Run down of our inaugural Bali Writing Retreat
Working with others can be tricky, but I had faith from the moment Edwina suggested we join forces. I am delighted to say that we complemented each other perfectly. One of our participants called us respectively ‘wise’ and ‘intuitive’, though I’d say we’re both a bit of each.
We were blessed with a fabulous group, ranging in age from 25-70+, from published authors with multiple titles to their name, to new writers. As always, despite our individual differences we all got on splendidly, sharing words, wisdom, laughter, some tears and many hugs.
As an additional blessing on arrival at Bali Ecostay, I got an email from the publisher that I had pitched two months earlier. I squeezed in a Zoom call with Affirm Press in Melbourne just before our writing retreat participants arrived. By the second last day of the retreat I had a publishing contract, a dream come true that made us all feel a little bit blessed.
Edwina and I alternated teaching the early morning yoga and daily writing workshops so that participants could benefit from both of our teaching styles. I am known as the Germanic timekeeper, who schlepps folders with photocopies around the world just in case my brain goes on strike whilst on retreat. We’re both chatty introverts, but I draw the line at early morning yoga chatter. The Germanic timekeeper turned out to be a strict enforcer of noble silence so that we could practice yoga tuned into the sounds around us— from crowing roosters, birdsong to flowing water and the occasional motorbike as the resort slowly came to life each morning.
While the lovely Edwina, who is blessed with an angelic voice (while I am tone deaf), made us sing, hum and breathe so that our prāṇa, our “vital life force” would flow. Every day was book-ended (pun intended) by early morning yoga and early evening Pranayama led by Edwina who also provided individual tarot card readings.
Blissful Bali Writing Retreat – Traditional Welcome Ceremony
After breakfast on our first day, a group of local women who had come up from the village, welcomed us with a traditional ceremony.
They’d brought baskets with flowers and gently guided our fingers, teaching us how to weave little square offering trays from freshly cut fronds to be filled with flower offerings.
They skillfully dressed us in colorful sarongs and chuckled at our boobs and bellies, so different and yet so similar to theirs.
Ceremony and giving offerings is a daily practice integral to Balinese identity. Being blessed by a toothless priest felt extra special and it set us off on a great start.
Daily Yoga, Meditation and Breathwork kept us grounded
Blissful Bali Writing Retreat – Daily Writing Workshops
After breakfast each day we got to work in themed morning workshops.
Edwina opened everybody’s eyes to the importance of structure, how to create a plot that works, how to create a satisfying story arc and how to keep narrative tension going across the length of a book.
I talked about how to write about your life in a book, I hammered home the importance of premise, and took a deep dive into various aspects of the craft, including scenes and dialogue. I also shared my winning pitch and talked about the different pathways to publication.
Gathering so many writers with different backgrounds brought a lot of shared wisdom and experience to the table which was great for all.
Bali Ecostay – our home away from home at Blissful Bali Writing Retreat
It was Edwina’s idea to call this writing and yoga retreat ‘Blissful Bali’ and it turned out to be the perfect phrase to describe the experience and place. Bali Ecostay is faraway from the hustle and bustle of the crowded tourists spots. High up on the side of Mount Tabanan, this beautiful ecoresort is build over several acres in harmony with nature. The open-air bungalows are all slightly different and city dwellers can feel challenged out of their comfort zones living in such close proximity to nature.
But writing is all about going beyond our comfort zones and falling asleep to the sounds of flowing water and croaking frogs made us all feel a bit transformed and refreshed.
The retreat is fully catered and most of the food comes from the resort’s own permaculture gardens. Even the eggs come from happy chooks living on the property.
On our second afternoon we were taken on a guided walk through the permaculture gardens and fruit forest, culminating with a refreshing swim under a waterfall.
Thanks Kerstin and Edwina for your insightfulness as writers, and for sharing your wealth of knowledge as teachers – a powerful double act indeed.
I learnt loads from your sessions in the Writing Journey Workshops, especially about finding your scar, and using this in our work.
The combination of yoga, breathing, tarot card reading, massage, learning, setting intentions, collage, visualisations, and interaction with other authors was very effective.
I thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this creative retreat.’
Vicki Bennett, author of 36 books, and filmmaker
Talent Show on the last evening
On our last evening we gathered around a bonfire to release into the flames words naming all the things we no longer need in our lives, the emotions and restrictive beliefs that are holding us back, the wounds that needed healing.
Then it was sharing time at ‘the party house’—the largest bungalow, shared by our three youngest participants. Everybody had a turn.
We listened to beautiful poems, from award winning ones to new ones, written on retreat about the retreat experience (see below).
Some of us read from our published and about-to-be-published books. A stand-up act by the formidable Jessie about unspeakably funny taboo topics had us all in stitches.
Here’s some of the original writing that was produced and shared at the inaugural 2023 Blissful Bali Writing Retreat.
They reminisce about their travels
Say they used to have hair like mine
And when they talk about their dreams
They sound an awful lot like mine
They laugh and say
‘Oh, you’re so young’
‘You have plenty of time’
They laugh about men and life
And I realise that they are as young as I
Just a little greyer
Just a few more stories
Just a bit more life.
By Natasha Cox (Bali Retreat participant 2023)
I will remember the stillness. I will remember darkness as it dropped unannounced each evening and the gentle slow, subtle ripple of light in the morning as it peaked through the bright green leaves outside my window. I will remember the women chattering and laughing in the afternoon as they worked their magic in the kitchen. I will remember the little lizard with the yellow back baking in the sunshine. I will remember the women whose hands eased the knots in my neck. I will remember the graceful women who dressed us in balinese sarongs, white tops and colourful sashes and taught us to stitch together a basket to fill with flowers for an offering.
I will remember walking in line to the temple with our offerings and the honour of receiving a blessing. I will remember the priest, his serene face, his toothless smile and his still body. I will remember the silky taste of the fresh water. I will remember the Rat who kindly took time away from me. I will remember the taste and texture of the fresh delicious food in my mouth. I will remember feeling my body stretch and bend every morning and connect to the rhythm of its breath in the evenings. I will remember listening to the motorbikes as they came up the hill in the morning as we did our downward dogs. I will remember how my muscles loosen and expand when my body slows down, how my mind feels when it is quiet and clear, how my breath feels when I reconnect and honour it. I will remember how warm my body feels when it gets a hug, how nourished it feels when it sleeps uninterrupted for hours, how alive it feels as the water gushes all over it in the waterfall. I will remember to trust myself, to listen to myself and to give myself time – time that is always there most often just hidden by the clutter of life. I will remember the gorgeous man who took us on the walk and named every plant and tree. I will remember the breeze that danced over my arms in the evening as I slept. I will remember walking down the stone steps with the little lights marking my path. I will remember the joy of writing with others, the joy of having time for myself to write. I will remember all of you – your courage, your compassion, you kindness, your creativity, your humour, your wounds, your words, your faces, your faces, your honesty, your curiosity and wisdom. I will remember to feel gratitude. I will remember walking in line to the temple with our offerings and the honour of receiving a blessing. I will remember the priest, his serene face, his toothless smile and his still body.
Gail Rice (retreat participant 2023)
Gail’s creative retreat round-up was inspired by a writing prompt we did in one of my workshops.
I HAVE RESILIENCE, AT LEAST I THINK I DO I was told I am resilient. The voice came from in my head. I was told that I am brilliant by the same voice, and the same voice said I own my power, I am invincible! Of course you’ve guessed - it was the affirmation principle: What I tell myself I AM, I can be, I make it happen, it comes real! So I AM resilient, I’m talented I’m unstoppable and I feel Great. Until something trips the self-worth switch and the fakings ended. Positive self-talk is suspended.
Where’s my resilience? I’m now bereft, confidence has packed and left, how easy to slip into negative thinking let go, give up and know you’re sinking in the deep depths of failure’s pools where it’s cold and dark and the black dog rules. Slowly,shakily, power is restored I see it’s me, I pick that me up off the floor I’ve done it before I can do it some more I say I can grow. I say I run my own show.
by Soni Lagunsen (retreat participant 2023; this poem won the Logan City Writing Laureate 2022)
Rage felt like Christmas ham Chocolate before 10am I crave it like a special treat What I’d give to be angry at her one last time As if it's the last ticket on the Titanic Across the frigid Atlantic Fist clenching screaming her name in a teen-fit Reeking of black eye-liner, Britney Spears Throw a side-eye at a frustrated sigh The look a mother knows best Give me the time traveller's watch I'm going back to fifteen To ripped skinny jeans To slamming doors To our lawyers who made us change the name of this song To nice girls who were mean girls To mean boys who were nice boys
What a waste! An empty house on a long weekend A bottle of wine and no wake up time Waste waste waste It’s basically the spa gift card You could never afford A damn. Luxury. The be mad at her Let me forget to call her Let life get in the way Let me roll my eyes When she tells me I’m getting older When she tells me to settle down Tells me to call my father I never thought I’d miss her Telling me I’m growing a little rounder Instead, what have I left? A 100 missed calls never to-be-returned (I’m scared of my voicemail) A text she’ll never get (I love u too) An unanswered Facebook friend request. What a waste. I want the privilege of rage But instead, all I have left Is this Sickening Loving Regret.
Blissful Bali Writing Retreat, July 11-17, 2024
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