 full time jobs. I’m still at the tail end of this campaign, having just delivered to my backers), so it’s too soon to say if I’d consider doing it again. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but it does get results!

 Any final comments you’d like to share with our followers?

the view from megan's summer home

The view from Megan’s summer house in Hvalfjörður, where she disappears to for several months each year.

 I was lucky enough to have lived in Iceland for 8 years, during which time I was able to experience the miraculous, confounding, terrifyingly beautiful Icelandic nature daily. I also learned the Icelandic art of staring out a window at a mountain for long stretches, and just thinking, and sometimes not thinking, percolating, meditating on nothing, without feeling guilt or that I was wasting time. Staring at mountains is NEVER a waste of time. But living in urban settings for too long makes us feel like it is. As a local participant, I had already experienced this aspect of the IWR and was able to apply it to my work. If you don’t live in Iceland, you really do owe it to yourself to come not just for the writing and the faculty, but to stare long and hard at a mountain. You won’t regret it.

An Interview with IWR Alumni Ian Gunn

An Interview with IWR Alumni Ian Gunn

We are profiling some faculty and alumni leading up to the 2018 Retreat. Ian Gunn has been joining us in Reykjavik since 2015!

Ian holds Masters degrees in both Education and Australian Literature, and a PhD in Contemporary Literature from the University of Queensland. In a flagrant bid to feed a growing travel habit and indulge his passion for all things Icelandic, Ian horrified his professors and disappointed his parents by deserting the halls of academia to become an international air steward for a major Australian airline. The plan worked; in the last two decades, he has travelled to over 100 countries, and visited Iceland on at least twenty occasions. Ian is also a qualified sommelier and wine educator. When he’s not travelling the world, trying to find time to write and searching for the perfect Chardonnay, Ian also works as a sessional lecturer in Gifted Education at the University of New England. He lives, infrequently, in Coolum Beach, Australia. 

How did you find out about Iceland Writers Retreat originally?

In the English language newspaper Reykjavik Grapevine. I live quite literally on the other side of the world, in Australia, but I’m lucky enough to be able to visit Iceland a couple of times a year. On one of these visits I was casually leafing through the pages of RG at the Kaffifélagi∂ coffee shop while waiting for my latte, and happened across an article about the inaugural IWR, which had not long finished. I was immediately captivated by the idea. Two of my passions – Iceland and writing – together at last! But I was also a little irked that I’d allowed the inaugural event to sail completely under my radar. I would’ve been a definite starter. Still, I made sure I booked onto a later Retreat, and I’ve been coming every year since. 

Have you ever participated in a similar kind of retreat, either as faculty or as a participant? If yes, how did the experience benefit you and/or your writing? 

No. I’ve been to heaps of writers’ festivals around the world and attended a lot of workshops, but the IWR is really quite unique. It’s a credit to the Founding Directors that they’ve been able to retain the special quality and intimacy of the event, despite its growing profile and popularity.

What did you most look forward to about the Retreat?

Just about everything – the amazing faculty, the social occasions, meeting writers from around the world, and touring the Icelandic landscape.

Did it match up to your expectations?

Yes, completely. Utterly. Absolutely.

What was the biggest lesson you took from the retreat? Or perhaps a piece of advice, or writing exercise that had an impact on your writing?

I think the best lesson I’ve taken from the Retreat is that writers need to find their own ‘system’ for writing, and then try to make it habitual. No two writers approach the task of writing the same way. Some are very methodical, producing daily quotas of words, while others are more sporadic. It’s always interesting, and quite reassuring, to learn of the vastly different methods writers employ and realize that all are valid. Writing is often viewed as something of a solitary enterprise, but I think this connection with other writers is very important. You can trade ideas and insights, and hopefully see that the same frustrations you experience are experienced by everyone.

What and/or who do you find inspiring?

Living in Australia, I find that I’m constantly inspired by the beauty and terror of nature. I’m sure that’s also part of what attracts me to Iceland as well.

In terms of writers who inspire me, there’s Margaret Atwood of course, whose work I first encountered in the 1980s as an undergraduate in a Commonwealth Literature course. I also admire Tim Winton, Peter Carey and Richard Flanagan, a holy trinity of contemporary Australian literature. Another favorite is the British author Chris Cleave, whose novels pulsate with a wonderful humanity. I was fortunate enough to meet Chris at last years’ IWR and take his workshop, and he is, indeed, a wonderful human!

How has writing influenced your life? 

Wow, where to start with that question! I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, starting with poems at age 4 that my father transcribed and made into a little book. I’ve diarized most of my life. And I was always drawn towards school and University subjects with a heavy writing component. So, I’ve basically written throughout all of my conscious life, in one way or another, though much of it hasn’t been for public consumption, let alone publication.

But therein lies an important point, I think. A few years ago I came across a workshop for aspiring writers titled ‘So you want to write?’ The more I thought about the workshop’s title, the more mystifying it became to me. Surely being a writer is not about wanting to write, but needing to write, regardless of where the words might take you, or you might take the words. Writing, often for its own sake, is a compulsion that I’ve definitely always felt, and most established writers I’ve encountered tend to affirm this.

Also, writing can’t happen without reading. I’m an insatiable reader, and couldn’t imagine my life without books.

What do you find to be your biggest challenge in your writing life?

Time, of course, and distraction. I travel constantly, so my life is full of chaos and stimuli. Not the most conducive milieu for tasks that usually require a degree of focus and order, such as writing. On the other hand, the incessant flux of my life gives me plenty of creative fodder for stories and articles.

 What are you working on currently and/or is there anything exciting that has happened in your writing life since the retreat?

I’m about halfway through an essay on the surprising and ironic similarities between Iceland and Australia – the island mentality and hostile landscapes that breed a laconic and off-kilter sense of humor; the deep cultural history of storytelling through the Sagas and the Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories, and so on. In many ways, this essay is as much about exploring my own lifelong obsession with Iceland, and I hope to finish it by April, in time for the IWR.

Apart from that, I’m working on a number of short stories, each at different stages of development. I’m also mining my old travel journals for possible material. I was a big fan of the travel narrative during its publishing ‘heyday’ in the 1990s. I’m eagerly awaiting its renaissance, but I fear the genre has now taken up permanent residence in the blogosphere. 

Any final comments you’d like to share with our followers?

Yes. If you’re thinking about attending the IWR, then just do it! I promise you won’t regret it. It’s a total mind blast in the most stunning of settings. And don’t use distance as an excuse for not coming to Iceland; if a regular trickle of Aussies can make it this far each year, then anyone can!

IWR Chats with Former Faculty Member Kate Williams

IWR Chats with Former Faculty Member Kate Williams

Last year, British novelist, broadcaster, and historian Kate Williams gave readings and hosted two workshops at the Iceland Writers Retreat. As the 2017 retreat rapidly approaches, she recalls the highlights of her stay in Iceland and gives future attendees a glimpse of what to expect from the Land of Fire and Ice.

Interview by Elliott Brandsma.

Kate, describe some of your favorite parts about the Iceland Writers Retreat. What did you enjoy most about the event last year?

I loved meeting the wonderful participants and hearing their brilliant ideas for books – and our reading evenings – the British Ambassador came to one!

What were your impressions of Iceland? What struck you most about the country and its people?

I chose to come to the Writers’ Retreat as I was already a huge fan of Iceland – the scenery, the country, the people and your entire political outlook. And of course the great literature you have produced. I was struck by the incredibly beautiful scenery and how you could imagine yourself back in the Age of Vikings simply by just being there. I felt as if I could hear the old Icelandic gods talking to me……

Iceland is a place that leaves a lasting impression on people for many reasons. How, if at all, has your writing changed since visiting the country?

Iceland makes you more aware of the myths in the landscape. There were definitely secrets in the stones….

What do you like most about working as a broadcast journalist, television personality, professor, historian, and novelist? How do you juggle such distinctly different roles and still find time to write?

Hmm! I am very lucky to have so many demands on my time and am so fortunate to be able to do what I love every day. But I do admit that things fall down by the wayside. I dread being asked by TV companies to film me at home as there are piles of books everywhere….

You’re an avid author of historical fiction and have appeared in several television documentaries about historic events and time periods. If you could travel back in time, which time period would you choose to visit, and why?

I’d have to come to Iceland in the true times of the Vikings! And I have a lot of questions to ask of the subjects of my books, Emma Hamilton, Queen Victoria, Empress Josephine.

As a regular television commentator on the royal family, can you share with us some little-known facts about the Queen of England and her kin?

If you are talking to the Queen and she moves her handbag to the other arm – that’s your signal to make a graceful exit. By doing so, she is usually signaling to a lady in waiting or similar person to come and whisk her away so your conversation is about to come to an end!

What projects are you currently working on? What can we expect to hear/see from Kate Williams in the next year or two?

My final book in my trilogy about an Anglo- German family – I am currently correcting it and it is due out at the end of the year. Life in the 30s  in the run-up to war…..

Say something about yourself that people might be surprised to know.

I am afraid of sponge. I have got better on it and I don’t mind bath sponges these days but I hate mattress kind of sponge!

Who are some of the authors on your reading list right now? Now that you’ve experienced Iceland firsthand, what book would you recommend future IWR attendees read before coming to Iceland to write and gather inspiration?

Independent People [a novel by Icelandic Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness] is a wonderful book. I love more recent engagements with Iceland, Hannah Kent …and Sarah Moss’s memoir of a year living in Iceland post the economic crash fills me with envy – the thought of living for a year in your beautiful country! The Iceland Writers’ Retreat is the most inspiring experience – don’t miss it!

 

 

 

 

Iceland Writers Retreat 2016: An Insider Tells All

Iceland Writers Retreat 2016: An Insider Tells All

Anita Arneitz is a writer from Austria who participated in 2016 Iceland Writers Retreat. An avid blogger, Anita recently wrote a blog post reflecting on her time at the Retreat. The blog also has several pictures and a video of readings that were given. In addition to detailing the extraordinary aspects of the Iceland Writers Retreat’s writing workshops, including the advice given by successful writers and insights into the workshops, Anita describes the vibrant literary traditions of Iceland. The traditions, like the landscape, are captivating and inspirational. She articulates that “Like a geyser, [ideas] bubble on the inside and are just about to burst out”. Anita’s blog most poignantly illustrates the camaraderie among the participants and faculty, novices and literary veterans alike. So much diversity inevitably leads to interesting story-sharing, but these interactions take place on common ground. Everyone is there to learn and create, escape and explore.

To read the blog, click here.

anita-1

“The diversity of opinions, genres high-profile names at the Iceland Writers Retreat is overwhelming; just like the powerful landscape of the island.” – Anita Arneitz

Poets & Writers editor, Kevin Larimer highly recommends the Iceland Writers Retreat!

Poets & Writers editor, Kevin Larimer highly recommends the Iceland Writers Retreat!

Kevin Larimer reminisces about his visit to Iceland in his editorial for Poets & Writers, with some wonderful words of praise for the Iceland Writers Retreat: “It’s by far the most geographically diverse—so beautiful yet stunningly bizarre—place I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. And Eliza Reid and Erica Green’s program is an ideal occasion to make the trip, as it combines a compelling lineup of lectures, workshops, and readings with opportunities to explore the country’s incredible geothermal pools, geysers, glaciers, and lava fields.” Read more about his trip in Editor’s Note: The Lunatic Dialogues.

Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award: April Wolfe’s Story

Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award: April Wolfe’s Story

The economy dive hit me hard. I’m a writer by trade, but not the fun kind, which left me little time to work on my own creative projects, let alone remember what they were. Going to a writing retreat was out of the question — who had the time or money? So when Eliza called to tell me I’d been granted an award to travel to Iceland and study with renowned authors, I nearly dropped to the floor.

Continue reading

Why the Iceland Writers Retreat Really is the Best in the World

Why the Iceland Writers Retreat Really is the Best in the World

IWR Alumni Award recipient Megan Ross shares with us her wonderful experience of this year’s Iceland Writers Retreat. Photos by Megan Ross and Roman Gerasymenko

You know a writing retreat is going to be good when it’s in a postcard-pretty setting, snow-capped mountains included. Well, this was my thought process anyway, as I stepped off the airport shuttle bus outside our hotel, and gawked in true tourist-style at the beautiful, thick pelt of snow surrounding the city of Reykjavik. Spurred on by this natural beauty – and still clutching my passport – I almost rushed into the centre of the welcome cocktail party, with my awful tank-like suitcase in tow. Instead, I let myself be gently persuaded to first stop in at my room, where I debriefed a moment before hurrying my veritable mess of a jetlagged self back to join the crowds, drink red wine and mingle with my new writing companions. Continue reading

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