Stay in the Huon Valley and create your own story

A week or two’s retreat at a quiet, historic hotel by the sea can revitalise your writing.

It sounds idyllic, staying at a century-old mansion by the water as you work on your manuscript, with food and accommodation provided and editorial guidance and tutorial support should you need it, but as the Director of Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival, L.J. Owen pointed out, this professional development program in the Huon Valley in Tasmania (2-16 October) has been several years in the making. 

Half of the scheduled events were supposed to happen last year during the festival for CSI: Tasmania but due to COVID-led dictums that forbade in-person events, the program was carried over to this year and expanded with the writers’ retreats. ‘It’s like any writers’ work-in-progress; nothing’s ever lost or wasted. If you have to cut something from your current manuscript, you can always use it in another story.’

It all comes down to personal choice as to whether visiting writers choose to stay for one or two weeks, Owen said, and their entire stay can be individually tailored. ‘While we’ll offer a structured day with dedicated writing time, it’s all optional,’ she told ArtsHub. She added: ‘For writers who benefit from having set writing hours, who would find a daily check in with a tutor and a small group helpful, a space where they can discuss their progress and feel accountable, that’s built-in.

‘But if you’re the kind of writer who likes to go for long walks in nature before writing, and not talk to many other people, that’s also available. We realise everyone works differently and will make sure they are supported in a way that suits them.’

There is, however, no chance of being among the noise, congestion and general hubbub of a typical writers festival. The ambience is a lot quieter and more peaceful in the Huon Valley. ‘The waterfront hotel where the writers’ retreats are held, the historic Kermandie with its wood panelling and Art Deco detailing, is absolutely gorgeous. Most rooms have water views. But it also has a limit on the number of guests. So the maximum number of retreat participants, depending on whether people come as individual writers or as pairs of writers, will be around 20.’ 

Providing an environment conducive to thinking and creating is of optimum concern to Owen. ‘Even the hotel’s staff have undertaken to keep sounds, like vacuuming, to a minimum during writing hours so as to not disrupt your creativity.’

Sulari Gentill signing books at a TARWF event in 2019. Photo: L.J.M. Owen.

As well as the retreats, writers can choose to participate in a Masterclass Weekend with notable authors such as Angela Meyer, Angela Savage, Alan Carter, Lindy Cameron and Meg Keneally. There’s also an Australian Publishing Industry Weekend Intensive on offer, facilitated by Nigel Featherstone, designed to introduce writers – emerging or otherwise –to industry professionals including agents, editors, staff at Penguin Random House, Ultimo Press, Hardie Grant, and others. 

Writers can participate in the weekend intensive, the masterclasses, the writers’ retreats or all three. 

‘We’re going to talk to each person booking into a retreat so we have a sense of what they’re working on and which tutor will be a good match for them. Nigel, for example, has a strong literary background, whereas Lindy would be a great support for any genre writers, especially those developing a crime or mystery manuscript,’ Owen said.

The retreats have been designed to carve out a space to think. ‘Between a job and family commitments, I know how hard it can be to get some dedicated writing time. Everything is competing for your attention and writing often loses to other priorities. The idea of these retreats is if someone is taking time out of their usual life to devote to their writing we want to make it as easy as possible for them. We’ll take care of all the day-to-day concerns. We can even pick you up at the airport and drive you to the hotel. Our retreats then become your personal time to write your story, free from distractions,’ Owen concluded.

For further information about the Professional Development Program.

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She's the outgoing books editor of The Big issue. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press. Her next collection, Decadence, will be published in July 2022. Twitter: @thuy_on