Akvile Buitvydaite was a recipient of a partial Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award. This is her story.
After I pressed the button ‘submit your application for the partial alumni award’ , the images of the possibility to attend the retreat flew through my mind. In the coming weeks, daily life got into the way of my dreaming, so when Eliza called me and offered a spot at the IWR, my life sort of split into two parts – before the phone call and after.
In the before the phone call part I was travelling, studying, doing random jobs and in between scribbling a paragraph or two, sometimes in rhymes, the other times in prose. I admired beautifully constructed sentences and looked upon writers as some super heroes with inborn supernatural powers.
After the phone call a rush of excitement filled my body, my mind, my room, my friends and for all the coming weeks I kept on imagining the retreat, the workshops, the people, the beauty of Iceland. I had no idea what to expect. My own writing felt different to me too. I started giving it more value, wanted to write more and approached it more critically as well. While in December the IWR still seemed far in the future, those months went by quickly and just around the corner was the IWR. I bragged to all my friends, bought new pair of shoes, packed my bag with insufficient amount of warm clothes and hopped on the plain to Keflavik.
On the Golden Circle Tour
Iceland welcomed me with some mysterious fog. I though it was something to do with the predicted precipitation, but I got it all wrong. In Iceland, many explanations are found in their local folklore. Sigurlin Bjarney Gisladottir, our guide on the Golden Circle tour, explained later that when ‘the clouds are tired, they are sitting on the mountains’. Aha! So on a tired clouds day I was strolling towards the hotel to pick up the welcome kit and felt mostly….nervous. I was stepping into something that I built up big in my mind and had no idea what to going to happen or knew anyone in advance. However, the moment I stepped into the venue and introduced myself to Erica and Eliza, their excited ‘Welcome’ and ‘Congratulations!’ made me feel grounded. I started mingling with the other participants, exchanging small conversations and so the IWR began.
One of the most difficult tasks before the Retreat was to make the choices regarding the workshops. During the event itself, listening to other people’s impressions, I felt again that there is not a single one I would like to miss. My first workshop was symbolically Paul Murray’s Beginnings. In a friendly and open environment, we set off towards the often difficult process on how to begin begin. After a small exercise in the group, we broke the ice of pleasantries and shortly after we knew everyone in the room a bit better. The opening line can be crucial, hence we worked our ways around that.
Some of the faculty
It would be difficult for me to point out which workshops I liked the most. They all seemed to be complementing each other, yet each having its own distinctive character. Paula McLain shared on how to keep the reader alert in writing historical fiction, Claudia Casper illustrated her point of the importance of research by inviting us to taste some shark meat and wash its taste off with a shot of whiskey. Yes, at 9 o’clock in the morning! Chris Cleave came with a huge hand out on all the details about creating characters, and Nadifa Mohamed beautifully invited us to follow her with how she uses music in writing her novels. It is difficult to believe, how generating a time-slot of few hours can be!
Another thing that I really enjoyed about the retreat is the Icelandic literary scene that contributed to the vibe of the event. Everywhere we went, we were surrounded by Icelandic literature. The air we breathed was filled with author readings, places in Reykjavik that are turned into scenes in Icelandic crime fiction, personal stories about the figure of Halldor Laxness while siting in his cosy home surrounded by mountains. There is not a single place that I am more familiar with its literary heritage than Iceland.
Literary Tour of Reykjavik
When I got home, I needed some time to reflect upon my experience at IWR. I went there expecting to find writing as the common ground for our group. I wasn’t wrong, obviously. But that wasn’t all either. What fascinated me a lot were the stories behind the stories that people write. For many people, both participants and faculty, the pull behind their craft was rooted in their experiences of joy, sadness, loss, longing, the urge to capture the essence of the moment or to reconcile with one’s own past. I went to the retreat full with curiosity, but still armed with insecurity to open up with my writing. The experiences at IWR scraped my defence mechanism off and instead armed me with loads of encouragement and tenderness.
Oh, and a note of warning. The rumours spreads, shared by our lovely guide Sigurlin, that Icelanders are prone to extinction. As she said: ‘There are 500 000 sheep in Iceland, they outnumber the population. One day they will unite and take over! Next time you’ll come to Iceland, you might have a sheep as a driver.’ So what I have to say is: Hurry!
To donate to the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award, click here.Tags: Akvile Buitvidaite, Chris Cleave, Claudia Casper, Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award, Nadifa Mohamed, Paul Murray, Paula McLain