Memoir Magic in the Misty Mountains

Kelda on her way to the dining hall and our fire 🙂

Springbrook turned on another weekend in the clouds for our memoir retreat and cloaked our cosy cabins in mist and magic perfect for writing and learning about writing and sitting around the fire at night sharing our writing with like-minded women. And what a lovely gentle group of writerly souls it was. The special magic of women, listening to and supporting each other, brought new friends together and formed new writing groups to cheer each other on.

We feasted on warming wholesome home-cooked meals prepared with love and care by our super-cookie and talented writer, Gay Liddington, who’d just completed the first draft of her own memoir, so she had more to share than just food! In the mornings we relaxed with gentle yoga and, as a special treat on Sunday, Dolina gave us all complimentary relaxation acupuncture treatments! Heavenly! Our lovely masseuse Ann gave luxurious hot oil massages late into the nights, so we were all well and truly blissed out and feeling pampered as we went to sleep with our electric blankets, listening to rain pattering on the roof.

Workshops got us thinking about our projects in different ways (GO DEEPER!) and got new writers putting words on the page. I’m always happily surprised by the beautiful stories that emerge from these sessions. A highlight for me was Saturday night readings around the fire. So many unique and fascinating stories. Dolina’s dead dog with oozing eyes wearing bonnet and booties may never leave my mind! I just love seeing the look on writers’ faces as they share their work and have their voices heard and affirmed. YAY!

Here are some reviews from the weekend: 

“A life changing weekend. I’ve come back with such a different view on my writing and feel really empowered generally. I had reached a point with this project where I felt like I was stumbling in the dark, and this retreat and all the amazing women guided me to the light switch!

I will definitely be back next year. I aim to arrive with my first published book.”

Erin Benjamin (retreat participant October 2022)

“Memoir writing is not my thing, or so I thought. After last weekend’s Relax and Write Retreat, I am inspired to craft at least a ‘slice of life’. Edwina’s enthusiasm and encouragement are infectious. Connecting with others who aspire to put their lives on the page and sharing our experiences became an unexpected joy.” 

Raelene Purtill (retreat participant October 2022)

Here are a few other comments from our feedback form:

“I came on retreat not expecting so many experienced writers and was a bit overwhelmed at first. But everyone was there for each other. It’s always great spending time in groups of women. The yoga, massage and food were excellent in a perfect location. Even the weather was good!” (retreat participant October 2022)

“Edwina and Gay made everyone feel safe. It made the whole retreat so intimate and joyful and when big emotions hit, the group support was genuine and amazing. I’ll be back!” (retreat participant October 2022)

“Edwina’s ability to create a safe, nurturing space allowed us to improve our technical skills of writing, gain clarity about our stories and confidence to release our voices into the world.”

Dolores Cummins (retreat participant October 2022)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, these retreats are only as good as the women who come along and these women were the cream of the crop! It was an absolute delight to host this lovely gentle group who nurtured and supported each other so beautifully. How lucky am I that running these retreats is my job?

Bloody lucky! That’s what!

Three more retreats are planned for next year. 

June 2 – 4 Magnetic Island – Elements of narrative

August 11 – 13 Springbrook – Feedback and revision retreat for those with some writing under their belts

October 20 – 22 Springbrook – Memoir and Life Writing

So what are you waiting for? Book your spot for next year now. Great Christmas present idea for writers – tell your family!!

I love these retreats, they are such a joyful part of what I do and I get to meet the most incredible inspiring women and make new friends every time!

Thank you to my wonderful helpers, dear Gay, and all the women who make these retreats so rewarding and fun.

Lots of love

Edwina 

DANGEROUS DIALOGUE – How to avoid dialogue disasters

Dialogue is an important tool in the writer’s kit, when used correctly. 

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Great dialogue makes your writing come alive. As the most mimetic of writing forms, it brings the reader and writer together in story time and is the ultimate in SHOWING rather than TELLING. Dialogue breaks up the page and breathes life into scenes, engaging the reader in real time. Good dialogue shows us who our characters are and brings surprising plot turns. 

Some people struggle to include any dialogue at all and find writing credible exchanges between characters difficult. However, recently I’ve encountered a few manuscripts where the writers have fallen in love with dialogue, or so it seems, and have tried to write almost whole novels primarily in dialogue, at the expense of world building, action and setting details and readers being able to visualise scenes. So how much dialogue is too much?

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I love dialogue and I’ve written and read a few short stories that are primarily told in dialogue – see Denis Johnson’s “Steady Hands at Seattle General” for a fabulous example. This great story is written almost only in dialogue and yet it still makes sense. How? Johnson makes sure that the reader is grounded in where and when this story takes place in a few simple lines of exposition at the start of the story. As long as we know where we are, who we’re with and what’s going on, you can get away with pretty much anything but GROUNDING THE READER in a concrete setting is essential, especially when writing primarily in dialogue. Otherwise, it feels like voices yelling in a void and the reader is unable to visualise what’s going on. And a short story is a snapshot of a moment in time, not an entire complex story interweaving the experiences of many that demands more explanation and grounding.

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Dialogue is great to bring our characters to life but it’s not effective to use dialogue to fill in whole passages of backstory or to fill in world building details. If you find your dialogue running into paragraphs of explanation of who or why something is happening, stop and think. Put the most important information in dialogue –  the information that gives us the most clues about the character who is speaking – then take the rest of the dialogue and paraphrase it so the world building details are still there but not in a long-winded monologue. 

In screenwriting we tell stories not only in dialogue but in the scene headings and the actions blocks which establish where we are and what’s going on. In screenplays we have the huge advantage of the audience being able to see and hear actors playing our characters within a setting and situation. We don’t have that advantage in prose so we need to fill in those other details so the reader can picture what’s going on and what the characters are doing as they speak.

When writing prose, we need to establish that setting and situation and show our characters acting and interacting with that environment and each other beyond the lines of dialogue. Then the reader is able to visualise what’s playing out – as if on a movie screen. Without enough clues to create that picture, only a whole lot of dialogue floating in space, the reader is left floundering.

Use dialogue to show us the best and worst of your characters. Have them say one thing then do the opposite. Have them lie about something we’ve just seen happen to someone else, or pretend it never happened.

What is she saying?

Use dialogue to reveal a sudden plot twist, but don’t tell the whole story in speech. 

Take a look at your use of dialogue. A little on every page is a good idea, but if you find you don’t have any, then add some in. Alternatively, if you find whole pages of dialogue without any setting or action details, with characters explaining the plot or telling their life stories, think again. Break up these sections with some straight exposition establishing setting and intersperse characters’ actions and reactions, some introspection and just plain telling to make sure the reader can visualise the scene in their own imaginations.

Ungrounded dialogue can feel like you’re listening to disembodied voices from outer space!

For more advice on writing dialogue see my Dos and Don’ts for Dialogue.

Do you like writing dialogue? How much is too much for you?

Write like the wind!

Lots of love

Edwina xx