To brush up your writing ideas and technique, a good writing course is unbeatable. I attended a short story writing week in Loutro, in Crete, and found ideas and prompts on every side.
In the shade of a quiet taverna, eight people sit writing. Crickets chirp on the fragrant hillside. A glistening kebab rotates; as fat hisses in the embers, mouthwatering aromas tickle our tastebuds. A fishing boat nudges across the bay, ripples gurgling in its wake. My pen scrapes across the page.
The village of Loutro has no roads or vehicles.
The “Poetry and Writing” courses organised by espirita.org.uk in the tiny Cretan village of Loutro are a unique way to focus for one, two or three weeks on your story ideas and writing techniques in a sparkling Greek resort. Stewart Wills is the delightfully unclassifiable spirit being behind espirita – slogan: “A not-for-profit travel service for the cultural traveller”. Other espirita offerings include Taiko Drumming in Japan, The Oriental Garden in China, and Aromazzata in Italy. Tempting stuff.
I attended the “One Short Story” course on Loutro in summer 2019, tutored by Christopher Wakling, author of seven fine novels and lead fiction tutor at Curtis Brown Creative. I’d been on an Arvon writing course led by Chris before, and enjoyed the experience (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). “One Short Story” was excellent: I found the mixture of tuition, writing prompts, tips, writing time and beautiful surroundings conducive to creativity and managed to write a new, 8,500 word Hotel Story within the week.
The new story is called Total Control and is available on Amazon – a fine idea of how an idea for a short story can mature within a few days.
Writing my new Hotel Story “Total Control” in Loutro
A lot of things were right about the Loutro writing course:
- great tutors: our One Short Story course was led by Chris and the poetry course running in parallel by American poet Kathryn Maris and Irish poet Maurice Riordan. Chris gave us masses of writing prompts, short story technique and tips for writing. All power to Stewart for getting such accomplished course leaders;
- inspirational surroundings: the espirita website has masses of feedback from enthused writers. I can see why: Loutro is small enough to be cosy and large enough to offer facilities and space; and being car-free, is blissfully quiet (although not deserted – plenty of other people, including many Greek families, are there on holiday, too). See also productivity below.
- Space: all the accommodation has a balcony, a view of the bay and an en-suite bathroom. Stewart books it for you; you pay the hotel on arrival. You have all the privacy you want in your room, or can wander out into the village to meet others in tavernas or bars. Afternoons are free to explore nearby beaches (accessible via a walk or a boat trip); to hike a nearby canyon; or, if you are feeling inspired, to write in a taverna or your room or balcony. Most evenings offer some form of optional group activity (a star-gazing walk, or a trip to a village around the bay). I found it a good balance of privacy and company;
- did I mention the beaches and canyons? Nearby Sweetwater Beach, about an hour east on foot (surrounding by fragrant herbs and flowers) or ten minutes by boat, is vast and scenic; Marmara Beach, an hour to the west, petite and pebbly with swimming caves and an outstanding taverna. The surrounding mountains offer a cornucopia of hiking trails, including the nearby Aradhena Gorge. Take your walking boots;
- organisation: this isn’t a standard writing course. You make a reservation; pay the course fee, and that’s it. You arrange you own transport (Stewart may help with taxi connections to ensure people arriving or leaving at an airport at the same time can share a fare) and pay your own meals and accommodation. You have no sense of being dragooned or over-organised. In fact, you feel rather as if you’re on your own Greek holiday with a course taking place to which you’re also invited. Lovely;
- as I wrote in my Arvon Review, being with other writers is stimulating and enjoyable. I found myself picking up writing tips, short story ideas, learning, being inspired and making friends;
- productivity: I found the rhythm of the day generated lots of writing. Courses ran from 1000-1300, with a break in the middle for an hour to write, mid-morning, fuelled in my case by a Greek coffee by the waterfront. We then had evening course sessions from 1800-1915 – in this case, devoted to 1:1 sessions with Chris. I found it liberating to think that I could, if I wished, write from 1300 until it grew dark – and if I wished, thereafter. You don’t need to get mystic about the blue waters and the chirping of the crickets to feel that this is a great place to write. But you can if you want.
The “One Short Story” crew hard at work in the taverna
I would recommend Loutro as a relaxing place to attend a writing course in beautiful surroundings with a good deal of freedom to do what you want. If you like structure and want to be told what to do, this may not be the place for you.
A sunset in Loutro
If you are interested in writing, you might like to look at my posts:
- How to write a novel: plan in advance, or not?
- How to write gripping fiction: scenes, sequels and cliff-hangers
- How to write a novel: five ways to get in the habit of writing.
- How to write a novel: edit as you go along, or not? (“How to edit your novel part 1”)
- 7 ways to improve your manuscript (“How to edit your novel part 2”)
P.P.S. I hope you’ve found this useful. If so, please follow me on Facebook. Or you can join my mailing list – I’ll be delighted to give you a free “Hotel Story” to say thanks. Check out the range of writing on this site via my 5 pleasure paths.