From “No Chance” to Published Author: IWR talks with Acclaimed Writer Megan Ross

From “No Chance” to Published Author: IWR talks with Acclaimed Writer Megan Ross

Megan Ross entered the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award thinking there was no chance on earth she’d get it. But, sure enough, she won, attended, and has gone on to publish her first book as well as a number of other publications. She thinks IWR is ideal for any writer looking to jolt their creative energy. Read on to hear more about author Megan Ross.

Iceland Writers Retreat (IWR): When and why did you choose to attend? 
Megan Ross (MR)
: I entered the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award thinking that there was no chance on earth I’d ever get it. But, I did! This was in 2015 and I went off to Iceland in 2016.

IWR: What was/were the highlights of IWR for you? 
MR:
The people, exploring Iceland, and immersing myself in the literary culture(s) of a country so far removed from my own. 

IWR: What was the most unexpected thing about it?

MR: I was already mesmerized by what I’d seen of Iceland before, but I had not expected to be exposed to such wit and dark, dry humour, or the magic and folklore Icelandic literature is steeped in.  

IWR: Did you have any good take-aways/tips/lessons you remember from IWR?

MR: Every writer taught me so much. I’ll never forget Neel Mukherjee telling our workshop about editing and being edited by hand. Cheryl Strayed’s entire workshop was one brilliant tip after another while Miriam Toews, for me, patterned a means of exploring grief, and writing it, without drowning in sorrow. Elina Hirvonen offered a series of writing activities that were more visual in nature, and more stimulating in a way, for the writing process. Mark Kurlansky pushed us to rethink different genres and forms of writing, and the entire event itself was helpful in learning about the business side of publishing as well as writing. 

IWR: Had you published a book when you attended?

MR: Not yet. 

IWR: What have you published since?

MR: Milk Fever (uHlanga Press, 2018), my first book – a collection of poetry exploring young motherhood, girlhood and sexuality by the seaside. Several essays, poems and short stories that have been critically acclaimed and awarded the Brittle Paper Award for Fiction, included in a Lammy Award-finalist anthology. I am wrapping up my first novel now and am about to start writing my second soon.

IWR: Who do you think would benefit most from the IWR? 

MR: Writers who are looking for a sense of community, an adventure, or those who feel like jolting their creative energies again. 

IWR: What do you think is most unique or special about this event?

MR: Erica and Eliza are two phenomenal women whose energy and verve permeates the entire event. The pace is fast, there’s so much to see and the energy of Iceland – especially at night, walking through the warmly-lit streets of Reykjavik – is so profound that even the memory of it is enough to inspire me. 

Learn more about the incredible Megan Ross:

Website: www.meganross.co.za

Twitter: itsmeganross

Instagram: @megan_ross_

Facebook: www.facebook.com/meganrosswriter

4 Reasons Why You Should Attend the Iceland Writers Retreat (Reason 4)

4 Reasons Why You Should Attend the Iceland Writers Retreat (Reason 4)

A Once in A Lifetime Experience

This is possibly the most compelling reason to come to Iceland. I haven’t been to Iceland. Even though I participated in the virtual retreat this past April, I haven’t had the whole immersion experience in Iceland, surrounded by other writers. If you’ve been following this series, then you’ll remember how that immersion aspect of the retreat is key to the whole experience.

Up until now, I’ve based all my feelings about the retreat on research. I’ve written about what I understand about the location, the format, and the writer and the team behind the event. The more I learn about these subjects, the more excited I am.

But the authentic experience of it can only be told by those who have experienced it. Luckily, we have great writers and their experience to go by. If you haven’t read the posts from past alumni award winners, I encourage you to do so. Here are just some of the things that really spoke to me when I read their posts.

Nathan Ramsden also found it “transformative” helping him get a clearer idea of what kind of writer he is. Nathan felt after the retreat that he brought some of Iceland home with him. And he left some of himself there. This sounds like the experience I need in my life. The romantic idea of gifting and receiving from the event is beautiful. I hope that this is not only my experience in Iceland, but in all the monumental experiences of my life.

Puja Changoiwala’s article expanded on this idea that the Iceland Writers Retreat is more than connecting with other writers. It’s about connecting with the literary culture of Iceland. I am excited to meet and attend workshops whose unique perspectives will help deepen that connection.

Sara Letourneau described her time at the Iceland Writers Retreat as “world-shifting” and it helped build her confidence. I’ve never met a writer who didn’t need their confidence built, and I am no exception.

Out of all the essays, I connected most with Audrey Wright. As a writer with a day marketing job, I also sometimes suffer from the “imposter’s syndrome.” The connections and comradery she describes feel like what I need to build my confidence.

This isn’t just a holiday. This is an experience where we all come away from it forever changed if you let it. I, for one, am not going to miss out on this experience.

There are spots still available. Sign up for the 2022 Iceland Writers Retreat next April. I hope to share this experience with you.

4 Reasons Why You Should Attend the Iceland Writers Retreat (Reason 3)

4 Reasons Why You Should Attend the Iceland Writers Retreat (Reason 3)

Reason 3: The Iceland Saga (This is mine. What’s yours?)

By Jo McClelland Phillips, Alumni Award Recipient; Photo by Roman Gerasymenko

“Why do you want to attend The Iceland Writers Retreat? We all love Iceland. And we all love writing. Tell us why this particular event has captured your interest.”

Before winning the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award at the end of 2019, I applied and answered this question four times.

I wonder if my goal of visiting Iceland got in my way the first three times, I answered this question. Because – of course, I wanted (and still want) to go to Iceland!

My love affair with the Sagas and Iceland writers really began with the Iceland Writers Retreat – as I investigated the Icelandic authors and tour locations mentioned on their website. I realised how closely this tradition reflects my own views and passion for storytelling.

That tracks because we can trace back almost all our modern-day storytelling to the Icelandic tradition.

Sometimes called the “family sagas”, they spoke of the struggles and conflicts in the early generations of Icelandic settlers. Characters like Egil were complex and full of contradictions. Later, sagas like Njáls saga focused more on storytelling than on chronicling history.

It was also through this website that I was first introduced to modern Icelandic writer Kristín Helga Gunnarsdóttir. Her focus is “telling stories that unite and create bridges between generations.” This idea really spoke to me and related to my goals when I tell a story.

My journey to Iceland parallels my journey as a parent, having applied for the first time when my daughter was 6 months old. As a writer, I predominantly teach her what she needs to know by telling her stories. These last two years, I’ve been teaching my daughter about storytelling and creating her own stories. I see how we can deeply relate to the core elements of storytelling and that even today, in our home, we aren’t that different from the ancient Icelandic saga authors.

What’s your Icelandic Saga?

Tag @IcelandWriters @JoMcClellandPhillips (IG and FB) or @JoMcClelland on Twitter and tell us your Iceland stories! And don’t forget to sign up for the 2022 Iceland Writers Retreat next April. I hope to see you there!

Four Reasons You Should Attend the IWR (Reason 2)

Four Reasons You Should Attend the IWR (Reason 2)

Reason 2: Literary vs Commercial Fiction (It’s not a competition.)

By: Jo McClelland Phillips, Alumni Award Recipient

A literary novelist might write genre fiction, and that might even turn some readers off. But not I.

What excited me most about the Iceland Writers Retreat is that it is a place where literary and commercial writers meet in a warm and collaborative setting. Pretense isn’t an issue.

In some circles, literary fiction is held in higher esteem than what is referred to as “popular” or “commercial fiction.”

A common explanation of the two, beyond sales, would be that literary fiction comments on the human condition while popular fiction merely entertains. What about books that do both?

A writing teacher distilled the difference down to how complicated the sentences are written. She pointed out that while Stephen King is very commercial, he writes very sophisticated prose. Yet, no one considers Stephen King literature.

The Iceland Writers Retreat is where we can meet award-winning authors, such as Kamila Shamsie, and popular writers like Maria Semple, both of whom were scheduled to appear in 2020, before the global pandemic. I would say that their novels are both entertaining and comment on the human condition. For me, they are equally valuable. As a writer who wishes to elevate her stories while also keeping in mind the current book market, this is ideal.

At the 2021 Virtual Retreat, I studied with several authors and looked at character, setting, and humour.

Bret Anthony Johnston had us look at character through structure, giving weight to the story with a strong point-of-view. Andrew Evans gave us literary-leaning principles of description without using sight or cliché. I don’t know how to answer Terry Fallis’ question “what’s funny?’ but he defined it as “defying normal conventions with juxtaposition, shock, or surprise.”

A good story is grounded in a sense of place with strong characters. It has a clear point of view. And even a drama or horror is best when the strong feelings are offset by humour.

When I apply these tools and tactics that I learned in these workshops, my work improved. I hope the result will be both artistically appealing and commercially relevant. It doesn’t matter if you’re a genre writer, a satirist, or a poet. It doesn’t matter if you write memoirs or essays or short fiction. We all have something to learn from the writers at the Iceland Writer’s Retreat.

Registration is open for the 2022 retreat. Read about all the fantastic writers who will be in attendance next April.

Four Reasons You Should Attend the Iceland Writers Retreat

Four Reasons You Should Attend the Iceland Writers Retreat

This is part one of a 4-part series by Jo McClelland Phillips, Alumni Award Recipient

Reason 1: Immersion in Writing

Have you ever gone on holiday, with no other plans but to sit on the beach, or by a fire, or in a cabin in the woods with your favourite book and just read?

Imagine that ideal holiday without interruptions. And that you’re staying with people who just want to read their book as well – and at the end of the day you all come together for beautiful meals and talk about the book you’re reading.

Now imagine that your favourite book hasn’t even been written yet. And you’re going to write it.

Immersion time for writing is powerful and productive in a way that benefits the craft and inspires writers.

Writing is a massive commitment of time and energy. The immersive retreat formula feeds the writer with the connection and support of people going through the same thing. This is what makes it different from just committing yourself to taking time alone.

During the retreat, you will have discouragement, and doubt, and fatigue, so having other writers there who can support you in your commitment is invaluable.  

As we suffer yet another lockdown here in Australia, I find my mind wondering about a future time when the borders open and I can finally get to the IWR.

Before I applied for the award for the first time in 2015, I searched Google looking for ways to get to Iceland. But that’s not why I kept applying. The more I grew as an author, and the more I researched this retreat specifically, I realised the value and the power of the complete immersion format of this retreat.

Back in 2019, I wrote as part of my application: “With the immersion format of the Iceland Writers Retreat, I can block out ‘external noise’ and commit my entire focus to writing.”

In 2021 I had the opportunity to attend the virtual retreat . I booked time off work and changed my sleep schedule – with the time difference in Australia, I needed to start at 1 am and go until 8 am.

The result was me alone in my home office in the middle of the night, working through the workshops. Then, as the sun came up, we had chat rooms where I had the opportunity to talk to other writers, like fellow Alumni Winner Michelle Walshe . She shared my views of the retreat in this unique way. And that connection kept me coming back and staying later each day.

I might not have held the commitment without knowing I would see her there, and she’d be looking for me. That accountability is something I wouldn’t have gotten by simply taking the weekend off to write.

She and I also shared our anticipation of meeting in Iceland in person. As wonderful as the virtual retreat was, I do long for the time when the retreat doesn’t pause because the screens are turned off. Also, it would be nice to be in the same time zone as everyone else.

If you haven’t signed up yet, get ready! Registration opens August 25th! And let’s all stay safe and do what we must to make sure the borders open and we can meet again in Iceland.

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Michelle Walshe

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Michelle Walshe

This year is the fifth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Michelle Walshe.

Michelle Walshe was born in England but raised in Ireland where she resides after living abroad for many years. She worked as a teacher at third level before she began writing in 2017. Her work has been published in print in the national media in Ireland and the UK and in Teachers Who Write: An Anthology, online on Writing.ie, Skelligmichael.com and Silverbirchpress.wordpress.com. She has been shortlisted in short story competitions and won a prize for flash fiction. She has won residencies, a scholarship, and bursaries to the John Hewitt Summer School, The Stinging Fly and The Bronte Parsonage. She volunteers at Roddy Doyle’s Fighting Words, an organisation promoting creative writing for children, and at literary festivals. She is working on a memoir and a children’s book. All her published work can be found on her website www.thesparklyshell.com.

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Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Jo McClelland Phillips

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Jo McClelland Phillips

This year is the fifth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Jo McClelland Phillips.

Jo McClelland Phillips was born on the shores of Lake Ontario, then migrated to the mountains of New South Wales. Her work has been published in TIME Magazine, USA Today, Fairfax Media, and Mashable along with several national and independent newspapers and magazines. She is the winner of the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award and she has been shortlisted for the Publisher Introduction Program Fellowship with Varuna, the National Writers House in NSW. Her short story, The Glass Slipper, won the Fringe Festival Award at The Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, and received honourable mention in The Glass Woman Prize.

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Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Chelsie Bryant

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Chelsie Bryant

This year is the fifth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Chelsie Bryant.

Chelsie Bryant is an Ohio native currently living in Portland, Maine. In her spare time, she enjoys photographing her cat, har, who spells his name in lowercase because he makes the rules; he doesn’t follow them. Her work has been featured in Willow SpringsMichigan Quarterly ReviewYemasseePassages NorthWord Riot, and other places. She won the Willow Spring Fiction Prize in 2016 and holds a Master of Fine Arts from the Ohio State University.

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Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Abak Hussain

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Abak Hussain

This year is the fifth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Abak Hussain.

Abak Hussain was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he still lives. A journalist by trade, he is currently the Editor of  Editorial and Op-Ed at Dhaka Tribune, a leading English language daily, where he worked since the newspaper’s inception back in 2012. He writes a weekly column — “Hard Target” — mostly on political issues. His other interest is creative writing — he has published short stories from time to time, and hopes to one day finish his novel.

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Six Recipients of the 2020 Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award

Six Recipients of the 2020 Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award

This year is the fifth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Awards. This prestigious award is funded in its entirety by generous IWR alumni and friends. It gives its recipients full or partial funding to attend the next Retreat, which will take place April 29 to May 3, 2020 in Reykjavik. The winners are chosen based on both merit and financial need, and submissions were reviewed by IWR alumni volunteers. We received almost 700 applications from around the world and the quality of submissions was extremely high.

Three of our six recipients are individuals who had applied previously for an Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award. So if you applied and were not successful on this occasion, please consider applying again in future!

Full Award recipients:

Okechi Okeke is a writer and teacher whose work has appeared in The Economist, The Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story Vol 4 and elsewhere. He was shortlisted for the Black Letter Media Short Story Competition in 2018 and was a finalist for the 2019 K and L Prize for African Writing. A Fellow of Africa Young Leaders Fellowship and alumnus of Goethe Institut’s Afro Young Writing Workshop, Okechi lives in Nigeria.  

Chuck D. Smith is a journalist who has been writing about Philippine entertainment and pop culture since 2008. He has served as writer and editor for various publications such as Yahoo! Philippines, Philstar.com, Coconuts Manila, and CNN Philippines, among others. For a brief period, he worked as a publicist for TBA Studios, a Philippine film company that produced the highly acclaimed, box office hits General Luna and Goyo: The Boy General. He also writes personal essays, some of which have been published in Esquire Philippines, Philippine Daily Inquirer, and GMA News Online. He won a Carlos Palanca Memorial Award and the Ustetika Student Literary Award for his essays.

Michelle Walshe was born in England but raised in Ireland where she resides after living abroad for many years. She worked as a teacher at third level before she began writing in 2017. Her work has been published in print in the national media in Ireland and the UK and in Teachers Who Write: An Anthology, online on Writing.ie, Skelligmichael.com and Silverbirchpress.wordpress.com. She has been shortlisted in short story competitions and won a prize for flash fiction. She has won residencies, a scholarship, and bursaries to the John Hewitt Summer School, The Stinging Fly and The Bronte Parsonage. She volunteers at Roddy Doyle’s Fighting Words, an organisation promoting creative writing for children, and at literary festivals. She is working on a memoir and a children’s book. All her published work can be found on her website www.thesparklyshell.com.

Partial Award recipients:

Chelsie Bryant is an Ohio native currently living in Portland, Maine. In her spare time, she enjoys photographing her cat, har, who spells his name in lowercase because he makes the rules; he doesn’t follow them. Her work has been featured in Willow Springs, Michigan Quarterly Review, Yemassee, Passages North, Word Riot, and other places. She won the Willow Spring Fiction Prize in 2016 and holds a Master of Fine Arts from the Ohio State University.

Abak Hussain was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he still lives. A journalist by trade, he is currently the Editor of  Editorial and Op-Ed at Dhaka Tribune, a leading English language daily, where he worked since the newspaper’s inception back in 2012. He writes a weekly column — “Hard Target” — mostly on political issues. His other interest is creative writing — he has published short stories from time to time, and hopes to one day finish his novel.

 Jo McClelland Phillips was born on the shores of Lake Ontario, then migrated to the mountains of New South Wales. Her work has been published in TIME Magazine, USA Today, Fairfax Media, and Mashable along with several national and independent newspapers and magazines. She is the winner of the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award and she has been shortlisted for the Publisher Introduction Program Fellowship with Varuna, the National Writers House in NSW. Her short story, The Glass Slipper, won the Fringe Festival Award at The Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, and received honourable mention in The Glass Woman Prize.

We’ll be profiling all the recipients in more detail in the coming weeks. We would again like to thank the alumni and friends of the Iceland Writers Retreat for their generous contributions to enable us to offer these awards, as well as to the dozens of volunteers who helped to review applications.

The other finalists for the prize were (in alphabetical order):

  • Esther Ajari (Nigeria)
  • Luís Roberto Amabile (Brazil)
  • Talea Anderson (United States)
  • Aaina Batool (Pakistan)
  • Ashley-Elizabeth Best (Canada)
  • Nana Boateng (Ghana)
  • Avery Brooks (United States)
  • Dymphny Dronyk (Canada)
  • Elrena Evans (United States)
  • Julie Farrell (United Kingdom)
  • Eliza Gearty (United Kingdom)
  • Maria Gulina (Belarus)
  • Diane Helentjaris (United States)
  • Jessica Holliday (United Kingdom)
  • Maryam Kiyani (Pakistan)
  • Mary-Ann Leeb (United States)
  • Samantha Libby (United States)
  • Irina Lutsenko (Russia)
  • Jessica Martin (Australia)
  • Niall McArdle (Ireland)
  • Marija Peričić (Australia)
  • Cassandra Powers (United States)
  • Michelle Preen (South Africa)
  • Hani Yousuf (H. Y. Attia) (Pakistan)

An additional 39 people received “honorary mention” (these people have been informed via email).

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