An Emotional Account of my Experience at the Iceland Writers Retreat 2019: Participant Antoinette Borg’s Story

An Emotional Account of my Experience at the Iceland Writers Retreat 2019: Participant Antoinette Borg’s Story

Note to organisers: I hope you are sitting down as you are reading this. I know this is not the kind of feedback you would want bandied about for all the world to see, so I will fully understand and respect your position if you decide not to publish this. Sorry guys, I’m going to be brutally honest.

So these are some of the emotions that IWR 2019 triggered in me…

FEAR crept up my backbone as I read the headline, just a couple of weeks before the event: “Massive Strike in the Works in Iceland”. My insides were in liquid state by the time I reached the bottom of the article: Icelandic bus drivers and hotel employees would be on strike for three full days bang in the middle of the IWR! Oh shit! Some too-vivid images started to form in my head: my (not-even-remotely-athletic) self starting to walk from the airport in the direction of the hotel. My numb fingers frozen around the handle of my suitcase, struggling to drag it behind me while bravely facing a raging blizzard. With luck I’d manage to hitch a ride, and I saw myself hauling my suitcase up into a massive truck, with a big blond toothless smile greeting me from behind the steering wheel. You wouldn’t want to hear how the rest of that vision went…

Happily, all my fears turned out to be unfounded, not because the strike was called off, but because Eliza, Erica and their team had devised an extraordinary Plan B that was more like Plan P for Perfect. They had thought about and addressed every little detail, and as it were I’m pretty sure that, had the strike happened, we would have hardly noticed.

Thinking about it, I am now actually sorry that the strike didn’t happen. The strike-scenario images in my head are of (the not-at-all-unlikely possibility of) being driven from the airport to the hotel, or indeed my bed being made in the morning, by the First Lady of Iceland herself! Or how about touring the wild wonders of Iceland – again, driven by the First Lady – and getting to know that our tall, erudite tour guide was none other than the President of the country? How cool would that have been? Perhaps the strike being called off wasn’t such a lucky strike after all…

DISGUST was what I felt when I found out that, among the workshops offered, two were actually about Writing Rubbish! I turned up my nose disdainfully, thinking, Well I’ve been writing rubbish every single day of my life, Ms Sarah Moss! I certainly need no tips for that (excuse the pun and thank you very much!)  I signed up for it anyway, and was surprised to find myself enjoying a fascinating discussion about a fascinating collection of rubbish from all around the world. I was impressed, litter-ally! In fact, now that I’m back in Malta it’s my neighbours’ noses that are being turned up in disgust every morning, at the sight of me peering through their rubbish bags, sometimes even bending down over a particularly intriguing specimen and turning it over for a closer look!

Antoinette with Louis de BernieresThe rest of the workshops also had some pretty interesting effects on me (and my bodily fluids). I broke out into a sweat when Lina Meruane asked us to write and I couldn’t manage to string a single sentence, let alone a whole little story. I literally shed tears when Ann Hood asked us to write about food and emotions, which drove me to let out a pretty painful scribble about split pea soup and my dear departed daddy. And I was drooling in Louis de Bernières’ classes in the idle hope that a drop of his literary genius could somehow rub off and make its way to me! I dare not imagine what might have happened had I signed up for one of Ivan Coyote’s (undoubtedly hilarious) workshops…

ANGER keeps welling up inside me when I think of the capricious Northern Lights, which showed themselves to everyone in Iceland during IWR week, except me! Deep into the night I was two hours out of Reykjavik feeling confident that I was about to tick that right off my bucket list. But it was not to be. For more than an hour my little Mediterranean body, sunkissed since birth, was made to stand shivering in Arctic temperatures, squinting in vain at a pitch-black sky. It was silently screaming at me: WTF?! What are we doing in this freezing hell? I tried to explain patiently: We’re waiting for Aurora Borealis. She’s right there, behind those clouds. It’s showing on that guy’s camera, see? We just have to wait for the clouds to move away, then we’ll be able to see it with our naked eye and rejoice. My body, itself feeling naked despite being wrapped up in all the clothes I had brought with me to Iceland, was not impressed. It gloated – I told you it was pointless! What a sheer waste of five precious sleeping hours! – as we made our way back to Reykjavik, having seen absolutely nothing, bucket list still intact.

Sure enough, my disenchanted body refused to repeat the attempt another night. I did glimpse a shadow of the elusive lights from outside our hotel one night, but peering at them from a brightly-lit airfield doesn’t quite cut it, does it?

Antoinette at GullfossI could say a lot about another set of emotions that IWR fired up in me: EXCITEMENT, SURPRISE, JOY… but then I’d have to use a lot of boring adjectives like amazing, friendly, wonderful, delicious, beautiful, breathtaking… I think I’ll spare you all that cheesy, touristy stuff and stop right here…

Note to Eliza, Erica, faculty and the rest of the organising team: THANK YOU! WELL DONE! Sorry (for that missed heartbeat a little while ago)!

Note to fellow participants: You are such lovely people. Thank you for the smiles and the laughs and your friendship.

Note to Aurora Borealis: You haven’t seen the last of me!

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