This February 2020 I took a writing group to the finca el cerrillo situated in the mountains of Andalucía near the small and unspoilt village of Canillas de Albaida. We’ve held a writing holiday here every year in early July for the past eleven years, but this was the first time we’ve visited in February. And it was fabulous…
The finca hotel – once an olive mill – is run by Gordon and Sue Kind who have carefully retained its original character whilst creating a quirky but luxurious boutique hotel in gardens set within an olive grove and planted with palm trees, carob, hibiscus and jasmine, so that intoxicating scents follow you as you walk down the meandering paths and terraces.
There is a white air-conditioned studio/ workroom, outside courtyards and terraces with plenty of sunny and shady chill-out areas, an indoor salon for dining in the chillier months and an outside pool for the warmer ones. There is even a two-storey tree house created by Gordon in the branches of an ancient olive tree, complete with chairs, tables, candles and fairy lights.
What I love most about this special place is the air of tranquillity. It embraces you the moment you arrive and then you just sink deeper and deeper into the peaceful vibe. It’s magical.
In our morning writing sessions, we do various writing exercises, including visualisations and freewriting, focusing on a theme and practising a writing technique (for example getting to grips with viewpoint/ structure/ plotting / imagery or whatever it might be that day). My aim is to provide a springboard for ideas that can either be used to create new writing or develop an existing work in progress.
I will also read a piece of work and offer 1 to 1 sessions during the week to discuss this. The rest of the day is free for participants to write (or relax!) until the late afternoon when we have a group ‘reading of writing’ workshop.
And it’s not all about the work… The food at the finca el cerrillo is superb; we go out to nearby restaurants on three evenings for a change of scenery and there is a day off during the week when Sue can arrange a day out to Malaga old-town or Nerja on the coast, for example.
This week, Sue and Gordon took a small group of us on an easy-going mountain hike on the old Silk Route, which was just brilliant. And the evenings were great fun, especially the final ‘Desert Island Discs’ night…
This week’s group quickly settled into life at the finca and soon formed a supportive, sharing and trusting group. The writing ranged from autobiographical memoir to historical romance, taking in plenty of emotional drama and humour along the way. Some writers were more experienced than others but everyone seemed to find ways of adapting the writing exercises to progress their own writing project. It was wonderful to witness this and I loved listening to their words.
As someone said – ‘what a week…’ The writing was powerful and lots of emotions were coming to the surface – but definitely in a good way. There was plenty of laughter and also some tears. I so enjoyed working with this very special group and hope that they will all return to the finca on another writing holiday very soon.
These are the dates for our next writing holidays:
6th – 13th July 2020
27th February – 6th March 2021
Check it out…
Some comments from the February 2020 writing group
‘What an incredible week – we all learned a huge amount, and had such a lot of fun as well.’
‘I couldn’t believe the finca would be as beautiful as the website portrayed, but it was even more so.’
‘Can’t believe it’s over. Feel slightly bereft.’
‘Such a special week with amazing people.’
‘The best week I have experienced in my writing life – the beautiful finca and the surrounding villages and towns, the amazing workshops and learning opportunities, and one of the warmest, friendliest, most generous groups of humans I have had the privilege of working and playing with. Just brilliant.’
‘How amazing is it that we arrived as strangers and left as friends?’
‘What’s really special about the retreat is that the environment and the group leadership mean you can leave all your other hats at the door and just be a writer for one week. I know my skills came on in leaps and bounds and I achieved far more than I set out to.’
‘It’s restored an impetus and confidence I needed that was lacking after a really difficult few months. I would love to go back.’
‘The February Writing Week at Finca el Cerrillo was a perfect balance for me. Inspiring morning workshops were directly relevant to my WIP and the afternoons offered enough dedicated time to write while the early evening feedback sessions, with a great group of supportive co-writers, helped build confidence and the whole programme formed the basis of really enjoyable relaxing evenings! Rosanna is an excellent teacher/coach/motivator and I found her one-to-one sessions exceptionally useful. We all admired how much hard work and dedication she gave to making the week a great success as well as great fun. The location was lovely, wonderful friendly hosts and superb food. Wish I was still there! ‘
Email me for more details…
Here are my winter reading recommendations for this year… Curl up by a roaring fire and enjoy!
Normal People by Sally Rooney
This is the story of two young people, Marianne and Connor, the relationship between them and their attempts to fit in (or not) with society as they attempt to make sense of the world around them. So, it’s kind of the story of their relationship to each other and the world. And a fascinating and insightful story it proves to be…
We meet Marianne and Connor when they are both seventeen and at school. Marianne comes from a privileged background that lacks love and Connor from a working-class background, brought up by a single working mother (who happens to clean for Marianne’s family) with love in abundance. Connor fits in at school, Marianne doesn’t. As time goes by, their relationship develops and changes, and by the time they go to college, their social positioning has reversed. They both find it hard to be ‘normal people.’ But do we have to be? Can we be unconventional and weird and yet also be not lonely or disturbed. And what or who is ‘normal’ anyway?
Sally Rooney explores these interesting questions with wit and emotion. Her writing is compact and precise and I felt completely drawn in to the world of her characters; their stories, their lives, their love. According to reviews, this is a ‘Marmite’ book. I found it compelling, highly charged, vivid and fascinating. Yes, Reader, I loved it.
One Moment by Linda Green
Linda Green’s new novel is rather different from those she has written in the past. Linda is known for her twisty and psychological domestic noirs. Although there is some suspense in this story, in One Moment, she is exploring something rather different.
Finn is a boy who is also ‘different’. He doesn’t like football or rugby, he has ginger hair and is unusual, or ‘good-weird’ as his mother puts it. He is bullied at school, and a bad situation is escalating. Kaz is a woman in her fifties who has spent her life caring for her brother Terry who has mental health issues. The book is written from these two viewpoints. They meet once and then a second time. Everything before the second time is titled ‘before’; everything after the second time is ‘after’. We know right from the beginning that something traumatic occurred at the second meeting, and we know part of the ‘what’, but we don’t know exactly how until almost the end of the book.
What we are presented with throughout the novel are the consequences of the second meeting/ traumatic event for both Kaz and Finn, who go on to form an unlikely but enriching friendship which helps both characters cope with what has happened.
Linda Green tells this story with a great deal of emotion and her usual fast pace. It is warm and emotive, heart-rending in places and really makes you think about what some people have to deal with. Good on you, Linda, for writing something that was important to you and for being brave enough to step outside of your usual genre and therefore confront reader expectation.
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
LJ does it again. Brilliantly plotted, full of twists, menace and emotion, this is one of her best, in my opinion.
Our first narrator (identity unknown to begin with) takes us through what happened in the big family house of his childhood in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea in the 1960s when some people moved in and gradually took control of both house and occupants. At the start of the story, three of these occupants are found dead, apparently in some suicide pact, alongside a healthy baby.
Our second narrator (Lucy) is living in poverty in France with her two children. She too has a connection with Cheyne Walk. But can she get back there to see ‘the baby’? The third narrator is ‘the baby’ herself, Libby who was adopted and who inherits the house on her 25th birthday. She decides to try and solve the mystery of what happened twenty-five years ago and of course she finds out much more than she’d bargained for.
Riveting. Unputdownable. Thought-provoking. Spooky. Highly recommended.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
This is the story of Nuri and Afra, two refugees, who are forced to leave their troubled, war-torn homeland of Syria to make the long and difficult journey to the United Kingdom.
Nuri is a beekeeper in Aleppo and with his friend and cousin Mustafa he has created a meaningful and fulfilling life for himself which is centred around his bees, his wife Afra and their son Sami. But when this life is threatened, the Syrians are forced to contemplate escape, despite terrible personal tragedy. After his wife and daughter have already done so, Mustafa leaves and eventually makes it to England; it is his voice through email messages that reaches Nuri and Afra and urges them on, however bad things may be, to stay strong and to find a way to a new place, a place where once again they can work with bees and build a new life together.
Christy Lefteri creates a delicate balance in her portrayal of the relationship between Nuri and Afra which moves from light into darkness and back again as both characters try to come to terms with traumatic events and circumstances and find a way forward together. And yet, despite the subject matter, this is a story of hope and resilience; an important story which gives voice and a personal narrative to people who are too often classed together as one i.e. as ‘refugees’. Lefteri reminds us that everyone has a personal story and that every escape is deeply traumatic and hard-won. A compelling and thought-provoking novel. Highly recommended.
The Confession by Jessie Burton
I very much enjoyed this exploration of some of the complexities of women’s lives told via a dual timeline narrative. In the 1980s, the young, beautiful and naive Elise Morceau meets Constance Holden on Hampstead Heath. She soon comes under the spell of the older, more confident and charismatic Constance, a writer whose novel is being turned into a big Hollywood movie. They begin an intimate relationship and go together to Los Angeles. Whilst Constance enjoys the glamour and Hollywood façade of LA, Elise finds herself out of her depth and their relationship begins to fall apart.
In the contemporary story, Rose, mid 30s, is going through a life crisis and is full of uncertainty when her father gives her some information, the catalyst which sends her on a search to find out her mother’s story. She meets Constance and under false pretences, begins to work for her. This relationship becomes critical to Rose’s development and journey as Constance too, faces up to events of the past. I was however, slightly disappointed by the ending of the novel, which felt too inconclusive to be satisfying.
Jessie Burton is a brilliant writer and her characterisation of Elise, Constance and Rose is thorough, authentic and compelling. The contrasting locations are well-evoked and the novel positively shimmers with emotion. I very much enjoyed this novel about motherhood, friendship, love and search for identity. Highly recommended.
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
It is very brave, I feel, to write a novel solely from the POV of someone with senile dementia/ Alzheimers. By definition, this must become a fragmented, perhaps repetitive narrative. This said, Emma Healey minimises the repetition and adds humour which works well.
Maud, in her eighties and with worsening dementia, is the sole narrator. Her long-suffering daughter Helen looks after her and the relationship between the two of them is poignant, well-expressed with bitter-sweet emotion. So, this is a story about the effects of dementia. But it is also a story of two mysteries: one concerns Elizabeth – is she missing? The other concerns Maud’s sister Sukey who went missing back in the late 1940s.
Maud’s wandering mind and her difficulty in snatching fragments of memory and piecing them accurately together provides a useful device through which the author can keep returning to the events of 1947 to give us clues about Sukey’s disappearance, though I found the lack of variety in the catalyst slightly irritating. However, it is this story which really sparks the reader’s imagination since Maud’s perspective is naturally so much clearer back then, the characters of Frank and Douglas add interest to the story and the mystery seems real (while the mystery of Elizabeth exists mainly in Maud’s mind).
The writing is excellent, the use of language is vivid, and up to a point, the story is engaging. My main gripe with the novel is the fact that for a long time we do not hear through dialogue where Elizabeth actually is. Whilst I appreciate that we are in Maud’s viewpoint, we do hear lots of other dialogue, so this is slightly inconsistent, I feel. However, that said, this is a fascinating story of dementia, held together and made engaging by a mystery; a strong cross-genre book of literary/ crime that is definitely worth a read.
For me, 2020 has begun in Seville with oranges. The book I’m writing (working title The Bitter-Sweet Oranges of Seville) to be published by Quercus Books in March 2021, is set in West Dorset and Seville and features lots of oranges…
To research this book, I spent a few glorious weeks in Andalusia visiting – among other places – the Ave Maria Orange Farm where this picture was taken. We were shown around the farm by José who explained how and why the landscape of the Alcor is perfect for growing orange trees and how the growing and the production works. This farm prides itself on its values and its standards – the fruit is organic and the trees lovingly tended – José even plays classical music to the trees and firmly believes that they communicate with each other through their roots. The farm supplies Waitrose with their organic Seville oranges and is the inspiration behind many a marmalade.
Writing about the Ave Maria Orange Farm this week has taken me right back to last March when I first visited the area. And on a dreary January morning in the UK I can’t think of a nicer place to be…
- June News
- Spring Reading (In Lockdown…)
- Returning to Mandalay
- Writing at the Finca in February
- Winter Reading
- Oranges in Seville
- Autumn Reading
- Portishead Visit
- An Italian Supper
- Spirit of Place
- Writing at Finca el Cerrillo – seven reasons for a group leader to host a Writing Holiday
- Summer Reading – 8 books to add to your summer tbr pile
- Self-Promotion – how ready are you to shout about it?
- Featuring The Lemon Tree Hotel
- On the Scent of a Storyline
- Location for The Lemon Tree Hotel
- Spring Reading 2019
- March Madness
- The Books I Read this Winter (so far…)
- The Books I Read this Summer…
- My Summer
- Sense of Place
- Winter Reading 2017
- Planning or Pantsing…
- Summer Reading 2017
- Another Little Theatre by the Sea
- Give Bosa a Hug From Me
- Spring Reading 2017
- How Bosa became Deriu
- Whose Point of View? (Most of what matters…)
- Winter Book Reviews 2016
- The Flavour of the Place
- Summer Book Reviews
- Everybody’s Going to Havana
- American Classic Cars in Havana
- Spring Book Reviews 2016
- First Sighting of ‘Last Dance’.
- Rosanna’s Winter Book Reviews 2015/6
- Rosanna’s Autumn Book Reviews
- Creative Writing in Bridport
- Writing at Finca el Cerrillo – 2015
- Great Summer Reading 2015: Rosanna’s Reviews
- Dear Saffron Trail
- Three great books that I have read in the past few months and enjoyed… Happy Spring Reading!